by Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON — Former Boone County Ambulance Authority Director Randy Lengyel has been fined and reprimanded by the state Ethics Commission, according to Executive Director Rebecca L. Stepto.
The Commission’s Website contains full details of the settlement, which Stepto said completes the Commission’s investigation into Lengyel’s activities as Director. Sources in Boone County have said that Lengyel is under investigation by other law enforcement agencies but there has been n official confirmation of that.
In what is technically called a “conciliation agreement,” Lengyel agreed to the Commission findings, dated January 7.
In her letter to Lengyel, Stepto said Lengyel has already paid his fine of $5,000 and viewed an Ethics Commission DVD as required by their findings. The letter was copied to South Charleston attorney Richard Robb, who represented Lengyel in the proceedings.
The agreement entered in the matter says the BCAA is a public corporation over which the Ethics Commission has jurisdiction and that, thus, is a public employee.
The agreement goes on to say Lengyel requested a member of the state legislature in 2012 to introduce legislation giving ambulance authority directors a method by which they could increase their retirement benefits by enrolling in a different retirement plan. The legislator is said to be from Lengyel’s district and former Delegate Josh Stowers has freely admitted that he is the legislator who Lengyel approached.
Stowers has consistently said he followed all “due diligence” in introducing the bill. He has said he did it at the request of a constituent (Lengyel) and would have done a similar act for any constituent. Stowers said he followed “proper protocol” on the matter, checking what – if any – cost the change would be to state government. He said he also “assumed” any county director could take advantage of the plan and he did not know that only Lengyel would seek to benefit from the legislation.
The legislation was passed into law on June 6, 2012 and allowed directors to change retirement plans by June 6, 2013. The basic transfer was from the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) to the Emergency Medical Services Retirement System (EMSRS). The new law required that directors who switched systems pick up all additional costs related to the change. “The EMSRS retirement system provides significantly higher monthly retirement benefits than the PERS,” the agreement says.
The agreement also points out that employees under EMSRS can retire and collect benefits ten years sooner than PERS retirees. On June 21, 2012, Lengyel asked the BCAA to provide him with a personal loan to pay the costs of his transfer. According to the order, Lengyel did not provide the BCAA board with sufficient information regarding the loan, including the amount.
On the same date as his request, the BCAA board agreed to approve the loan for Lengyel, according to the agreement, without significant information including the amount being borrowed. At that time, the Ethics Commission found, the BCAA board did not vote on the terms of the loan.
In September 2013, the Commission goes on, Lengyel presented the President and Vice President of the BCAA with a loan repayment agreement drafted by his (Lengyel’s) attorney. The loan agreement said the BCAA would loan Lengyel $103,000, interest free. It also required thatg Lengyel begin making repayments in the amount of $350 per month when he begins to receive retirement benefits. The Commission found that the agreement essentially allowed Lengyel 25 years from his retirement date to pay off the loan.
On September 19, 2013, President Harold Green and Vice President Joseph Jollie signed the agreement as presented by Lengyel. On September 24, Lengyel received a check for $103,000 from the BCAA.
Lengyel then presented a personal check for $103,000 to complete his retirement fund transfer.
The Commission found that Lengyel was the only director to take advantage of the law. When Boone County Prosecutor Keith Randolph discovered the loan in 2015, he offered the opinion that such loans are not legal under West Virginia law. In a letter, he directed Lengyel to repay the loan by September 30, 2015. Lengyel did not repay the loan by that date and the Boone County Commission authorized Randolph to file a ivil suit against Lengyel to collect the funds. Lengyel was served with the suit on October 6. That same day, the director delivered two separate personal checks totaling $103,000 to the BCAA office.
The Commission then cites West Virginia Code Section 6b-2-5(b), which basically says a public employee cannot use his position for personal gain.
In the agreement, Lengyel acknowledges he violated the Ethics Act. He also agrees to the public reprimand; the $5,000 fine; and viewing the training video.
Commission Chair Robert J. Wolfe signed the order as well as Lengyel, who signed it on December 29, 2015.
Lengyel, the loan and other activities at the BCAA were sources of controversy a few months ago. The County Commission agreed to seek the removal of Green and Gollie, who both eventually resigned. Lengyel was placed on administrative leave by the new BCAA board and subsequently terminated.
Recent meetings of the BCAA board have been markedly different than those when Lengyel, Green and Gollie were present. A clear spirit of cooperation has returned and there are virtually no conflicts apparent among BCAA board members.