Justice Loughry sees first day of federal trial

Photo by Steven Allen Adams Justice Allen Loughry, left, and attorney John Carr leave the Robert C. Byrd Courthouse in Charleston after his first full day on trial Wednesday.

CHARLESTON — Nearly a year after reports first surfaced of extravagant spending on his office, Justice Allen Loughry got his day in court.

The former chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals sat Wednesday at the defendant’s table for the first day of testimony at the Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse in Charleston.

Loughry is facing a 22-count indictment, including charges of mail and wire fraud for his use of state vehicles and fuel cards for personal out-of-state trips, as well as tampering with a witness by trying to manipulate her testimony, obstruction of justice, and lying to FBI investigators.

According to court documents, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Mike Stuart filed a motion to dismiss counts 19, 22 and 24 of the indictment. All three charges involve the moving of an antique desk purchased by Cass Gilbert, the architect of the state Capitol Building in Charleston. Loughry had the desk moved to his home for personal use.

The charges involved mail fraud for the improper moving of the desk and one of Loughry’s alleged false statements to the FBI about the desk. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also dropped the obstruction of justice charge.

During pre-trial motions Wednesday morning, Loughry’s attorney John Carr attempted to argue that since most of the charges regarding the Cass Gilbert desk were dismissed, that questioning regarding the desk should be limited. Carr argued that the desk that Loughry had in his home could not be proven to be one of the original desks.

“No one can provide a single shred of evidence that the desk is a Cass Gilbert desk,” Carr said.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Philip Wright and R. Gregory McVey represented the government. Wright said that court staff knew exactly which desks were considered to be Cass Gilbert desks.

“Cass Gilbert was very significant to the court,” Wright said. “It was widely known there were desks associated with Cass Gilbert.”

After the pre-trial hearing, a jury pool of 10 women and two men entered the courtroom to hear the case against Loughry. Wright, in his opening statement, told jurors that Loughry had been dishonest with investigators from the start, and that the government would prove that Loughry attempted to defraud the state and private entities.

“All the puzzle pieces add up to he (Loughry) defrauded the people,” Wright said.

Carr told jurors in his opening statement that there is no evidence that Loughry used court resources for private gain. He blamed internal court politics for setting up his client.

“The case is absolutely not about a couple of things,” Carr said. “The government has alleged extremely serious federal crimes. The evidence you will hear in this case will not establish that.”

The first witness was Jim Lafferty, special agent with the FBI, who interviewed Loughry. Lafferty got involved in investigating the Supreme Court after Loughry contacted the U.S. Attorney’s office shortly after a WCHS-TV report about the cost of Loughry’s office renovations.

While Loughry was trying to throw other court employees under the bus for the costs of his office renovations — approximately $500,000 in renovations and furnishings — Lafferty started finding inconsistencies in Loughry’s account of spending at the court and his personal use of court property, specifically the Cass Gilbert desk. Lafferty went to the Supreme Court and took pictures of the remaining Cass Gilbert desks.

During a March interview with FBI investigators, Loughry said he didn’t know the desk at his home was a Cass Gilbert desk. But during testimony Wednesday afternoon from Sara Thompson, the director of Education and Access to Justice for the state Supreme Court, she said she had heard Loughry describe the desk as a Cass Gilbert desk.

“It was a Cass Gilbert, it was historic and he wanted to keep it,” Thompson said when describing a conversation with Loughry back in 2007.

She said Loughry told her he used a Cass Gilbert desk in his office when he was a law clerk for the court prior to being elected as a justice.

Jurors also heard from former Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh, who preceded Loughry. McHugh was asked about what the court policy was for furnishing a home office for justices. The justices were only provided with computer equipment, but not furniture.

“They furnished me a computer, printer and an iPad,” McHugh said. “My desk was a kit from Sears.”

Jurors also heard testimony from representatives of American University and the Pound Civil Justice Institute in Washington, D.C. In 2014, Loughry made separate visits to conferences hosted by the institutions — one in Washington, D.C. and one in Baltimore. Loughry claimed travel expenses and mileage even though he used a vehicle owned by the Supreme Court and used the court’s fuel card, therefore not incurring any travel expenses and allegedly committing mail fraud by accepting mailed reimbursements from the institutions.

The last witness of the day was Sue Racer-Troy, the chief financial officer for the Supreme Court, who testified on how the state fuel cards were tracked. Loughry’s use of the fuel cards across state lines for personal use is how the government is charging him with multiple counts of wire fraud.

Court will resume today at 9:30 a.m.