Reporter’s Notebook: Pay the piper when it’s due
CHARLESTON — If I were the governor, I don’t know if I’d be constantly promoting my dog. It only raises the value of the dog if one day Jim Justice’s assets are auctioned off on the courthouse steps.
As I and other have reported last week (hat tip to the Wall Street Journal), Gov. Justice may owe between $700 million and $1 billion to two different financial institutions through personal guarantees of loans.
I won’t rehash the specific details in this column, as you can go back and read my stories from last Tuesday and Wednesday. In short, Justice had a bank owner (Carter Bank and Trust in Virginia) as a friend for 15 years who gave him sweetheart loan deals, including loans for the Greenbrier Resort. When that banker died in 2017, the new management of the bank decided to operate their bank like a bank and start pressuring the governor’s companies to pay up. Justice owes this bank $368 million.
Then in 2018, an international financial company peddling the corporate equivalent of payday loans ended up getting another of Justice’s companies on the hook for $700 million. Called Greensill, its own financiers got concerned about Greensill’s schemes, pull their funding, and Greensill went bankrupt in March. Now Greensill’s financiers want Justice to starting paying up.
Justice and his companies are suing both Greensill and Carter Bank. The Greensill lawsuit was filed in March shortly after the company went under. The Carter Bank case was filed last Monday — one day before a June 1 deadline for a loan to the Greenbrier. Both suits will likely be tied up for months and maybe years, giving Justice’s businesses temporarily breathing room. But the bills always come due.
Justice, being Justice, has taken an “oh, shucks” attitude about these revelations. He says he is a victim of both Greensill and the current management of Carter Bank. He says his businesses are strong financially and all will be fine. He tells us media not to worry about him, his family, or his businesses. As always, he misses the larger point.
The governor took office in January 2017. Out of 112 companies, only seven are in blind trusts. The rest of Justice’s companies are controlled by his son Jay, while his daughter Jill runs the Greenbrier. But it’s widely known Justice is still active with his businesses. The Greensill loan deal, for example, took place in 2018, the second year of Justice’s first term.
Blind trusts are great to avoid conflict of interests when someone has business interests that have dealings with government. But another good thing about blind trusts: they allow you to focus on your job as an elected official. Justice is now governor for a second term and that should be his only concern. Hopefully your kids don’t run your business into the ground, but they are in charge until the next governor is sworn in January 2025.
In a strange way, Justice should be credited. Managing the COVID-19 pandemic while these financial stresses were hanging over him like the Sword of Damocles is no small feat. But one has to wonder how much more focused Justice would have been if he had given up control of his businesses?
Pet peeve: Justice didn’t save the Greenbrier when he bought it out of bankruptcy from CSX in 2009. Marriott International was going to buy the place. Justice swooped in and offered a better deal. But the idea that the Greenbrier would cease to exist without Justice buying it is silly. Yet, this myth is perpetuated by my fellow media colleagues.
I know it feels too soon, but the 2022 elections are just around the corner. Even though we still don’t know how the new Census numbers will play into how House of Delegates and state Senate districts will look, some are throwing their hat in the ring.
One of those people is Del. Ben Queen, R-Harrison. The three-term House member filed pre-candidacy papers to run against state Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison.
Romano is in his second term having come into office in 2015 — the first year of the Republican majority in the Senate. He’s probably best known for torturing poor young per diem attorneys for the Senate Judiciary Committee as he questions legislation.
It wasn’t long ago that Democrats dominated North Central West Virginia. But now, the 48th House District — encompassing all of Harrison County — has four Republican delegates. Romano is the last Democrat representing the 12th Senatorial District — consisting of Harrison, Lewis, Braxton, Clay, and part of Gilmer counties. Doug Facemire, the former senior senator from the 12th from Braxton County, was defeated in 2020 by former delegate Patrick Martin of Lewis County.
Being a former county commissioner and attorney in Harrison County, Romano could be hard to knock off. But they said the same thing about Facemire.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at email@example.com