Suspended West Virginia justice testifies at own trial

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A suspended West Virginia Supreme Court justice took the witness stand Monday at his criminal trial and denied using state vehicles for his own benefit.

Allen Loughry responded to questions for more than three hours after federal prosecutors rested their case. Loughry is accused of 22 counts related to using his office for personal gain.

Before the defense started its case, the judge denied a defense motion for a directed verdict of acquittal.

Loughry said he was offered a state car like other high government officials when he became a justice in 2013, but he refused. Instead he used state owned-cars made available to the justices for what he said was a variety of reasons, including public outreach.

“It’s important that you constantly be out there in the public, and I agree with that,” Loughry said.

Most charges against Loughry are wire fraud allegations that he used state vehicles and gas cards for personal use. Others contend Loughry made false statements, tampered with witnesses and committed mail fraud.

Asked twice by his attorney John Carr about the trips, Loughry denied he benefited personally from them.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Wright said records show Loughry took a government car to a wedding, four signings for his book, and “loads it up with Christmas presents” to visit relatives. A neighbor testified Monday that she saw Loughry pack presents in a car with a state government license plate around the holidays.

“I know what I did with a vehicle,” Loughry said. “But I can’t go back and re-create time.”

He said during the book signings at the Greenbrier resort, he stood in front of a small shop and talked to people about the state and its government. He said during the signings there was other court-related business occurring at the same location, including meeting with others about one of his initiatives, a “Leaders of Tomorrow’ program. He said he wasn’t paid to attend the signings.

He also recalled attending a judge’s funeral and took trips to his home county to speak to high school students and meet with probation officials to discuss judicial system matters. He acknowledged spending $13 for a car wash after the funeral because the vehicle was covered with bird droppings.

When asked by Carr about gas receipts alleged by prosecutors to be for his own use, Loughry said he’s looked at the records and “would not agree” to some of them. He said he never used a state fuel card to put gas in anyone else’s vehicle.

Loughry also answered numerous questions about an antique desk that he transferred from the court offices to his home. The indictment accuses him of lying to federal investigators by saying he was unaware about the historical significance and value of the $42,000 state-owned desk.

“That was my impression, that it was an old government desk,” Loughry said.

The desk was moved out of the home after media inquiries about it.

Loughry, 48, and three other justices were impeached in August over questions involving lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty.

Justice Beth Walker was cleared last week in a trial before the state Senate. Loughry, Justice Margaret Workman and retired Justice Robin Davis face impeachment trials later. The charges stem from questions involving lavish renovations to their offices that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty.

A fifth justice, Menis Ketchum, resigned before impeachment proceedings began.

Loughry was suspended from his seat earlier this year after the state Judicial Investigation Commission said he kept secret a December federal subpoena served on the Supreme Court. He was replaced as chief justice in February after the other justices received another subpoena and found out about the first one.

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