Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire: Ben Salango Calls for Investigation of Jim Justice FirstEnergy Ties

Earlier this week, a corruption scandal rocked Ohio.

Larry Householder, the Speaker of the House of Ohio, was arrested and charged with accepting $60 million in bribe money from FirstEnergy to secure a $1.3 billion taxpayer bailout for the company.

Ben Salango

Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who is running for Governor of West Virginia, says that Ohio’s scandal has meaning back home.

Salango is calling for an investigation of Governor Jim Justice and his dealings with FirstEnergy.

“As the events of the Ohio bribery case were unfolding last year, FirstEnergy also received a massive tax break thanks to Governor Justice, costing West Virginians $12 million per year,” Salango said in a statement released by his campaign. “This tax break occurred shortly after the company donated to Justice’s re-election campaign and it was discovered that Justice’s coal companies owe FirstEnergy millions of dollars.”

“The way FirstEnergy has conducted business with elected officials in our neighboring state of Ohio begs questions about their dealings with Governor Justice and the state of West Virginia. This absolutely warrants more information from Justice. Governor Justice has a long history of only looking out for himself and using his office for personal gain. I hope the Governor will join me in calling for a thorough investigation of their lobbying efforts at the state capitol and disclose any information he has related to First Energy.”

Appearing on WRNR’s Eastern Panhandle Talk with Rob Mario and David Welch, Salango said that Justice called a special session of the legislature in July 2019.

“He called a special session so the FirstEnergy could get tax breaks, exactly what happened in Ohio,” Salango said. “What we didn’t know at the time was the FirstEnergy PAC and lots of executives at FirstEnergy were funding the Governor’s campaign. What we didn’t know at the time is that the Governor’s businesses owed FirstEnergy over $3 million. So it’s very similar to what was going on in Ohio. And all we’re asking for is transparency. The Governor didn’t disclose the debt at the time. A number of legislators, Democrats and Republicans, said – you should have let us know this before it happened.” 

“Then you fast forward to Ohio a year later, and there are indictments. All we’re saying is — there needs to be an investigation, the Governor needs to be transparent, he needs to release the documents and the records, and let’s find out exactly what was going on.” 

David Welch asked – “You don’t have any hard evidence that the Governor has committed wrongdoing, you’re just saying that there should be an investigation because there could have been some wrongdoing?”

“Well, we won’t know until the Governor releases the records,” Salango said. “What we do know is very similar to Ohio. There was a big tax deal and lots of politicians got paid including the Governor through campaign contributions. And what we learned afterwards was the fact that the governor owed $3 million to FirstEnergy.”

“So my thought is — where there’s smoke, there’s fire. That’s exactly what led them into the issue in Ohio. They had heard some rumblings, there was an investigation and turns out it was a pay-to-play scheme, and we need to make sure that didn’t happen in West Virginia.”

At his press briefing on Wednesday, Justice was asked about Salango’s accusations.

“Anybody who knows Ben Salango knows that he’s a Nancy Pelosi liberal trial lawyer,” Justice said.

“Hinting that I would take a campaign donation and do it inappropriately is so ridiculous it’s off the charts. There is no chance in all the world that I would do such a thing. First of all, you have to remember. Just go outside and look. I drive to work in my vehicle. I put my gas in my vehicle. I self-fund an incredible amount of my campaign. If anybody doesn’t think that we fully vet all of the donations that come into my campaign, you are just whistlin’ through the whatever.”

“You have candidate that is so far behind in the polls, that we are about ready to lap him,” Justice said. “You have desperate political tactics from liberal people that love to cast stones. And we don’t have time for it.”

In response to Justice, Salango issued a statement saying – “I’ve never met Nancy Pelosi. I wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a lineup. I am a trial lawyer and, for many years, I have represented those who’ve been victims of greed and corruption. But, as we all know, Jim Justice actually has more courtroom experience than I do because he doesn’t pay his bills.”

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