|Sen. Puckett - For Sale to the highest bidder|
The Virginia GOP regained control of the Virginia State Senate by bribing Senator Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, with a proposed job on the state tobacco commission and a judicial appointment of his daughter. The result of the bribe was Puckett's resignation and the tipping of the Senate back into GOP hands at least until a replacement can be elected in a special election. Particularly shocking is the Virginia GOP's offering of a judgeship as part of the deal. Apparently, the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI smell something foul. As the Richmond Times Dispatch reports, the feds are investigating the circumstances of what has to be one of the most blatant bribery situations in recent memory. Here are story excerpts:
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the circumstances surrounding the recent resignation of state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, including his alleged consideration for a job on the state tobacco commission and the pending judicial appointment of his daughter in Southwest Virginia.
Sources familiar with the probe, speaking on condition of anonymity, said representatives of the FBI and United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Virginia have been conducting interviews, including with elected officials who may have knowledge of the chain of events.
One source said a grand jury will convene in Abingdon next week to hear testimony on the matter.
Puckett chose to leave office before his term expired and in the midst of a protracted partisan stalemate in the General Assembly over the budget and Medicaid expansion.
Puckett's resignation, effective Monday, June 9, came at a pivotal time, effectively tilting the balance of power in the Virginia Senate to Republicans. The GOP’s new 20-19 edge paved the way for the Senate to join GOP-controlled House to pass a budget last week with an amendment that could scuttle Democrats' hopes of expanding Medicaid.
FBI spokeswoman Dee Rybiski said Wednesday the bureau will neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.
In the 40 member Senate, approving a judge would require 21 votes. Before Puckett's resignation, Democrats held 20 votes and Republicans held 20 votes, meaning that at least one Republican would have to join all Democrats to approve her appointment.
In interviews, Del. Terry G. Kilgore, R-Scott, chairman of the tobacco commission, acknowledged that he had spoken to Puckett before his resignation about taking a job with the commission.
The commission is entrusted with awarding millions in tobacco settlement money to smoking cessation and economic development projects in former tobacco growing communities. The job would have fattened Puckett's state pension, calculating his retirement benefit based on a full-time job that pays much more than the $18,000 a year paid to part-time state senators.
In his statement at the time, Puckett described as “incorrect” reports that he had resigned to take a job with the commission. “I have never been officially offered a job by the Tobacco Commission,” he stated.
But Kilgore had scheduled a meeting of the commission's executive committee for the Wednesday following Puckett's resignation, to consider hiring him for the job of deputy director.