Jim Justice for all?
Now that after 80 years of being in the minority Republicans have taken the West Virginia Legislature, Democrats are bringing in the big gun: 6-foot-6 coal billionaire and casino owner Jim Justice. This comes even as Democrats try "coal baron" Republican Don Blankenship in federal court under U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin of the well-connected Democratic family of lawyers.
The pretense is the government is holding Blankenship accountable for the deaths of 29 miners in a methane explosion April 5, 2010, at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County. This is more of the ghoulish opportunism by Democrats.
None of the charges -- allegations of securities fraud and conspiracy to dodge inspections -- are related to the deaths. Despite an exhaustive and expensive attempt to tie Blankenship directly to the deaths, Democrat Goodwin could not, so he went with this.
While this is going on, Democrats recruited Justice to run for governor, a la Jay Rockefeller, the bungling multi-millionaire who served two terrible terms as governor, but kept Democrats in control of the Legislature.
Blankenship's money no doubt helped revitalize the Republican Party.
But while Democrats vilify him, their white knight has many chinks in his tuxedoed armor.
Jim Justice is West Virginia's richest man, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, according to Forbes. He owns 70 active mines employing 1,200 miners in five states. In addition to running his businesses, he has invested or given away more than $200 million in the last five years.
Justice used more than $175 million to buy and upgrade the struggling and historic Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. That includes $25 million for three football fields and a training center for the New Orleans Saints.
Another $25 million went to the Boy Scouts of America for the Jim Justice National Boy Scout Camp in his home state. Marshall University received $5 million; $10 million was pledged to the Cleveland Clinic.
"This is a business person who paints himself as a responsible citizen who donates to charities, but there's a whole other side of that business," says Celeste Monforton, a former federal mine safety official now at George Washington University.
As of April, Justice's delinquent coal mines had failed to pay nearly $2 million in mine safety violations, some going back seven years. Five hundred penalties were overdue, four times as many as any other delinquent mine owner. And while the mines ignored those fines, they continued to accumulate citations for safety violations that put miners at risk.That report is from last year, before Democrats recruited Justice to run for governor next year -- which explains why Booth Goodwin isn't prosecuting Jim Justice.
As a businessman, Jim Justice has a less than stellar reputation. From USA Today in 2013:
West Virginia billionaire Jim Justice made his fortune in coal and agriculture, and he is revered in his home state as the man who rescued the historic Greenbrier resort from bankruptcy.
Worth an estimated $1.7 billion, Justice is a prominent member of the tiny West Virginia community of Lewisburg, keeping a modest home and finding time to coach basketball at the local high school. He ranks No. 292 on a list of wealthiest Americans by Forbes magazine, which estimates that his personal wealth has grown by $500 million in the last year.
But his coal operations in Appalachia are struggling as business owners have filed at least nine lawsuits since late 2011 claiming they are not being paid for work at Justice mines. Still others say they are owed money but haven't yet sued.
"There is some angry, angry people," said Mark Miracle, the owner of Dynatech Electronics in Harlan, Ky. Miracle says he is owed about $150,000 for electrical mining supplies provided to three Justice mining companies more than a year ago. "They owe a lot of people a lot of money."Jim Justice also is a welfare recipient receiving millions over the years in handouts from a Democratic Legislature, who bent the rules to allow him to turn the once-five-star Greenbrier Resort into a casino.
From Metro News in 2014 (when Democrats still controlled the Legislature):
It took Greenbrier Resort owner Jim Justice just two days to get a possible 10-year tax credit through the state legislature. Members of the House and Senate gave the plan final approval Saturday night, the last night of the 60-day session.
The measure (HB 4184) has been talked about behind the scenes for several weeks but it was presented to the Senate Finance Committee for the first time Friday. It provides a 25 percent tax credit that would be credited over 10 years and be limited to $2.5 million annually. The tax break would be against the Corporate Net Income Tax and it would be for the $90 million state-of-the-art medical facility Justice plans to open near the resort.
“We’re talking about jobs now,” Sen. Finance Committee Chairman Roman Prezioso told fellow senators Saturday night. “None of this goes into play until there’s 125 jobs to come into place. Obviously we’ve done a lot this session – I don’t know if there’s any other major jobs bill that we’ve addressed.”Let's see, $2.5 million annually times 10 is $25 million divided by 125 jobs is $200,000 a job.