By Autumn Shelton, West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In light of recent allegations surrounding the possible misappropriation of state funds by Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) leadership, the Joint Committee on Flooding has asked for increased investigations into the organization.
During the interim committee’s Sunday meeting, Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, questioned WV VOAD’s Executive Director Jenny Gannaway on alleged misconduct.
“I’m sure you’re aware of videos and pictures that have come out that have questioned some of the behaviors that you personally have had through VOAD,” Tarr began.
These videos and photos were first posted on the Facebook page for Charleston-based “Scoop Squad,” Tarr noted.
In the videos posted online, Tarr said that Gannaway can be seen discussing an appliance and fire-pits that had been donated to VOAD.
“In that process, you made a statement that, ‘I wish we hadn’t added these items to inventory because we wouldn’t have to worry about the audit,” Tarr said, before asking Gannaway to explain the videos.
Gannaway responded that a donated stove did go to a woman in Kentucky, but added that supplies can go to any person in need, not just flood victims.
In response to additional questioning, Gannaway stated that VOAD had permission to take donations that couldn’t be given to flood survivors in exchange for monetary donations.
Gannaway stated that she did have certain items taken to her home in Roanoke, but she donated at least $2,600 and a generator valued at $800 to the organization. She said she has since donated those items to other people, and did so before allegations against her became public.
Other VOAD employees took donations as well, Gannaway stated.
“They were allowed to make a donation and get a patio set,” she noted.
Tarr then asked about an alleged conversation Gannaway had regarding the sale of donated items from Good 360, an organization that partners with corporations, like Lowe’s, to distribute items to victims following a natural disaster.
“In that conversation, you suggested to sell [the items] for $100 per $1,000 of value,” Tarr said. “Do you recall that?”
Gannaway did recall that conversation, but couldn’t remember who was present in the room with her.
“Is that typical that you sell them?” Tarr asked, speaking of donated items.
Gannaway responded that Good360, a charitable organization, had given VOAD permission to sell the items as long as those funds “went into disaster relief and helped clients recover from the flood.”
Tarr then asked if items, such as fire-pits and patio sets, were gifted to VOAD employees, including Gannaway’s daughter, in exchange for monetary donations.
Gannaway responded, “Yes.”
Gannaway also stated that she hired her brother, great niece and great nephew for VOAD positions. Those hires did not require board approval, she said, adding that family members were hired during the COVID pandemic when it was hard to find people to work.
“Looking back on that, that was probably something I would never do again,” Gannaway said. “But, at that time when we had to get things done, we felt that would be a way we could do it. I did not directly supervise anyone that was related to me, and any of the other employees didn’t supervise anyone that was related to them.”
“Did you tell Tyler Hager (an employee), to use a rental truck paid for with federal funds to transport a patio set, several flower boxes, fire-pit and a smart refrigerator valued at more than $4,000 from VOAD’s Quincy warehouse to your home in Roanoke?” Tarr asked.
Gannaway stated that she didn’t tell Hager to use a federally funded truck, but instead to use a rental truck leased by VOAD.
“I did pay him to do what he [did] out of my own pocket,” Gannaway stated.
Tarr stated, “Tyler Hager, I think, was planning to file a lawsuit against VOAD — a suit for about $230,000 — and he went to a Charleston law firm to do that. Shortly after, did you fill out an application for insurance for employment practices liability?”
“No, I did not,” Gannaway stated, adding that the application was filled out by VOAD’s insurance agent, board chair and human resources advisor, along with former Chief Financial Officer Benjamin Cisco.
“I was not involved in that application,” Gannaway said, adding that the application was never filed.
Gannaway added that BRIM (Board of Risk and Insurance Management) did settle on a VOAD claim for embezzlement conducted by Benjamin Cisco.
In response to additional questioning, Gannaway concluded that she signed check bonuses for “hero relief,” paid to herself, Hager and other employees from federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds.
“Were those funds eligible to give bonuses out to individuals?” Tarr asked.
“It was told to me from our CFO at the time that he had cleared this with our CPA and our auditor and we had had employees working weekends and things and [were] not paid for those times.”
Gannaway said VOAD did not have to pay back any of the funds used for employee bonuses.
“There’s about $400,000, as far as I can tell, that went to VOAD. Is that accurate from PPP? Do you recall?” Tarr asked.
“Most of that money was returned to them,” Gannaway stated, noting that she couldn’t recall the amount of her hero bonus.
At the end of the committee meeting, Tarr stated, “I’m not convinced that the funds that went through VOAD, and I’m not sure how much of that would have been state dollars with just even the recent appropriations let alone what’s happened since 2016, were used appropriately.”
At Tarr’s request, the committee moved to refer this matter to the Committee on Investigations, the state auditor and the Legislative auditor.