WVGOV: A Dossier on Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin

By westvirginia on May 4, 2011
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By Steven Allen Adams

Last night three out of six Democratic candidates in the May 14 primary participated in a debate at the University of Charleston. Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, the acting governor, declined to participate, citing other commitments. House Speaker Rick Thompson also did not participate, but his campaign spokesperson told Charleston Gazette reporter Alison Knezevich that Tomblin was avoiding questions on his gambling background. Even State Treasurer John Perdue got in on the act, releasing a new commercial hitting Tomblin for his gambling ties.

Tomblin may want to be governor of the state, but his fellow candidates want answers to questions concerning his connections to the gambling industry.

Tomblin, Southern Amusements, and former Del. Joe C. Ferrell

Since West Virginia is a small state, it’s easy to end up connected in some way to someone who has broken the law. However, for one recently indicted former state delegate and one current state senate president, the connections are more than plenty.

Take the interesting case of one Joe Cleveland Ferrell. Ferrell, 62, of Chapmanville, W.Va., was indicted June 8, 2009, on 48 counts by United States Attorney Charles T. Miller in Huntington, W.Va. Ferrell pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering and tax fraud in a plea deal; the remaining 38 counts were dismissed.

The indictment was aimed at Ferrell and his company, Southern Amusement Co., Inc., of Logan, W.Va. Southern Amusement is licensed by the West Virginia Lottery Commission under the Limited Video Lottery Act to operate video lottery machines in the W.Va.

According to a story published June 18, 2009, by The Charleston Gazette, Southern Amusement has 640 video lottery terminals at 128 locations in the state.

A History of Corruption
Ferrell has a prior history in regards to corruption charges. Much of this information was researched by Dr. Allen H. Loughry II in his book, “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide: The Sordid and Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia.” The book can be purchased by going to www.reformwv.com.

Ferrell represented District 19 in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1983-1984, then from 1987-1992. However, in 1992 Ferrell pleaded guilty to vote buying. Over $58,000 was spent to buy his House seat between 1986-1992. This included $11,500 to former Logan County Circuit Judge Ned Grubb, who was convicted in federal court for accepting illegal campaign cash.

Ferrell, as part of his plea, promised to never run for office again. The promise was quickly broken when Ferrell returned to his house seat, serving from 2000-2006. He returned just in time to do his friend, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, a favor.

The Tomblin’s: A Family Affair
Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin represents Logan County in the West Virginia State Senate, holding that seat since 1980. He has served as Senate President since 1995, also making him the state’s Lieutenant Governor. Tomblin is the current acting Governor, taking the place of former Gov. Joe Manchin, who now serves in the U.S. Senate.

Oddly enough, Tomblin was once the owner of Southern Amusement until 1995. According to the West Virginia Secretary of State‘s office, the business was started in 1966 and was incorporated by Tomblin’s mother, Freda Tomblin, along with Frank Tomblin. Freda also has a puppy farm and a kennel in her name. These dogs are raised for racing at the state’s racetracks.

Tomblin’s own father, former Logan County Sheriff Earl Tomblin, was a member of the “Logan Five;” five elected officials convicted of election rigging in the 1970s. Later, in 1992, Earl pleaded guilty to bribery related to the election for former Logan County Sheriff Oval Adams.

In 2001, prior to the establishment of state-regulated video lottery, there were gray machines. These machines were supposed to be for entertainment purposes only and not allowed to give payouts. However, payouts were often given under the table and off the books. An effort was led by the senior Tomblin to legalize the machines under former Gov. Gaston Caperton, only to fail due to investigations into the West Virginia Lottery Commission at the time.

Southern Amusement: From Tomblin to Ferrell

After this, in 1995, Tomblin was under pressure due to his ownership of Southern Amusement. At the time Tomblin was against state-regulated video lottery. He was criticized at the time for killing off a riverboat gambling initiative, and also allowing an amendment through that directly benefited his family’s greyhound breeding business. He therefore sold the company to Ferrell, a family friend, despite Ferrell having declared bankruptcy, owing over $31 million in debts.

In 2001, the West Virginia State Police confiscated over 30 of Southern Amusement’s gray machines. The Logan County Prosecuting Attorney refused to prosecute, and in September 2001, Ferrell was one of the first to receive a video lottery license.

In 2005, federal authorities issued a search warrant on Southern Amusement in relation to the most recent indictment. In 2007, Ferrell put all outstanding stocks in the name of his wife, Vicki Ferrell. Vicki is also named as president of Southern Amusement. Mitzi Ferrell Brammer is listed as the secretary/treasurer.

A Role of the Dice
On his Nov. 11, 2008, campaign financial statement, Tomblin listed a total of $423,752.46 in total contributions for the 2008 general election, when he ran for re-election to the State Senate. Some of the largest donations came from gambling interests in the state.

Tomblin is linked completely to gambling, both racing and video lottery, in West Virginia. Tomblin’s mother, Freda, owns Tomblin Kennels, a breeder of greyhounds for the state’s two dog racing tracks: Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center and Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center. According to a article published Aug. 18, 2008, in The Wheeling News-Register, Tomblin Kennels received $263,604 in 2007 from the West Virginia Greyhound Breeder Development Fund, which rewards in-state breeders.

On the video slot machine side, Tomblin was the owner of Southern Amusement until 1995. At the time it was against the law for video lottery machines, known as gray machines, to be able to pay out. Tomblin was under pressure to dump the company. He therefore sold the company to Ferrell.

Two of a Kind
Donations to Tomblin reflect the above gambling ties. One of Tomblin’s closest ties is to Nelson Robinson, a registered lobbyist. Robinson represents the following groups: the Airport Authority/Central WV Region, the West Virginia Cemetery Association, the West Virginia Chiropractic Society, Consumer Attorneys of WV, Mountaineer RaceTrack & Gaming Resort (MRT), West Virginia Municipal League, West Virginia Optometric Association, Podiatric Medical Society of WV, and the West Virginia Retailers Association.

Out of the nine groups that utilize Robinson’s services, four donated money to Tomblin’s 2008 campaign. These include: $350, WV Retailers Association; $250, West Virginia Chiropractic Society; and $1,000, WV Optometrist Association. However, the largest by far was $2,000 from executives with Mountaineer RaceTrack & Gaming Resort. $1,000 came from Jeffrey P. Jacobs, Chairman of the Board of Directors, MRT Gaming Group, Inc., and President of Jacobs Entertainment, Inc. The other $1,000 came from Edson (Ted) R. Arneault, the former CEO of MRT effective Nov. 1, 2008.

Tomblin and Robinson are also connected in another way: education. Robinson is serves on the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education. As a member of this group, Robinson oversees 10 colleges in the state.

One of these institutions is Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, with campuses in Mount Gay, Williamson, Foster, and McGraws. The President of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College is Joanne Jaeger Tomblin, the wife of Earl Ray Tomblin. An article in the Oct. 6, 2008 issue of The Charleston Gazette reported that Robinson hosted a dinner at MRT that included Earl Ray and Joanne Tomblin and other leaders at a cost of $84 per person.

The connections between Tomblin and Robinson are more than monetary; they are political and personal.

Keep Your Stick on the Ice
Tomblin received big bucks from other gambling interests. These include: $1,000 from the Friends of the Track Political Action Committee (PAC), Charlestown Racing; $1,000 from Penn National Gaming PAC, Wyomissing, PA (affiliated with Charlestown Racing); $1,000 from Phil Reale, attorney for the West Virginia Limited Video Lottery Retailers Association; and $850 from Linda Knowles, owner of K & K Music of Bluefield, which deals in video lottery machines.

The high rollers, however, were executives associated with Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center, who donated a total of $4,000.

Wheeling Island Racetrack is owned by Delaware North Co. Delaware North specializes in hospitality and food service on a global scale. These operations include live greyhound and thoroughbred racing, simulcast races, video lottery terminals and table games. simulcast races, video lottery terminals and table games.

Jeremy M. Jacobs, the Chairman and CEO of Delaware North, was ranked the 317th richest man in the U.S. By Forbes in 2007. He donated $2,000 to Tomblin’s campaign. His sons got in on the act as well. Louis M. Jacobs, Executive Vice President of Delaware North, donated $1,000; and Charles Jacobs, Executive Vice President for the Boston Bruins hockey team (also owned by Delaware North) donated $1,000.

All Cards on the Table

The connections above show that Tomblin courts gambling interests in West Virginia. In the case of Nelson Robinson the connections get more tangled; a registered lobbyist flowing campaign cash to Tomblin on one hand, and sitting on a state community college committee that votes on issues effecting Tomblin’s wife, a college president.

Tomblin, as acting governor, signed S.B. 550 into law, which passed the West Virginia Legislature March 12. The bill relates to gaming at licensed racetracks and historic resort hotels, establishing the Licensed Racetrack Modernization Fund. For every $2 spent on purchasing new video lottery terminals the state would give the casino $1. The fund is capped at $10 million a year divided between the state’s casinos and lasts 10 years, costing as much as $100 million. The Tomblin Kennel also received $268,410 from greyhound breeders’ funds in 2010.

Tomblin, as acting governor, is running in the May 14th Democratic primary. The winner gets a crack at one year of former Gov. Joe Manchin’s second four-year term.

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Posted under Campaign Finance, Elections, Ethics, Featured, Governor, Legislation, News, Politics, Transparency, West Virginia.
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