(TNS) Boone County Ambulance Authority Director Randy Lengyel secured an illegal $103,000 personal loan from the agency and used the money to enhance his retirement benefits, according to a letter that summarizes a state investigation.
Boone Prosecuting Attorney D. Keith Randolph has directed Lengyel to pay back the no-interest loan in full by Sept. 30 – or face possible ethics charges.
In an interview with the Gazette-Mail this week, Lengyel said he would reimburse the ambulance authority immediately.
“I’m paying it back now – in full,” Lengyel said. “Everything’s going to be taken care of. It will all be paid back, and there won’t be an issue.”
The state Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations started investigating Lengyel in May, directing the Boone Ambulance Authority to turn over bank statements, meeting minutes and loan documents, according to a letter obtained by the Gazette-Mail.
In September 2013, Lengyel persuaded ambulance authority board members to loan him $103,000 so he could switch from the West Virginia state employees retirement plan to more lucrative plan set up for emergency medical service workers. Under the loan’s terms – which the board never voted on – Lengyel agreed to pay off the no-interest loan in monthly installments of $350 after he retired.
Under state law, the ambulance board had no legal authority to make a personal loan – “let alone a personal loan to an employee,” according to a letter sent by the Boone Prosecuting Attorneys Office to Lengyel on July 31.
In 2012, Lengyel asked then-Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, to introduce legislation that would allow ambulance directors across the state to bolster their retirement benefits, Stowers confirmed this week.
The bill gave a one-year window for directors to switch from the Public Employees Retirement System to the Emergency Medical Services Retirement System. The EMS plan comes with significantly higher monthly retirement payments. EMS plan recipients also can retire and start collecting payments 10 years earlier than state employees.
“Randy approached me about wanting to buy into the EMS retirement system,” Stowers recalled earlier this week. “My job was to open the system to allow someone to buy back into something that may be more beneficial as long as the state was due what it was due. How he acquired those monies, I wasn’t a part of.”
Stowers resigned from the Legislature to take a job as chief deputy to state Treasurer John Perdue in July 2013, three months before the Boone ambulance board approved the illegal personal loan.
“Obviously, I don’t think he should have acquire the money in a way that may have been inappropriate,” Stowers said.
The West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates passed Stowers’ bill, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed it into law.
Lengyel was the only ambulance director in West Virginia to take advantage of the new law and switch retirement plans the following year.
Many ambulance directors signed up for the EMS retirement plan when it started in 2007, but Lengyel wasn’t working at the Boone Ambulance Authority at the time. Directors weren’t allowed to buy into the system again until Stowers’ bill passed five years later.
“Anyone taking advantage of this legislation, they had to bear all of the true costs in order to do the transfer,” said Terasa Miller, deputy director of the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board. “The person had to pay the full cost. There was no cost to the state.”
In his letter to Lengyel, Randolph said he could refer the ambulance authority investigation to a Boone County grand jury or the state Ethics Commission. Randolph said he would file a “civil action” to void the authority’s loan, if Lengyel doesn’t pay it back.
“All of the above comes to this: The money must be returned immediately, and in full, to the Boone County Ambulance Authority,” Randolph told Lengyel in the letter.
Randolph could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Lengyel said he plans to stay in the EMS retirement plan. He declined to say how he would come up with the money to repay the $103,000 loan so quickly.
Lengyel denied any wrongdoing.
“We couldn’t find anything wrong with [the personal loan],” he said. “I don’t have any details to give you. I don’t see any issues at all.”
(c) 2015 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)
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