Government-funded agencies in Russell Co. accused of corruption

Four people indicted by special grand jury

POSTED: 6:17 PM Apr 12 2013   UPDATED: 12:00 AM Apr 13 2013

Criminal indictments involve two local government funded agencies accused of mismanaging funds and projects.

Former employees of the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission and the Cumberland Plateau Regional Housing Authority face charges of money laundering, misrepresentation, forgery, and more.

The Russell County, Virginia investigation began more than a year ago.

Three of the people facing criminal charges were involved in programs to help people low-income people with housing or fixing up their homes.    

We've also learned a contractor they worked with faces charges as well.

The Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission and the Cumberland Plateau Regional Housing Authority are accused of corruption by a Russell County special grand jury.

The Commonwealth's Attorney, Brian Patton, told us he could not talk about the facts of the case, but there the grand jury's 18 page report addresses 33 different things.

Among the accusations:

The report states on at least six occasions, a contractor was paid to demolish a mobile home that is still being lived in.

It also claims bids were falsified and forged, and salary and sick pay weren't properly managed.

We spoke to the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission's executive director, James Baldwin.  

He said his organization has been fully cooperative in the investigation, but would not elaborate on details of the allegations.

"We certainly look to the future and trying to continue the good work that we do. I can't really comment on something that involves an ongoing prosecution," said Baldwin.

We also sat down with the housing authority's director, Keith Viers.

Like Baldwin, he, too would not get into specifics, but did tell us this: "We're still reviewing that information and again, even items that were cited in the grand jury's report, corrective action had been taken on some items that were identified as deficiencies, and we're going to work to improve our operations on a daily basis," said Viers.

This report doesn't just include allegations of criminal activity; it also lists recommendations for the agencies that include appointing all new board members and replacing both executive directors.

Local taxpayers helping to pay for these programs told us if these allegations are true, someone must be held accountable.

"It doesn't matter what department they're in or anything. They're supposed to be working for the people," said Roger Dameron, a Russell County resident.

"I think that they ought to lose their job and pay the money back," said Don Robinette, another local citizen.

Louis Porter Ballenberger, II, the former deputy executive director of the CPPDC, Patricia Dickenson Gray, the former director and current board member of the CPRHA, and Roger Lewis Puckett, the owner of Puckett Construction face several charges; among them, money laundering and conspiracy.

Douglas Lee Rasnake, rehabilitation specialist and former contractor with the CRPHA, faces charges of misrepresentation, perjury, and more.

The grand jury also recommended policy and procedure changes at both agencies.