A federal grand jury has indicted a West Virginia state health office manager on charges that he approved more than $34 million in coronavirus pandemic relief payments to a private firm without verifying that the vendor provided goods and services it was under contract to deliver.
The indictment filed Tuesday in federal court in Charleston charges Timothy Priddy with making false statements to federal agents in August 2022 and in grand jury testimony the following month about the payments.
Gov. Jim Justice told reporters Thursday that Priddy has been suspended from his job, “and we’ll have to let the courts make a decision on his fate, that’s for sure.”
Priddy held various manager positions with the state Bureau for Public Health’s Center for Threat Preparedness. He was promoted to deputy director in March 2021 and to director in January 2022, according to the indictment.
An email left for Priddy was returned with a message that “As of October 17, 2023 I am no longer with the DHHR Center for Threat Preparedness.” It wasn’t immediately clear whether Priddy has an attorney who could comment on the charges.
Prosecutors said the federal investigation was trying to determine whether one or more vendors providing COVID-19 tests and mitigation services to the state overbilled or otherwise received payment from federal funds disbursed through the state’s main health agency, the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Prosecutors said the vendor reported the results of about 49,000 COVID-19 tests between October 2020 and March 2022 but submitted invoices reflecting the cost of about 518,000 test kits. Despite the discrepancy, Priddy certified at least 13 of the invoices totaling about $34 million, they said.
The indictment did not name the vendor but said the company was from out of state and provided test kits, laboratory analysis and community testing events throughout West Virginia.
DHHR spokesperson Jessica Holstein said Thursday that the health agency’s contract with the company for diagnostic testing services ended in October 2022. She said the agency has cooperated fully with federal investigators.
“DHHR takes extremely seriously its responsibility as a steward of taxpayer dollars and is committed to upholding the highest standards of integrity and accountability,” Holstein said in an email.
According to its contract, the vendor was required to provide nasal swab diagnostic testing for COVID-19 and upload test results immediately. The tests were for specific DHHR programs and initiatives, including residential youth facilities and hospice agencies, locations such as pharmacies where people go to get tested for COVID-19, and kits for emergency medical services workers who were required to be tested frequently.
Vendors contracted by the state were required to report the test results so that officials would have accurate information on the number of active COVID-19 infections and geographical areas experiencing outbreaks, the indictment said.
Nearly 8,250 deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in West Virginia since March 2020, according to the health agency’s dashboard.