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Governor questioned regarding companies

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice didn’t have answers Tuesday as to why only seven of his 112 companies were in blind trusts, or about the multi-million-dollar loans he personally guaranteed to at least two financial institutions.

Justice was asked during his Tuesday COVID-19 briefing about whether the types of loans for the businesses he owns — operated by his son Jay and daughter Jill — made it difficult to put those business interests in blind trusts.  

“My financial people could answer that question a whole lot better than I,” he said.

Justice personally guaranteed $368 million in loans from Virginia-based Carter Bank and Trust over a 15-year period, followed by $700 million in personal loan guarantees to London-based Greensill Capital. The loans were for Bluestone Resources Inc. and the Greenbrier Resort.

Bluestone and the Greenbrier are two of about 112 companies owned by Justice according to his 2021 financial disclosure report with the West Virginia Ethics Commission.

Only seven of those companies were placed in blind trusts as of April 30, 2017, shortly after Justice took office as governor. Blind trusts are used by elected officials to place their business holdings in the hands of third parties while they serve to avoid possible conflicts of interest.  

In a letter to state employees after taking office in January 2017, Justice announced he was turning over the control of his private businesses to son Jay, who runs the coal and agricultural businesses, and daughter Jill, who runs the Greenbrier Resort. But Justice has been long accused of still being active in day-to-day management of his companies.

“It would be no different than your son going out and buying a home and the bank saying they would like me to personally guarantee that,” Justice said. “I’d say sure. From the standpoint of my involvement in the home and everything that is going on, well I have no involvement. From the standpoint of my businesses and everything, sure I talk to my kids from time to time.”

Greensill filed for bankruptcy in March – with Justice filing a lawsuit against the company shortly thereafter – once the company lost coverage by credit insurers meant to provide the company liability protection from the risky supply-chain finance venture, a kind of payday loan meant for companies. One of Greensill’s creditors, Credit Suisse Group’s, is demanding that Bluestone Resources begin repayment of the loan.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, Justice and his wife Cathy Justice guaranteed Bluestone’s loans to Greensill in unlimited amounts while Jay Justice, Bluestone’s CEO while Justice serves as governor, made several limited loan guarantees. The financing, starting in 2018, covered a three-year period.

Justice, his wife Cathy Justice and multiple companies owned by the Justice family filed a civil case earlier this month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia against executives of Carter Bank and Trust, a community bank headquartered in Bassett, Va.

Justice is seeking damages of $421 million from the bank, which the governor alleges engaged in anti-competitive behavior, breach of contract, and breach of its fiduciary duties. The lawsuit alleges that several of Justice’s companies were tricked into missing loan payments, putting those loans into default and used to force the companies into new loan terms. The suit was filed one day before two of Justice’s loans were due to be repaid in full.

Justice also alleges that Carter Bank is fighting an effort by Justice to refinance the loans through a new financial institution to keep from receiving reduced interest rates. According to the lawsuit, the relationship between Justice and the bank went sour after the bank’s founder, Worth Carter, died in 2017.

In a report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last week, the bank began reducing its credit exposure five years ago due to the Justice loans.  

“The allegations in the Lawsuit regarding negotiations between the parties are false and misleading,” the report stated. “Banks have an obligation to their shareholders and the financial system to collect in full all amounts that are due and owing to them. Carter Bank is no different from any other bank in this regard. As with all its customers, Carter Bank expects to be repaid by the Justice Entities all amounts due and owing in full in a timely manner as agreed-upon in the various loan documents existing between the parties.”

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