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Upshur County Republican Party split over dismissal of charges

By Christina Lane
Oct. 4, 2011 at 11 p.m.

Upshur County's Republican Party was divided Tuesday on the dismissal of the party chairman's charges. Meanwhile, District Attorney Billy Byrd provided insight as to why the charges were dropped when a similar high-profile case in the county resulted in years of probation and loss of a job.

"Every decision is different. Every case is different even though it may have same title of offense," Byrd said Tuesday. "You can't take a cookie-cutter to a case."

Byrd on Monday agreed to drop charges of theft of more than $1,500 and less than $20,000 and misappropriation of fiduciary property, with Republican Chairman Ken Ambrose repaying $6,000. Ambrose had used Republican Party funds from the Primary account to hire a lawyer.

When Ambrose's charges were dropped, people in the county and in the Republican Party began comparing Ambrose's case to that of former Gilmer Fire Chief Mike Melton, who received 10 years probation, forfeited his job and paid about $16,000 restitution. Melton was charged with misappropriation of fiduciary property ranging from $1,500 to $20,000 after taking checks and abusing credit cards belonging to the Gilmer Volunteer Fire Department.

Byrd said the agreements were based upon the facts of each case.

"Mike's case involved a situation where he pocketed money," Byrd said. "He used money for his personal benefit and for his personal gain. That money was collected through donations made to the fire department and other money raised by the fire department. ... With Ken Ambrose - he didn't take the money and put it in his pocket."

The money involved in Ambrose's case was sent to the Republican Party by the Secretary of State's Office and was to be used for conducting the Republican Primary. Byrd said Ambrose should have sought pre-approval from the state office in spending the money, as outlined in the election code.

"The Secretary of State's Office might have approved it, but the procedures were not followed," Byrd said.

The bottom line for Byrd was that the money didn't benefit Ambrose "personally."

"We have many statements from many witnesses who said Russell Soloway (the attorney Ambrose hired) helped Ken Ambrose in getting the party going in the direction that he, as chairman, wanted," Byrd said.

Some members of the Republican Party of Upshur County's Executive Committee were upset at Byrd's decision to dismiss the charges.

"A number of the (executive) committee members were upset that the charges were completely dropped," executive committee member Cynthia Ridgeway said. "We are very happy that the people who were owed money have finally obtained justice in getting their money back. We certainly do not view the prosecution of a clear case of theft as being a political maneuver. There's a great deal of unrest in the Executive Committee at the portrayal that the Executive Committee was on some sort of political maneuver."

Executive committee members first brought the issue to light in January that Ambrose had used the Primary funds to pay for an attorney. Ambrose in March called his subsequent indictments "political" and said it was an attempt by the executive committee to discredit his authority.

"We support justice," Ridgeway said.

Other members of the party and the executive committee expressed the opposite opinion.

"We, as the Republican Party of Upshur County Executive Committee, believe that justice, truth and common sense have prevailed," party member Denice McDonald said. "This case should have never gone this far."

McDonald was elected secretary of the Republican Party at a meeting a week ago that Ridgeway contends did not legally have a quorum to conduct business. Only two precinct chairmen attended the meeting; however, Ambrose has said a quorum was made up by other party officeholders. Ridgeway and other Republicans say Madaline Barber is the party secretary. Ridgeway said the executive committee is seeking clarification on Ambrose's meeting, but that it is clear "he could not elect a secretary and that he illegally declared a quorum."

"Cynthia Ridgeway and Madaline Barber have proven they don't trust voters of Upshur County to choose a Republican chairman so it does not surprise me they do not believe justice was served in the dismissal of Ken Ambrose," McDonald said.

Byrd said the executive committee is not a "victim" in Ambrose's lawsuit.

"At the end of the day, I proceeded on what justice required," Byrd said. "My oath is not to seek a conviction but to see that justice is done."



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