Emails Show Unease Over Tobacco Job, Resignation

Newly released emails show the interim director of the Virginia tobacco commission was uneasy about the timing of a potential job offer to former Democratic state Sen. Phil Puckett, whose recent resignation has been investigated by the FBI.

The emails also show that the GOP-controlled commission appeared to create a position solely for Puckett and even solicited his input in crafting the job description.

Tobacco commission emails were released Thursday in response to a public records request.

Puckett resigned from the Senate on June 9, giving Republicans control of the upper chamber and dealing a huge blow to Gov. Terry McAuliffe's goal of expanding Medicaid eligibility. The FBI has been investigating the circumstances of Puckett's resignation. Commission interim Executive Director Tim Pfohl was ordered to appear before a grand jury Tuesday, according to a copy of a subpoena provided to The Associated Press.

Federal prosecutors have also subpoenaed commission records that involve "the offer of anything of value'' to Puckett.

In the emails, Pfohl indicates that Del. Terry Kilgore, the commission's chairman, asked Pfohl to find a position for Puckett.

"I'm not aware of the genesis of this idea, but Terry has asked us to speak to you when you're available,'' Pfohl wrote to Puckett on May 30.

On June 5, Pfohl's deputy Ned Stephenson sent Puckett a draft job description.

"It is in a Word form, which is easily edited, and I welcome your comments and conversation about how we can shape this for mutual success,'' Stephenson wrote.

The attached document noted that the proposed job would "serve in an advisory role'' to the commission and would come with a cellphone and possibly a car.

Also on June 5, Pfohl expressed concerns about announcing Puckett's appointment to the tobacco commission about the same time as his resignation. Pfohl wrote that he "implored'' Kilgore to "decouple'' announcing Puckett's job at the commission in conjunction with Puckett's retirement "for the sake of appearances.''

"I mention all of this so you know what's being planned on our end to give this the most defensible appearance of due process,'' Pfohl wrote in an email to Puckett. "Let's hope this all goes as smoothly as possible!''

Word that Puckett planned to resign and was in line for a high-level job at the tobacco commission leaked to the public a day before Puckett's official resignation. The news caused an uproar, with some Democrats accusing Puckett and Kilgore of making a back-room deal.

Puckett withdrew his name for consideration of a tobacco commission job the same day he officially resigned from the Senate.

Both Puckett and Kilgore have denied there was any type of deal or any wrongdoing.

Kilgore could not be reached for comment, but he has previously defended his decision to try and find a job at the commission for Puckett, saying he his more than qualified.

Puckett's attorney declined to comment.

The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission uses bond money from Virginia's share of the $206 billion national settlement against the tobacco industry to help spur economic growth in southwest and Southside Virginia.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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