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Investment banker hired to lead WV water agency following ethics probe


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A long-time investment banker has been appointed to head the West Virginia Water Development Authority, a state agency marked over the past year by employee disputes, investigations and ethics violations.

Marie Prezioso, who was serving as a water authority board member, stepped down from that post Thursday, and Gov. Jim Justice appointed her as the agency’s executive director. She’ll make $94,000 a year.

Prezioso replaces Chris Jarrett, who retired this week following an ethics investigation. Jarrett led the agency for the past seven years.

In May, Jarrett was ordered to pay $4,500 in fines and restitution after admitting he stored 12 pieces of personal furniture — desks, credenzas, chairs, a couch and conference table — in a storage room at the water authority’s headquarters building for three years. Jarrett removed the furniture, but only after the state Ethics Commission notified him he was under investigation.

Preziozo, a Democrat and sister of Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, previously worked for law firms that handled bond issues for the Water Development Authority and other state agencies. The water authority finances water and sewer projects across the state, overseeing more than $3.8 billion in funding.

“She has more than three decades of professional experience in public finance, investments and banking and is very familiar with the issues facing the Water Development Authority,” Justice said.

She has held state government jobs before. She’s the former executive director of the Municipal Bond Commission, senior investment officer, acting director of investments and deputy commissioner for finance and administration.

Prezioso has received the Distinguished West Virginian award from two governors.

She takes over an agency that’s been embroiled in turmoil.

Last year, Jarrett ordered a wiretapping sweep of the water authority office amid allegations of secret recordings. Charleston police conducted the search for hidden listening devices at the agency’s building near Fazio’s Italian Restaurant on Bullitt Street. No wiretaps were found, according to agency employees.

The sweep followed a dispute between Jarrett and the agency’s former GIS manager, Mike Duminiak, who filed the complaint against Jarrett with the Ethics Commission.

The state Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations has been scrutinizing the water authority’s spending and hiring practices in recent months.

The investigation followed a Gazette-Mail report about the water authority hiring temporary workers and providing them with perks such as paid holidays, sick leave and the use of state-owned vehicles.

Also Thursday, Justice appointed Gary Sutphin, to replace Prezioso on the water authority board. Sutphin spent two decades as the city of Beckley’s recorder and treasurer.

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