Senate President Larry Tucker Resigns

Charleston Daily Mail
September 8, 1989

Tucker quits as he admits taking cash

By Jack Deutsch
Daily Mail Capitol Bureau

State senators, stunned by the forced resignation of Senate President Larry Tucker, have begun the search for a new leader.

Tucker resigned his seat Thursday afternoon as part of a federal plea agreement resulting from taking $10,000 from a lobbyist.

"I just made a stupid mistake," he told WSAZ-TV.

Tucker said he accepted the money from legislative lobbyist Sam D'Annunzio in 1987, then unsuccessfully tried to return it. He said D'Annunzio, a Clarksburg beer distributor, refused to accept the money.

D'Annunzio killed himself in December 1987 but cooperated with federal prosecutors before his death.

Tucker also said he is resigning his position as an officer at his Summersville bank.

Gov. Gaston Caperton said he will call the Senate into special session next week to pick a new president.

The news of Tucker's plea agreement came out in federal court Wednesday afternoon in the extortion and racketeering trial of former Senate President Dan Tonkovich, D-Marshall.

Tucker had been scheduled to be a defense witness. But Tonkovich's lawyer said he was not aware of the plea agreement when he scheduled Tucker to testify on Tonkovich's behalf.

Tucker has not been officially charged, and he has not pleaded to a crime. Federal officials have refused to discuss the matter until charges are filed.

Tonkovich's lawyer, James Lees, said Tucker had admitted accepting $10,000 to support a bill that gave dog track owners a larger cut of the amount wagered at their tracks. Tucker was Senate judiciary chairman at the time.

Federal officials had previously filed documents alleging that Tonkovich also supported the dog track bill in exchange for $10,000 from Tri-State Greyhound Park owner Bill Ellis.

Ellis has denied the allegation.

The sudden downfall of Tucker shocked many, who had admired the blunt-talking Nicholas County banker.

"I found it very difficult to believe," said Senate Education Chairman Sondra Lucht, D-Berkeley. "I would never believe he would do that."

Tucker, 54, was elected to six terms in the House and two terms in the Senate. He ran unopposed for the Senate president in 1987 and recently completed his first year of the two-year term. A pragmatic conservative, Tucker was known as a tough negotiator who relied on a close circle of advisers.

That same coalition that elevated him to the top spot in the Senate is now moving to fill the Senate presidency.

Senate Finance Chairman Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, has been calling senators to gauge his strength. The candidates are trying to wrap up a majority of the 28 Democratic senators.

"I've had a whole lot of calls this afternoon," Tomblin said. "If the senators want me, I'll take it."

Tomblin's candidacy means that Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Lloyd Jackson, D-Lincoln, likely won't seek the post. Jackson and Tomblin are friends. Also, Jackson is up for re-election next year, and his senatorial district overlaps with Tomblin's district.

"As long as some people are in it, I'm out," Jackson said.

Jackson also is state Democratic Party chairman as well as a close adviser and former campaign manager for Caperton.

The governor, who canceled a trip to the Eastern Panhandle today, declined to say whom the administration would support, or if it would get involved.

"I have just found out about (Tucker's resignation)," he said. "It's something I'd have to think about."

Senators will be coming to Charleston on Sunday for legislative interim meetings. The governor said he would like to convene the Senate next week to vote for a new president.

"I'd like to do that if it's possible," he said. "My lawyer is researching whether we can have it during the interims. That's something that would reduce costs."

The state constitution says the governor has 10 days to call the Senate into session.

Sen. Homer Heck, D-Wayne, said he is planning to run for the top spot. He said he hopes to get the support of labor and southern senators.

"I think it looks pretty good," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Keith Burdette was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Sen. Oshel Craigo, D-Putnam, said he is not interested in the post or the attention that goes with it.

"The higher up the ladder you go, the more magnified the fishbowl," he said.

Craigo, Tucker's confidant in the Senate, said he was surprised by the news of the plea agreement.

"I think he's been an excellent legislator and Senate president. He made a mistake along the way," Craigo said.

Several senators said the race for Senate president is wide open, while others predicted little excitement.

"I'd say Tomblin is a winner, said Sen. William Sharpe, D-Lewis.

Sen. Charlotte Pritt, D-Kanawha, said liberal and labor senators will field a candidate. And she did rule herself out.

"I don't think anyone has it wrapped up," she said.

Tomblin is considered a moderate Democrat, who could get the support of the southern senators.

Other senators reported that they had been contacted by conservative Sen. Joe Manchin, D-Marion.

Tucker, who submitted a one-sentence resignation letter Wednesday afternoon, becomes the latest name on a growing list of Democratic officeholders who have resigned or pleaded guilty in the past year.

Sen. Si Boettner, D-Kanawha, pleaded guilty to a felony income tax charge and resigned. Del. Bob McCormick was found guilty of a federal tax evasion charge and resigned his seat.

Attorney General Charlie Brown resigned his seat last month in the middle of a grand jury investigation. Brown allegedly lied in a post-divorce hearing, and prosecutors agreed to drop the investigation in return for his resignation. Federal officials are continuing the investigation.

State Treasurer A. James Manchin resigned this summer to halt a Senate trial on 17 impeachment counts.

Caperton has appointed an attorney general, treasurer and three House members. In the next few weeks, he will have filled four of the 34 Senate seats.

Caperton will select a new state senator for Nicholas County based on recommendations from local Democratic officials. He also must fill Boettner's seat next week.

House Speaker Chuck Chamber[s], D-Cabell, said the Legislature has been tarnished by the flood of indictments and resignations.

"It's got to be disturbing, and it is to me," he said.

The speaker said he didn't receive pressure from the Senate on the dog track bill, and Tucker's indictment surprised him. Chambers said officeholders who are in trouble "are the exception and not the rule."

Government and Politics

West Virginia Archives and History