Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton said yesterday that a state police investigation has cleared former state energy office director Louis R. Lowson of any criminal violations in running the agency but found that he had wrongly collected $184.09 in personal expenses from the government.
Dalton disclosed the results of the Lawson investigation at a press conference in which he also said he has acted to stop improper spending practices at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VLMS) at Gloucester Point and has established a plan to reduce state government costs by abolishing unfilled jobs.
Dalton said Lawson was informed of the state police findings on Wednesday and immediately gave the governor a check to repay the expenses in question.
The governor said police are continuing their investigation of two state energy programs. One involves state purchase and storage of millions of gallons of fuel oil for use during oil shortages. The other involves allocation by state order of privately owned petroleum supplies to fuel dealers who claim they cannot obtain supplies in commercial markets.
Both programs were until recently operated by the energy office, but Lawson has said that he was given no control over the storage program and did not have direct control over the allocation program. Dalton announced in March that he was firing Lawson as head of the energy agency and had authorized the police investigation because of "allegations of impropriety" in the agency.
He said then, and reiterated yesterday, that his decision not to reappoint Lawson was not based on the allegations, but on his conclusion that management changes were needed in the energy agency.
Dalton said the improper expense payments to Lawson "involved five items, such as travel, for which he probably should not have been reimbursed." The governor said "I am sure it was nothing intentional on his part."
He said both Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman and Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Aubrey M. Davis Jr. reviewed the police findings in the Lawson probe and agreed "the investigation shows no basis for additional legal action."
Dalton said the improper spending procedures at the State marine science agency in Gloucester County were brought to his attention by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. He said VIMS added 16,400 square feet to existing buildings without obtaining legislative approval for capital expenditures and by unauthorized use of operating and maintenance funds.
He said he has asked the VIMS governing board to take "whatever disciplinary action they deem appropriate" and warned that repetition of unauthorized spending would force the state controller to withhold state funds from the agency.
The principal feature of the state employment control plan announced by Dalton is the automatic abolition of any job that remains vacant for six months. The governor said about 9,000 or the 89,000 authorized state government positions currently are unfilled.He said the number vacant for more than six months may total "several thousand."