Milton, West Virginia is a somewhat sleepy rural town located midway between the state capital of Charleston, and Huntington, the home of Marshall University. Give or take, the town’s population is around 2,500. In efforts to attract more people and businesses to its community, Milton needed to offer more enticement, but this required finding revenue the town didn’t have. So they devised a plan…
Milton’s location, just off of interstate highway 64, makes it an ideal fuel and filling up the tummy spot for travelers. The plan was to increase the size of its police department so they could show a bigger presence and be able to write more traffic tickets.
The town turned its police department into a business-style money-making machine. In 2012, the town raked in a measly $234,000 in tickets, fines, court fees, etc. In 2020 that figure did a high jump when the figure hit $600,000. But at the same time, the cost of maintaining the over-populated police department skyrocketed to $1.1 million. The town still couldn’t make enough money.
While trying to make sense of the town’s financial woes, city officials discovered an alarming money drainer that had been overlooked for years. A longtime Milton resident, Jeff Hoops’s legacy lies in bankrupting the Blackjewel mining company that supported hundreds of local coal miners who never got paid for a good amount of the work they’d done.
Understandably a very quiet and no limelight kind of guy these days, Hoops has been silently scheming to build a brand spanking new luxury hotel. To raise money for the project he’s been cheating Milton by taking millions in tax breaks straight out of the town’s coffers.
Hoops valued the 170 acres he owns in Milton at $8.7 million to the West Virginia Economic Development Authority. As it turns out, through a company that he controls, Hoops purchased the entire acreage from the city for just $20.
To further increase his revenue via tax breaks, Milton granted Hoops a $15 million tax break to build a new luxury hotel on the property. Ironically, Hoops has used the tax money of the people’s lives he destroyed from his devastating bankruptcy to finance his new career as a hotelier.
Chris Lewis, a former miner for Blackjewel, remembers how the mine closure went down. “I went to work one day and then [they] said, ‘We’re filing bankruptcy, come back tomorrow.’ They put the last check in the bank and pulled it back, everybody was in the red. People were getting arrested over child support.”
When listing his qualifications to manage the building of the hotel, Hoops made a curious statement. He claimed to be “one of the top one hundred real estate landholders in the country, with over 120,000 acres in seven states.” He also flaunted the “2 Billion tons in reserves” he claims to have in unmined minerals.
Naturally, this begs the question of why Hoops needed to bankrupt Blackjewel in the first place. The short answer is that he didn’t. It was all a lie. He’d planned the entire scenario all along. He never wanted to be in the mining business.
Have certain city officials been involved in the scheme? Probably. It would be hard for Hoops to pull something this huge off by himself. Has the increased police presence and writing an excessive number of traffic tickets for any excuse they can find, affected the community. You bet it has. Some residents have left.
Small town corruption in America. It happens every day and it happens everywhere. Pockets get lined, favors get done, and it’s difficult to detect. But ultimately it’s taxpayers who pay the price for other people’s wealth. And who can blame local officials and politicians for practicing in case they ever make it to D.C.?
What are you paying for that you know nothing about?