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Published: Sunday, September 02, 2012
Page: 1A

The 25-year-old son of West Virginia homeland security director Jimmy Gianato is being paid through a $126.3 million federal stimulus grant that Gianato oversees.

In October, Adam Gianato secured a $60-per-hour job as a contract employee with an engineering firm that's helping the state build 12 "microwave" emergency communications towers across West Virginia. The state used the federal stimulus to pay Gianato's salary and overtime - a total of $73,000 over four and a half months. Jimmy Gianato serves as the stimulus project's chief "grant administrator."

In mid-February, Adam Gianato landed a full-time job as a state employee assigned to inspect the wireless towers, his $37,500 salary to be paid entirely by the stimulus. He works from his home in McDowell County.

The West Virginia Ethics Commission and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which distributed the grant money, gave the green light for Jimmy Gianato to administer the grant while his son got paid out of grant funds, Gianato said last week.

"They didn't have an issue with it," Gianato said. "I didn't have anything to do with Adam being hired - or asking anyone that he be hired."

Adam Gianato also drove rental trucks paid for by the federal grant from his home in Kimball to tower sites in Southern West Virginia, and the stimulus picked up Gianato's travel expenses - meals, hotels, gas and other miscellaneous charges on his personal credit card.

Jimmy Gianato heads West Virginia's three-member federal "grant implementation team," which oversees a $126.3 million project designed to expand high-speed Internet in West Virginia. Gianato has the final say on the use of the stimulus funds, including hiring and spending decisions.

The federal grant's rules include a code of conduct that states, "No employee, officer or agent of the [grant] recipient may participate in the selection, award or administration of a contract ... supported by federal funds if a real or apparent conflict of interest exists."

An NTIA spokeswoman said the agency would review Adam Gianato's hiring.

The state expects to spend more than $30 million out of the $126.3 million federal grant on the towers and wireless equipment - a project that grant team members affectionately call "Jimmy's towers."

"I don't do the day-to-day stuff with the grant," Jimmy Gianato said. "I only see things at the highest levels. I don't get down into the weeds."

Tower project chief recommends Gianato's son for job

Last October, TRC/Alexander Utility Engineering hired Adam Gianato to work on the wireless tower project in West Virginia.

Jimmy Gianato said last week that Joe Gonzalez, communication director for the state Office of Emergency Medical Services, helped Adam Gianato secure the job. Gonzalez's office has a contract with the engineering firm. The state is using the contract to build additional wireless towers as part of the $126.3 million project.

"Joe Gonzalez recommended him," Jimmy Gianato said last week. "Joe had seen Adam around at different events with me."

Gonzalez reports directly to Jimmy Gianato on the federal stimulus project, according to an organizational chart. Gonzalez heads the project's "towers team," a group overseeing tower construction, which is designed to improve the state's emergency communications network.

Jimmy Gianato said Gonzalez reports to him, but not directly.

"Ultimately, everybody reports to me," Gianato said.

Gianato said he called NTIA staffer Scott Woods about Adam possibly working on the $126.3 million project in July 2011.

"They just told us to seek guidance from the state," Gianato said.

So the Office of Emergency Medical Services contacted the state Ethics Commission. The ethics agency's executive director, Theresa Kirk, sent an email, advising that Adam Gianato's hiring wouldn't violate the Ethics Act, Jimmy Gianato said.

The Ethics Commission issues advisory opinions and informal advice to public officials about the state's Ethics Act. Gianato solicited informal advice, not an advisory opinion. The Ethics Commission board votes on advisory opinions, and they're released publicly. Informal ethics advice is kept confidential.

Gianato recalled that he had a telephone conversation with Kirk.

"I was concerned somebody might say this was a conflict," Gianato said. "She asked me how the grant was administered. Since I didn't supervise Adam and I don't control the [engineering firm's] contract, she said there was no issue."

Between October and February, TRC/Alexander Utility Engineering billed the state for Adam Gianato's work - 946 regular hours at $60 an hour, and 190 hours of overtime at $90 an hour, invoices show. The state paid $56,160 for Gianato's regular pay and $17,100 for his overtime.

State records don't disclose exactly how much the engineering firm, in turn, paid Gianato, who worked as an "application technician." Contractors typically bill for a higher amount than the firms actually pay their employees. Jimmy Gianato said he didn't know how much his son earned as a contract worker for the engineering firm.

Adam Gianato's work included "field acceptance testing," "broadband duties," and meetings with the owners of Premier Construction Group, a Jane Lew company that's building the towers.

The federal stimulus picked up more than $2,000 in expenses for Gianato's hotel stays, meals, gas and "other travel costs," invoices show. The engineering firm also billed the state $1,566 for a 2012 Dodge pickup that Gianato rented from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Gianato drove the truck for more than a month.

Adam Gianato also submitted receipts for Walmart purchases - a shovel, wasp spray and mothballs, which are used to keep snakes away from the tower sites.

Adam Gianato did not respond to a request for comment last week.

Dan Banks, vice president of San Antonio, Texas-based Alexander Utility Engineering, said Adam Gianato was a "very dependable" employee.

"The job was a simple technician," said Banks, whose company will be paid $4.6 million out of the stimulus funds for the West Virginia tower project. "We needed some help up there. He was recommended to us, he was qualified, he passed all his drug tests, and we hired him."

Gianato forgoes follow-up opinion from ethics agency

After leaving the private contracting job, Adam Gianato immediately started working as a full-time state employee, making $37,500 a year. He has a new title, "electronic technician III," but his salary and benefits will be paid from the same funding source, the federal stimulus, according to a memo obtained by the Gazette-Mail.

In May 2011, the grant implementation team gave the state Office of Emergency Services the OK to hire six electronic technicians, using funding from the $126.3 million stimulus grant. The jobs require a high school diploma and four years of experience in electronics repair.

Gonzalez hired Adam Gianato in February.

"He works for Joe Gonzalez," Jimmy Gianato said of his son. "At the time, Adam applied for two or three state jobs. I don't know if Joe told him about the [electronic technician] job, or if he found out from somebody else. I didn't tell him to apply."

Gonzalez declined comment last week, saying Adam Gianato's hiring is a "personnel matter." Gonzalez referred questions to the Department of Health and Human Resources, which oversees his office.

"Mr. [Adam] Gianato was hired from a employee register obtained from the Division of Personnel," DHHR spokeswoman Marsha Dadisman said in an email.

Dadisman also said Gonzalez does not report to Gianato on the tower project.

Jimmy Gianato said he never checked back with the NTIA or the Ethics Commision after his son left his job with the engineering firm and became a state employee assigned to the tower project. Gianato said he did not notify anyone in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office that his son was being paid out of the stimulus funds.

"I didn't think anything about it after the ethics opinion was given," Gianato said. "We didn't go back for a second opinion."

Since Feb. 15, Adam Gianato has collected $18,700 in salary and $7,200 in overtime as a state employee. The state also has reimbursed Gianato for more than $1,000 in travel expenses.

The state broadband team has a written agreement with the Office of Emergency Medical Services to pay Adam Gianato's salary and benefits out of the $126.3 million federal grant, but the state agency has yet to seek reimbursement for those costs, payroll records show.

The federal grant will stop paying Adam Gianato's state salary - and the salaries of the other five technicians - on Feb. 13, the day the grant expires.

Gonzalez's office has provided a Dodge truck to Adam Gianato, which he uses to drive from his home in Kimball to the tower sites.

"Joe's pretty tough to work for," Jimmy Gianato said. "I'd say Joe keeps them [the technicians] straight."

Before working as private contractor and state employee, Adam Gianato was a security guard at the construction site of the new federal prison in McDowell County. He also previously worked for the state Division of Highways on special projects.

Jimmy Gianato said his son, who's a volunteer firefighter in Kimball, has tinkered with radios and electronics since he was a young boy.

"He's been around radios because he's been around me all his life," Gianato said. "He's been at the fire department since he was old enough to walk."

Gianato said he's received no complaints from his son or Adam's supervisors since Adam started working on the broadband project.

"I think he loves his job," Gianato said. "He loves the communication stuff. I hadn't had anybody complain to me, but they probably wouldn't."

Father and son travel on Texas firm's dime

Less than two weeks after Adam Gianato was put on the state payroll, he took a trip to Austin, Texas - paid for by Aviat Networks, a company selling equipment to the state for the tower project, records show.

"This travel is essential to his training as part of the technical team on the ground when product is delivered," according to his travel authorization form.

Aviat paid for Gianato's airfare, meals and hotel room during the four-day trip to observe "factory-acceptance testing" at an Austin facility before the company delivered tower equipment to West Virginia.

Gonzalez accompanied Adam Gianato on the trip, state travel records show.

Gonzalez and Jimmy Gianato have promoted Aviat in the past.

Last October - the same month Adam Gianato started working as a private contractor on the tower project - Aviat announced its role in West Virginia's project during a news conference with Jimmy Gianato and Gonzalez at the Texas factory.

Gianato praised the company during the event, and Aviat used his comments on the company's website to promote its products.

The website also featured the official seal of the West Virginia Office of Homeland Security, as well as a testimonial from Gonzalez.

At the time, Gianato said he was unaware that Aviat was using the homeland security office seal. He said he would ask the company to remove the seal from the website. Aviat has removed the information from the website.

Gianato said Aviat paid for his hotel room and meals in Austin. The state picked up the tab for his flight to Texas, he said.

The U.S. Department of Commerce's Inspector General and West Virginia Legislative Auditor's Office are investigating the state's use of the $126.3 million federal grant.

The chairmen of two congressional subcommittees have questioned Jimmy Gianato about the state's decision to purchase more than 1,000 "enterprise-class" Internet routers with the stimulus funds. Gianato has defended the purchase.

Reach Eric Eyre at or 304-348-4869.

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