Feds seek Virginia tobacco commission records

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Local,Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Virginia tobacco commission records from the past year that involve former Sen. Phil Puckett, whose recent resignation the FBI has been investigating.

The tobacco commission released copies of two subpoenas Wednesday to The Associated Press in response to a public records request.

One ordered the commission's interim director, Tim Pfohl, to appear before a grand jury Tuesday. The second subpoena ordered the commission to hand over documents involving Puckett dating back to June 1, 2013, to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Prosecutors asked for documents that involve "the offer of anything of value" to Puckett as well as any correspondence between Puckett and the commission that mentions his daughter, Martha Ketron.

Puckett shocked Virginia's political world earlier this month by abruptly resigning, a move that flipped control of the state Senate to Republicans. Puckett was in line for a potential high-level job at the GOP-controlled commission at the time of his resignation, but later withdrew his name for consideration following an uproar over his resignation.

Republican Del. Terry Kilgore, who chairs the tobacco commission, has previously said he had discussed with Puckett a deputy director job at the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission prior to Puckett's resignation. The commission uses bond money from Virginia's share of the $206 billion national settlement against the tobacco industry to help spur economic growth in southwest and Southside Virginia.

In a statement following his resignation, Puckett said he was resigning so that Ketron could be approved as a state judge. Republicans in the Senate had blocked Ketron's appointment to serve as a juvenile and domestic relations judge in southwest Virginia earlier this year because of a policy of not appointing lawmakers' immediate relatives to judgeships. Ketron had been temporarily appointed by circuit court judges and is now working as a substitute judge.

Both Kilgore and Puckett have denied wrongdoing. They have each hired former federal prosecutors to represent them.

Some Republicans have questioned how quickly federal investigators appear to be moving.

"Something's playing out there, probably a little more political than it should be," said Republican Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., vice chairman of the tobacco commission.

Ruff added that he does not think the investigation will show any criminal activity.

"I don't think there's anything there," he said.

Brian McGinn, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment.

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