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Rice arrest shocks, saddens colleagues

February 23, 1999

By BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Shock waves ran through West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle on Monday amid word that Democratic Party figure and Blue Ridge Outlet Center General Manager Thomas D. Rice had been charged in Virginia with attempting to have sex with a young boy.

"I was shocked and saddened. Tom is a community leader, a hard worker and a talented individual," said former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, who said he has known Rice for about eight years.

Rice was chief of operations for Caperton when he was governor.

"It's completely out of character," said Martinsburg City Mayor Earnest Sparks, a close friend of Rice's.

A longtime activist in the Democratic party, Rice worked on Sen. Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign and was a field organizer in 1972 when now-U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller made a failed attempt for the West Virginia governor's office.

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Former West Virginia Senator Sondra Lucht, a Democrat, said Rice was a good friend who helped her during her 12-year term in the state senate.

"I really don't know anything about it and I wouldn't want to make any comment until I learn more about the situation," said Lucht.

Rice was instrumental in helping Martinsburg developer Moncure Chatfield-Taylor turn an abandoned mill building into what is now the Blue Ridge Outlet Center.

Chatfield-Taylor released a statement in which he described Rice as a friend and business associate who has supported many people, institutions and causes in the community.

"I know I am speaking for many people when I say how deeply saddened I am at these allegations," Chatfield-Taylor's statement said.

In 1982, Rice left his post as district manager for state-owned liquor stores in and around the Eastern Panhandle to become vice president of operations for the Blue Ridge Outlet Center.

Rice lost his sole bid for elected office in 1986 when Republican Donald Bayer beat Rice by more than 1,000 votes to hold onto his Berkeley County Commission seat.

Three years later, then-Gov. Caperton named Rice to a state panel that oversaw a multimillion-dollar school construction program in West Virginia.

Rice left Chatfield-Taylor Corp. in late 1992 to become director of operations for Caperton, but later returned to the Blue Ridge Outlet Center as general manager.

Caperton appointed Rice to the state Racing Commission in 1996 but Gov. Cecil Underwood replaced Rice in 1997. Rice sued to keep the post, but the state Supreme Court upheld Underwood's decision.

News of Rice's arrest was met with surprise Monday at the Charles Town Races, said Richard Watson, president of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

"I don't know anything about his personal life but I was very pleased by his business-like approach," said Watson, who worked with Rice during his time on the Racing Commission.

The criminal charges against Rice were called "most unfortunate" by Berkeley County Republican Del. John Overington, who has known Rice for 15 years.

"You still feel the anguish and concern even if it isn't one of your supporters. I'm sure this is hard on him and his associates," said Overington.

Several stores have left the Blue Ridge Outlet Center in recent months, but the allegations against Rice likely won't affect the outlet center, said Max Oates, president of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce.




related stories:

-- Most police don't track online porn, pedophiles

-- Virginia deputy posed as boy, 13

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