MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Former West Virginia Del. Jerry L. Mezzatesta and former Hampshire County schools Superintendent David E. Friend entered not guilty pleas Tuesday to federal charges of conspiracy to defraud the school board and misappropriating public funds.
Mezzatesta and Friend, both 59, appeared in Martinsburg before U.S. Magistrate David J. Joel, who set a $15,000 bond for each case. Joel released the men on their own recognizance. A trial date was set for Dec. 12. If convicted, each could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and fined as much as $500,000.
"We're looking forward to having a jury tell us whether a state legislator working with a state department to get money for volunteer fire departments is a crime," Mezzatesta's attorney, Deirdre H. Purdy of Charleston, W.Va., said after the arraignment hearing.
Friend's attorneys, J. Michael Benninger and Wes Metheney of Morgantown, W.Va., deferred comment until after reviewing the government's evidence through discovery procedures.