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Shakedown of trucker leads to indictment of truck inspector

A truck inspector for the West Virginia Public Service Commission is facing federal charges of extorting cash from truckdrivers. Sonny Ray Massey of Seth, WV, was indicted Nov. 9 on nine federal charges after an investigation revealed he had been shaking down interstate truckers for money in return for favorable inspections.

One of those truckers was Florida owner-operator Thomas (Mike) Hargrove of Yulee, FL. On July 14, Massey was working the Interstate 64 weigh station near Hurricane, WV, when Hargrove pulled in. He was told by Massey to retrieve his paperwork.

Hargrove says, "He told me, 'This is the way it works. If you have $50 you'll get a CVSA sticker, you'll be down the road and there'll be no problem.'" Hargrove reports that the inspector told him if he didn't have the money, he'd be placed out of service and would have to sit all night.

"I pulled out 60 and he took the whole thing, saying he could not make change," Hargrove says. "He gave me the inspection (CVSA) sticker. Then I left and called my company, Fleetline. Elaine in the safety department listened and told me they could not tell me what to do as they were not there, but I should do the right thing. She told me to call the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association."

Hargrove called OOIDA and spoke with Gary Green in the Business Services department.

Green spent the next four hours on the phone with various agencies in West Virginia and finally, the FBI. By Aug. 25, Mike Hargrove was back in West Virginia, but this time to testify before a grand jury. From Green and Hargrove's initial contact with the authorities, it was discovered that Massey allegedly shook down nine truckers for as little as $20 and as much as $150 between June 16 and July 15 at a Winfield inspection site. In July, he was fired from the PSC.

According to the U.S. District Court indictment, Massey is accused of taking money in return for a promise that he would not cite the operator for illegal violations in the operation of the tractor-trailer. Massey gave vehicle inspection stickers to three of the drivers, the charges said. The charges do not detail the alleged safety violations on the truck, or even that there were actual violations.

"When Mike called, he was very concerned with repercussions that might result from turning in this PSC officer. This is his regular route and he'll have to deal with West Virginia PSC as long as he's trucking through this state," Green says. "Personally, I was really proud of him for making the decision. It took a lot of courage as well as time to deal with the matter. It isn't easy to get someone to listen to you when you have this kind of story to tell. And if someone does listen, it could mean you have to go back there and shut the truck down. After discussing all the options, he decided to do whatever was necessary."

Prosecutors say former PSC truck inspector Sonny Ray Massey faces up to 10 years in prison and $2.25 million in fines.

- Sandi Soendker

Aug/Sept Digital Edition