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Investigation: Assistant AG improperly aided gas companies; Cuccinelli unaware

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — A state inspector general’s report released Tuesday finds an assistant state attorney general inappropriately advised two energy companies amid lawsuits filed by southwest Virginia landowners.

Those suits allege landowners were cheated out of tens of millions in royalty payments after energy companies drilled for natural gas on their properties.

The report found Senior Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon used state assets when she sent emails to energy companies providing support of “private litigation beyond the scope of her authority and position.”

The Office of the State Inspector General started examining in June after began after a judge alleged Pigeon was “actively involved in assisting” private energy companies in ongoing litigation. The judge noted Pigeon provided advice and information in eight emails between Pigeon and energy company lawyers. [BONUS: Read the complete inspector general's report]

In a statement, Brian J. Gottstein, the communication director for the attorney general’s office, said the report shows Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is running for governor, did not know about the emails.

“The inspector general’s report proves what we have said from the beginning:  Attorney General Cuccinelli had no prior knowledge of the content of these emails and he did not authorize them,” Gottstein said in a statement.

Gottstein also stated Pigeon was told to stop any communications with attorneys from the eneergy companies.. Additionally, a litigation specialist in the Richmond office will take over monitoring Virginia Gas and Oil Act cases.

Gottstein maintains that Cuccinelli’s involvement in these cases has been to protect Southwest Virginia property owners by defending the law that ensures they get paid royalties from methane extracted from their land.

If that law was struck down, Gottstein said gas companies would only have to pay royalties to the landowner on whose land the well is located, even if the methane extended under several neighbors’ properties. Gottstein said that if the law was struck down, it would create a situation similar to 20 families living around a lake, and the first family that put a pump in the lake gets to take all the water.

Records show Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign received more than $100,000 from one of the energy Pigeon advised. Cuccinelli has said those donations in no way influenced his office’s handling of the case.

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