More than 30 Lee County properties linked to the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice will head to auction June 16 because of unpaid taxes.

The 31 mostly vacant and wooded properties span more than 2,200 acres near the Kentucky border and have a total assessed value of about $1.9 million, according to Lee County records

County records name Roanoke-based Blackstone Energy Ltd. — of which Jay Justice, son of the West Virginia governor, is president — as the properties’ current owner. The parcels were purchased in 2010 by Virginia Fuel Corp., which Virginia State Corporation Commission records now list as an inactive company but of which Jay Justice was also president.

“These properties are primarily mountainous terrain with coal mineral, much of it previously mined but still with coal reserves and timber,” Lee County Administrator Dane Poe said in an email, noting that it has been at least five years since there was significant mining activity in the county.

For tax years 2017 through 2020, a total of $162,000 in taxes, penalties, interest, costs and attorney fees is owed on the properties, according to John Rife, partner with Taxing Authority Consulting Services P.C., a law firm that specializes in working with governments on tax collections and other services.

“Those funds are much-needed revenue that the county depends on in order to fund its operations,” Rife said.

Lee County’s population is just under 22,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Poe said the county’s current annual budget totals $86.3 million. Property taxes go into the county’s general fund, which pays for a variety of county services and departments.

Rife said selling properties at auction is not the most desirable action — collecting the money that’s due is. But auctioning property is a way to recoup unpaid taxes if necessary.

“We’ve done payment plans; we try everything we can to get the account redeemed rather than selling it,” Rife said.

The $162,000 owed is the amount Lee County has placed for collection. If tax years 2021 and 2022 are added, a total of $224,602.82 is owed, Rife said.

A media contact for the Justice family’s companies did not reply to a request for comment.

The Justice family’s businesses go back decades, with coal mining, agricultural and hospitality interests in Virginia, South Carolina and West Virginia; Gov. Justice was once dubbed “West Virginia’s only billionaire.”

Today, Jay Justice runs the family’s coal and agricultural businesses, while the governor’s daughter, Dr. Jill Justice, is president of The Greenbrier luxury resort in West Virginia.

The auction is set for 1 p.m. June 16 in Lee Circuit Court at 33640 Main St. in Jonesville. Online bidding is also available. Lee Auction Co. is the auctioneer.

If the properties don’t sell, they’ll head to auction again at a later date, Rife said. The property owner could also pay the amount placed for collection and redeem the properties ahead of time, preventing the auction from going forward.

The auction marks the latest in a series of financial developments for the family of Gov. Justice, who announced in April he will seek the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia.

Other properties tied to the Justice family or its companies are headed to the auction block this week.

In McDowell County, West Virginia, 90 lots owned by Justice go up for auction June 14, according to MetroNews of West Virginia.

Properties owned by Justice and his family companies in West Virginia’s Raleigh and Wyoming counties are slated for auction June 15 and 16.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, the Justice family is embroiled in a yearslong dispute with Martinsville-based Carter Bank & Trust, to which the family owes more than $300 million in past-due loans. 

The Justices have claimed in court documents and in an April news release that they have a plan to pay off the loans, but they accuse the bank of “predatory behavior,” saying it won’t cooperate with them because it wants to continue receiving more than $20 million in annual interest revenue.

The bank has denied the allegations, saying in court filings it has “worked repeatedly and cooperatively” with the Justices over the years and saying that measures such as a 2021 federal lawsuit filed by the Justices against the bank were undertaken as a “delay tactic” to stall repayment of the loans.

Most recently, the bank filed confessions of judgment in Martinsville Circuit Court against the Justices on loans that were due April 15. A confession of judgment is essentially a legal tool to allow a creditor to obtain judgment against a non-paying debtor without having to go before a judge. The Justices have challenged the confessions of judgment and seek to have them dismissed, hoping instead the case will go to trial.

Matt Busse is the business reporter for Cardinal News. Matt spent nearly 19 years at The News & Advance,...