APwv 08/25 1215 Victims' Fund CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia's five-year-old crim

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APwv 08/25 1215 Victims' Fund CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia's five-year-old crime victims' fund, which once boasted a $2 million surplus, is nearly broke, state officials say. The fund, which has paid out more than $1 million in the past three months, had a bank balance of $78,585.96 as of Monday, the state auditor's office said. The fund, which was set up to provide innocent victims of crimes with some monetary assistance, is financed by a $3 fee on criminal court cases. State officials expected it to be self-sustaining. The fees produced $527,614 in the last fiscal year. The West Virginia Court of Claims, a three-judge panel appointed by the Legislature, administers the fund. Until last year, no awards could be made to victims of crimes unless they were appoved by the Legislature. But a change in the law this year permits direct, immediate payments for victims' actual economic costs such as medical bills or lost wages. Becky A. O'Fiesh, deputy clerk for the fund, said more than $310,000 was paid last month as a result of the changes in the statute. More than $150,000 in recommended awards are awaiting review by the Court of Claims and another $100,000 in approved claims for non-economic loss are awaiting final action by the 1988 Legislature, she said. The fund in July approved payments to eight health care providers in the officials said. Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada spent several months last year recovering from an assault by a devotee. The Court of Claim The fund began payments to innocent crime victims in 1982 and awards totaling $78,191.66 were approved that year. In 1983, the awards totaled $150,395, and in 1984 they climbed to $182,656. State Treasurer A. James Manchin started a campaign two years ago to make state residents more aware of the fund, and in 1985 a large backlog of claims was settled. The 1986 Legislature approved $529,478 during its regular session and then at a subsequent special session OK'd payment of another $1,232,752 in claims.

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