(a) There is established the West Virginia Insurance Fraud Unit within the office of the Insurance Commissioner of West Virginia. The commissioner may employ full-time supervisory, legal and investigative personnel for the unit who shall be qualified by training and experience in the areas of detection, investigation or prosecution of fraud within and against the insurance industry to perform the duties of their positions. The director of the fraud unit is a full-time position and shall be appointed by the commissioner and serve at his or her will and pleasure. The commissioner shall provide office space, equipment, supplies, clerical and other staff that is necessary for the unit to carry out its duties and responsibilities under this article.
(b) The fraud unit may in its discretion:
(1) Initiate inquiries and conduct investigations when the unit has cause to believe violations of any of the following provisions of this code relating to the business of insurance have been or are being committed: This chapter; chapter twenty-three of this code; article three, chapter sixty-one of this code; and section five, article four of said chapter. Notwithstanding any provision of this code to the contrary, the fraud unit may, with the agreement of the Director of the Public Employees Insurance Agency, conduct investigations related to possible fraud under article sixteen, chapter five of this code;
(2) Review reports or complaints of alleged fraud related to the business of insurance activities from federal, state and local law-enforcement and regulatory agencies, persons engaged in the business of insurance and the general public to determine whether the reports require further investigation; and
(3) Conduct independent examinations of alleged fraudulent activity related to the business of insurance and undertake independent studies to determine the extent of fraudulent insurance acts.
(c) The insurance fraud unit may:
(1) Employ and train personnel to achieve the purposes of this article and to employ legal counsel, investigators, Auditors and clerical support personnel and other personnel as the commissioner determines necessary from time to time to accomplish the purposes of this article;
(2) Inspect, copy or collect records and evidence;
(3) Serve subpoenas issued by grand juries and trial courts in criminal matters;
(4) Share records and evidence with federal, state or local law-enforcement or regulatory agencies, and enter into interagency agreements. For purposes of carrying out investigations under this article, the unit shall be deemed a criminal justice agency under all federal and state laws and regulations and as such shall have access to any information that is available to other criminal justice agencies concerning violations of the insurance laws of West Virginia or related criminal laws;
(5) Make criminal referrals to the county prosecutors;
(6) Conduct investigations outside this state. If the information the insurance fraud unit seeks to obtain is located outside this state, the person from whom the information is sought may make the information available to the insurance fraud unit to examine at the place where the information is located. The insurance fraud unit may designate representatives, including officials of the state in which the matter is located, to inspect the information on behalf of the insurance fraud unit, and the insurance fraud unit may respond to similar requests from officials of other states;
(7) The insurance fraud unit may initiate investigations and participate in the development of and, if necessary, the prosecution of any health care provider, including a provider of rehabilitation services, suspected of fraudulent activity related to the business of insurance;
(8) Specific personnel, designated by the commissioner, shall be permitted to operate vehicles owned or leased for the state displaying Class A registration plates;
(9) Notwithstanding any provision of this code to the contrary, specific personnel designated by the commissioner may carry firearms in the course of their official duties after meeting specialized qualifications established by the Governor's Committee on Crime, Delinquency and Correction, which shall include the successful completion of handgun training provided to law-enforcement officers by the West Virginia State Police: Provided, That nothing in this subsection shall be construed to include any person designated by the commissioner as a law-enforcement officer as that term is defined by the provisions of section one, article twenty-nine, chapter thirty of this code; and
(10) The insurance fraud unit shall not be subject to the provisions of article nine-a, chapter six of this code and the investigations conducted by the insurance fraud unit and the materials placed in the files of the unit as a result of any such investigation are exempt from public disclosure under the provisions of chapter twenty-nine-b of this code.
(d) The insurance fraud unit shall perform other duties as may be assigned to it by the commissioner.