Catch-31. Mahi Mahs. The Oceanair Club. The Cavalier Hotel. And the soon to be Hilton Conference Center in Downtown Norfolk.
What do these things have in common? Cocaine sniffing Virginia Governors, wiretapping and witness tampering convictions, and public corruption at the highest levels. I mean Bruce Thompson, but then I repeat myself.
Most people in Norfolk and Virginia Beach are completely unaware of the sordid past of the recipient of more of your hard earned tax dollars than any private individual has any right to.
Let’s start at the beginning. Supposedly there was a party. Supposedly at this party was a man named Chuck Robb, at the time a Virginia Governor. Cocaine was supposedly used. Naked women were reportedly there.
All of this is only somewhat relevant because it is speculation. What we do know for sure is that this was to have occurred in Virginia Beach and that it set off a chain of events that would see a sitting Virginia Lt. Governor wiretapped by the man who flew Will Sessoms and Paul Fraim on his private jet to Terry McAuliffe’s victory party. That man is Bruce Thompson. And only by the grace of a plea deal is he not a convicted felon.
For a quick summary of the events leading up to this unfortunate affair, let’s cut to an excerpt from the Washington Post by none other than Larry Sabato:
“Charles S. Robb’s lengthy association while Virginia’s governor with a fast and loose Virginia Beach crowd – and his knowing or unknowing participation in parties where cocaine was used – became a major focus in his successful, lightly contested campaign for U.S. Senate in 1988.
First mentioned in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in May 1987, Robb’s questionable activities became the target of a year-long investigation by the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, culminating in a major expose in August 1988. Reports also mentioned Robb’s socializing with women other than his wife, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb (former President Lyndon Johnson’s daughter).”
No harm, no foul. No hard proof was ever really found and no lasting political damage done. And yet, the story continues to play out years later. From the Daily Press:
“Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said Friday that someone has been recording conversations from the cellular telephone in his state limousine and passing the information to his Democratic Party rival, U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb, D-Va…A close friend of Robb’s, Virginia Beach developer and hotelier Bruce Thompson, offered last summer to make available to The Post “taped evidence” tying Wilder to rumors about Robb in exchange for information about who was making allegations that Robb had used drugs while attending parties at the beach during his term as governor. The Post refused the offer… Both federal and Virginia law make it a crime intentionally to intercept and disclose cellular telephone conversations.”
This led to a grand jury indictment for wiretapping and witness tampering. From the LA Times:
“While refusing to indict Robb, grand jurors Tuesday handed up a three-count indictment charging Bruce Thompson, a Virginia Beach businessman, with obtaining the Wilder tape recording, disclosing the contents to Robb’s staff members and attempting to persuade two people to testify falsely to investigators.”
These were felonies, but Mr. Thompson rightly copped a plea deal to misdemeanors and avoided the loss of his civil rights, thereby guaranteeing him access to the hundreds of millions in public funds he has since benefited from. Again from the Washington Post:
“The federal government’s investigation into the illegal taping of a telephone call of then-Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D) ended quietly today with the conviction of a fifth supporter of Wilder’s political rival, Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.).
The sentencing of Virginia Beach developer Bruce L. Thompson, who admitted that he had passed a tape of the cellular phone call to Robb aides, concluded the criminal phase of the incident, but the political fallout continued.
At a news conference after his guilty plea to two misdemeanors of wiretapping and witness tampering, Thompson called on Gov. Wilder to apologize to Robb (pictured left). Thompson said the senator is “a victim of everything that is wrong with American politics today…”
No Mr. Thompson, you are everything wrong with politics today and we, the taxpayers of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, are the victims.
So next time, my dear AltDaily readers, you hear someone praise Bruce Thompson or Paul Fraim or Will Sessoms for bringing such great things to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, remember that Bruce Thompson is a convicted criminal who has gotten where he is by lying, cheating, stealing, and engaging in legal bribery through massive campaign contributions.
And to Kevin Murphy, President of the Downtown Norfolk Civic League who says, “Bruce Thompson is a first-class developer and the city is fortunate to have him as a partner for this important project,” I would say Bruce Thompson is lucky to have us paying his tab.
And he’s even more lucky that we have a an alleged drunk for a Commonwealth’s Attorney who is too distracted, lazy, incompetent, or corrupt to enforce the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act, which is supposed to protect citizens from the type of corruption that comes with Mayor Paul Fraim being President of the Norfolk Board of Directors for Towne Bank. The bank that, unbeknownst to most, finances many of Bruce Thompson’s business dealings.
When contacted for the public records regarding Conflict of Interest Disclosures, Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office Communications Director Amanda Howie told me there were none and refused to so much as send a reply to my formal Freedom of Information Act Request, a crime in and of itself.
So why is this illegal? To the Virginia State Code we go. Title 2.2, Section 3107-A:
“No person elected or appointed as a member of the governing body of a county, city or town shall have a personal interest in (i) any contract with his governing body, or (ii) any contract with any governmental agency that is a component part of his local government and which is subject to the ultimate control of the governing body of which he is a member, or (iii) any contract other than a contract of employment with any other governmental agency if such person’s governing body appoints a majority of the members of the governing body of the second governmental agency.”
What constitutes a personal interest? For that we head to the Definitions Section for this chapter:
“Personal interest” means a financial benefit or liability accruing to an officer or employee or to a member of his immediate family. Such interest shall exist by reason of (i) ownership in a business if the ownership interest exceeds three percent of the total equity of the business; (ii) annual income that exceeds, or may reasonably be anticipated to exceed, $10,000 from ownership in real or personal property or a business; (iii) salary, other compensation, fringe benefits, or benefits from the use of property, or any combination thereof, paid or provided by a business or governmental agency that exceeds, or may reasonably be anticipated to exceed, $10,000 annually; (iv) ownership of real or personal property if the interest exceeds $10,000 in value and excluding ownership in a business, income, or salary, other compensation, fringe benefits or benefits from the use of property; (v) personal liability incurred or assumed on behalf of a business if the liability exceeds three percent of the asset value of the business; or (vi) an option for ownership of a business or real or personal property if the ownership interest will consist of (i) or (iv) above.
“Personal interest in a contract” means a personal interest that an officer or employee has in a contract with a governmental agency, whether due to his being a party to the contract or due to a personal interest in a business that is a party to the contract.”
Does Mayor Fraim receive more than $10,000 in compensation for serving as the President of Towne Bank’s Norfolk Board? We’re waiting to hear back from Towne Bank and the City of Norfolk on that point. On occasion, he does recuse himself from final votes if they involve Towne Bank. But that, according to the law, is not enough. He must completely separate himself from all discussions and negotiations to avoid receiving any sort of proprietary information. This clearly has not happened and it never will so long as you, the vast majority of citizens who refuse to vote in local elections, continue to allow it by your silence.