Loudoun Land Deals Subject of U.S. Probe
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Federal prosecutors have launched a far-reaching investigation into potential public corruption in Loudoun County, where officials have overseen billions of dollars' worth of development projects in one of the nation's fastest-growing areas.
Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney James E. Plowman announced a joint investigation yesterday with the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, which will take the leading role. "It's kind of a waste of resources if we're both independently reviewing the same matters," Plowman said, adding that the combined federal-local effort "brings about a greater aspect of neutrality."
The announcement follows months of quiet interviewing by FBI agents, who have queried county figures about possible abuses of power by officials, and represents a major escalation of the scrutiny facing Loudoun, the officials with the power to approve lucrative development projects and those in the real estate industry with the most at stake.
It also came shortly before Loudoun's Board of Supervisors passed ethics measures designed to increase government transparency. As part of the reforms, the board voted to discourage supervisors from accepting campaign donations from developers and others with pending projects, and it agreed to disclosure guidelines that could expose potential conflicts of interest.
The investigation and board action come after reports by The Washington Post last month that detailed how major land-use decisions in Loudoun have been dominated by a small network of public officials and their allies in the development industry. Developers, landowners and others profited as they coordinated with public officials to influence land-use decisions in the county, e-mails and other records showed.
Plowman, who last month said his office was focusing on eight or nine areas of inquiry, said in a statement that the joint group "will be tasked with reviewing any potential issues of public corruption within Loudoun County." It was unclear which individuals or specific actions are being investigated.
U.S. officials would not discuss their role in the probe. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, Jim Rybicki, said, "Department of Justice policy does not allow us to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation." An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.
People interviewed by the FBI in recent months said agents asked them in wide-ranging interviews if they had knowledge of any improper dealings by public officials.
The Post reported on the actions of Lawrence Beerman II, the former head of Loudoun's Planning Commission, who voted favorably on projects brought by companies with which he had business ties. They were a firm run by Peter J. Knop and his son, Peter R.Q. Knop, who operate a construction waste dump, and the home-building arm of Greenvest L.C. Beerman's activities have drawn the attention of the FBI, according to two people who were interviewed.
Beerman and the Knops were interviewed for The Post's report but declined to respond to additional written questions. A lawyer representing Greenvest said the company did nothing improper.
"The fact you have local law enforcement working with federal law enforcement is an indication of the seriousness of the probe," said Eric H. Holder Jr., a former deputy attorney general and U.S. attorney in the District. The investigation will now appear to be in "a quiet period, but just because federal officials are not commenting on what they are doing, that does not mean the investigation is not very active. . . . These things often take months, if not years, to resolve themselves."
Some Loudoun officials have argued that they forged close links to people in the real estate industry in an effort to serve residents and said that their votes and other public actions reflected what they thought was best for the county. Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) was among the officials who, records and interviews show, worked closely with individuals who stood to benefit from his position.