By Michael Laris and David S. Fallis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Federal officials have stepped up their investigation into potential public corruption in Loudoun County in recent days, interviewing supervisors and senior county staff and collecting official documents from county offices. Several of those interviewed said agents focused on the county's $13.5 million purchase of property in 2004 from the Islamic Saudi Academy Inc.
The interviews mark a turn in the federal investigation, which has until recently taken place quietly behind the scenes. The investigation was announced last month after stories in The Washington Post detailed the close ties between Loudoun officials and the developers, builders and land-use lawyers pushing lucrative projects in one of the nation's fastest-growing counties.
Within the past weeks, at least five members of the county's nine-member Board of Supervisors have been interviewed or contacted by FBI agents. The agents also interviewed four senior county staff members.
The conversations covered a wide range of subjects, said sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. In many cases, federal officials sought specifics about the board's unanimous vote to buy the Saudi property in the Ashburn area to build county schools.
One of those interviewed said federal agents asked about the role of Dale Polen Myers, a former county board chairman who was the Saudis' agent on the land sale and earned a substantial commission. Myers said late last week, "We're part of an FBI investigation" and declined to answer questions.
Federal agents have become more visible, conducting some of their interviews in public settings. Supervisor Sarah R. Kurtz (D-Catoctin) said she met the agents in the fifth-floor conference room in the center of the Board of Supervisors' offices. Several other county officials also met with agents in the county building, and Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) said he was interviewed in the funeral home he runs.
"They are making the rounds," said Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run), who was interviewed.
Other supervisors who have been interviewed or contacted include James Burton (I-Blue Ridge) and Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run).
"We talked about when did I know, and what did I know, when the board made the decision to purchase the Saudi property," said one of the officials who have been interviewed.
Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) was instrumental in the county's decision to buy the site. The Saudis had originally planned to move their conservative religious school from Fairfax to the 101-acre parcel but ultimately decided against it.
Tulloch, who took the deal to the board, pushed his colleagues to move quickly to buy the land. At a meeting when the board voted to authorize the purchase, Tulloch said he knew "for a fact" that there were buyers willing to pay more than the county would pay. In an interview, Tulloch said developer Robert Buchanan was willing to pay more.
Buchanan, however, told The Post that he was going to pay considerably less than the $13.5 million the county paid, a figure he described as "in the range" of $11 million. County records show that Buchanan had a contract to buy the parcel but agreed to give it up so the county could buy it.
Buchanan would not say whether he has been contacted by the FBI.
The county's purchase of the property landed a sales commission for Myers, Tulloch's political mentor, and her boss at Carter Braxton Real Estate in Leesburg. The commission, which was paid by the seller, would range from $270,000 to $675,000 by industry standards.
In an interview with The Post, Tulloch insisted that he did not learn Myers was the agent until "well, well, well after the vote" by the board. But two Loudoun officials, including County Administrator Kirby M. Bowers, said that Tulloch told county staff members in the days before the board vote that Myers was handling the sale. Bowers was among the officials interviewed by the FBI.
Tom Jewell, owner of Carter Braxton, said in an interview Thursday that Myers had brought in the listing and that he was not aware that Buchanan had a contract on the property.
"It certainly wasn't a secret" that Myers was the agent, Jewell said. "Quite frankly, the commission on a $13 million deal got everybody's attention" at his office.
Tulloch would not say whether he had been contacted by federal investigators. "If they've been contacting people, then they'll contact me eventually," he said last week.
Nail Al-Jubeir, director of information at the Saudi Embassy, which funds the Islamic Saudi Academy, said: "As far as the embassy's concerned, it has been sold, and it's a closed case."
Clem said the purchase has proved to be a good deal for the county. "You look at the value of it now, and whew, it's gone up considerably. I feel strongly about that. It wasn't a bad buy."
Another area of inquiry for the FBI, sources said, has been Lawrence S. Beerman II, a former supervisor and Planning Commission chairman. An agent has asked about Beerman's business activities and his actions as a public official. Beerman, contacted Friday, declined to comment.