By Sandhya Somashekhar and Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Three weeks before the election, a Virginia state Senate candidate has been indicted by a Loudoun County grand jury on felony campaign finance charges.
Mark D. Tate, 41, a restaurateur and former vice mayor of Middleburg, was indicted Monday on two counts of election fraud and nine counts of perjury stemming from charges that he filed false financial reports during his campaign and during a previous bid for the same office.
The indictments, made public yesterday, heightened the intensity of a bitterly fought campaign for the GOP nomination for the 27th District, which covers parts of Loudoun and Fauquier counties, all of Clarke and Frederick counties and the city of Winchester. The seat is held by Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), who is retiring.
Voters go to the polls June 12 to choose between Tate and Jill Holtzman Vogel of Warrenton. According to court documents, she is a friend of James E. Plowman, the Loudoun commonwealth's attorney who handled part of the investigation of Tate. The woman who first brought the accusations against Tate to the attention of state officials also is a Holtzman Vogel supporter.
Tate, of Purcellville, declined to comment yesterday as he left a Circuit Court room where he had made an initial appearance. His attorney, Edward B. MacMahon Jr., who said Tate would plead not guilty, suggested that the timing of the indictments was no coincidence.
"I find it outrageous that charges like this would be brought in the middle of a primary campaign, which has the effect of subverting the democratic process," MacMahon said.
Plowman said politics was not a factor in the case. Tate "can put whatever spin he wants on it, but it's not going to change the facts of the case," he said.
Of the timing, Plowman said: "We acted as swiftly as we could. Whether it's before or after the election, you're going to get criticism either way."
In a statement, Holtzman Vogel said Tate was attempting to "shift the blame" for the indictment. Noting that a special prosecutor and a grand jury brought the charges, she said, "No amount of name-calling or blame-shifting can change that fact."
According to court documents, Tate's alleged illegal activities took place between Oct. 1, 2002, and May 1 of this year. In a 2003 primary, Potts defeated Tate by slightly more than 100 votes.
Plowman began the probe in February after Laurie Letourneau of Winchester alerted the Virginia State Board of Elections, and then Plowman, to "discrepancies" in Tate's campaign finance disclosure reports, the court documents show.
Letourneau said yesterday that she is a volunteer for Holtzman Vogel's campaign but that approaching the elections board was her idea.
Although some of the allegations have not been made public, Plowman wrote in a court document that money that appeared on one campaign spending report seemingly disappeared by the next and that Tate was writing bad checks, among other transgressions.
In April, Plowman asked a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the case because of a potential conflict of interest over his support of Holtzman Vogel. Plowman said he asked King George County Commonwealth's Attorney Matthew J. Britton, an independent, to be the special prosecutor because he has experience with similar cases and because he lives outside the 27th District.
Britton declined to comment on the case yesterday.
This isn't the first time Tate has faced questions about his campaign finance filings. Between 2004 and 2006, he was fined six times for a total of $900 by the elections board for filing his campaign finance statements late, said Chris Piper, administrator of the board's campaign finance division. All the fines were paid, Piper said.
At least some of the discrepancies Letourneau raised were deemed to be data entry mistakes, according to a letter to her from Piper.
Tate is free on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond and is scheduled to appear June 5. If convicted, Tate faces a possible fine or a prison term.
His campaign manager, Rick Gorka, said it's too early to tell whether Tate would drop out of the race. "We're trying to figure out what's best for Mark, what's best for the constituents and how to proceed from here," he said.