By David S. Fallis and Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 1, 2007
Loudoun County Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch has repeatedly tried to leverage contacts he has developed as a public official to promote his personal interests, according to interviews and records.
Less than a year after he voted for billionaire Sheila Johnson's planned resort in Loudoun, he named her as a potential investor in a South Carolina coastal resort and implied he could act as a go-between, one of the developers said.
In another instance, Tulloch provided one of Johnson's top executives a list of potential corporate sponsors for her professional women's basketball team, the Washington Mystics, that executive said.
Tulloch, 47, also asked another developer who has had major projects before the county to help him find land for a Harley-Davidson dealership he hoped to open, according to the developer.
In a metropolitan area that has been reshaped by rapid growth in recent years, Loudoun has been the fastest-growing county, putting local officials in the role of gatekeepers to billions of dollars of development. Throughout the region, the actions of elected leaders in overseeing development has become a prominent political issue.
Tulloch's relationships with people whose projects or clients have come before his board reflect a coziness that has become routine among some Loudoun officials and the building industry.
In February, law enforcement authorities announced a far-reaching probe by the U.S. attorney's office into potential public corruption in Loudoun.
One focus of the investigation is Tulloch's successful push to get the county to spend $13.5 million in a land deal that paid a sizable commission to his political mentor, Dale Polen Myers, a real estate consultant who has been involved in major county projects. Federal officials have subpoenaed documents related to the transaction for a grand jury in Alexandria, according to an individual who received a subpoena and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
Investigators are also looking into the activities of Lawrence S. Beerman II, a former planning commission chairman who cast favorable votes for companies with whom he had business ties, according to a person who has been interviewed by the FBI. Beerman and Myers have declined to comment.
In January, The Washington Post published articles about Beerman, Tulloch and other former or current county officials and their ties to development interests in Loudoun.
Tulloch's status in Loudoun has made him an important figure to business interests. Since taking office in 2004, he has headed the Republican majority that has controlled key board decisions. In that time, he has forged relationships with consultants, home builders, real estate lawyers, sports figures and executives who needed his vote.
Voting for friends or political allies is not, in itself, improper under Virginia conflict of interest laws.
Tulloch, who is running for reelection to represent the Potomac area, declined repeated requests to be interviewed and responded to written questions with a short statement, saying that any suggestion of a possible conflict of interest "is entirely without merit." He added that he will "continue to fully cooperate" with investigators.
"I have always acted in a manner consistent with both the letter and the spirit of the law," Tulloch wrote. "I am not going to provide details relating to my marketing, business, and personal discussions that are unrelated to my service on the Board of Supervisors."
Tulloch has previously defended his business ventures, saying he needs additional income to supplement his current earnings. He works full time as a food service manager at Sodexho, and his part-time job as a supervisor pays $22,400 a year. In addition to the Harley dealership, he has considered opening a pizza franchise in the county and has looked into an ice cream shop.
"Quite frankly, what I earn here at the county and what I earn as a Sodexho manager is not enough to do what I do," he said in an interview last year.
Tulloch has portrayed himself as a dealmaker, describing his role in one real estate venture in South Carolina, where he owns property. "You put the deal together and people buy it and you get paid a service fee but never own the properties," he said last year.
In a brief interview this year, Tulloch said, "How I finance my life . . . doesn't affect my public life."Name-Dropping
Last winter, Tulloch dropped into a real estate office in Surfside Beach, S.C. Bill McKown, a property manager, said Tulloch wanted to talk about opportunities in South Carolina. "He said to me, 'Listen, we are looking for tracts. I got this national developer up there that I deal with, and we are looking for 100-acre tracts and above to develop,' " recalled McKown, referring to a developer from Northern Virginia.
Another South Carolina businessman, developer Matt Scalise, said that when he told Tulloch last year that he was involved in developing a spa and health club as part of a 60-acre oceanfront resort, Tulloch mentioned Sheila Johnson. "He kept bringing up the fact that Sheila was a potential candidate to become a partner. . . . He was talking to her supposedly on my behalf," Scalise said.
Tulloch suggested that he was "somewhat of an adviser to her," Scalise said, adding that Johnson's involvement "never materialized." He and McKown, a Surfside Beach Town Council member, said they became skeptical of Tulloch's claims.
Johnson, when asked about a potential investment in South Carolina involving Tulloch, said, "This is the first I've ever heard about it."
Through a spokeswoman, she declined to answer further questions, saying in a statement that she "wants to preserve the integrity" of the federal investigation. Johnson "has always complied with all local, state and federal rules which govern the provision of gifts and gratuities to public officials," the statement said.
A top executive of hers said Tulloch was involved in a business discussion involving Johnson's WNBA team. Curtis Symonds, the team's chief operating officer, said Johnson directed him to contact Tulloch about the names of potential corporate sponsors. The meeting took place in the fall, according to Tulloch's calendar.
Symonds said Tulloch gave him 10 or 12 leads. "He said, 'I can get you in the door just by making a call or introduction,' " Symonds recalled. Tulloch told Symonds that he made calls, Symonds said, but no sponsorships resulted, and Tulloch received no benefit.
Tulloch's relationship with Johnson developed after he was elected in 2003, when Johnson sought support for her proposed Salamander Resort and Spa, Tulloch said.
"She said she was trying to get this project approved and she would love for me to learn more about it, and get educated on it, and support her in it, which I did, and I did, and I did," Tulloch said an interview in December.
The upscale project in Middleburg, scheduled to open in 2009, has had many supporters but triggered debates over traffic and how many guest rooms should be allowed.
Tulloch went out of his way to champion the proposal. At one point, he took the unusual step of attending a closed-door meeting of the Middleburg Town Council, which was discussing the project. Tulloch said he told participants that he had engaged the help of his brother, a manager at Marriott. He said he had analyzed the project's financial prospects and concluded that Johnson needed the bigger resort she was seeking, according to one participants' notes.
With Johnson's plans still needing county approval, Tulloch attended a June 2005 Washington Mystics game with her. He said he was a guest at her wedding in September 2005. The next month, he attended a banquet in her honor. And he rode in her private plane, he said.
Three times in 2005, Tulloch cast votes favorable to Johnson and her resort. And when Johnson needed another vote last year to adjust boundary lines for the project, Tulloch's office pressed the county attorney for action, e-mails show.
Tulloch also helped arrange a meeting between her representative and another developer. One goal was to allow her resort's guests access to a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course planned nearby.
"He wanted to create an introduction. I knew he wanted to get in the middle of all that," said Jeff Zell, who at the time was a real estate adviser to Johnson.A Longtime Connection
Tulloch has also pursued private ties with another Loudoun businessman, Leonard S. "Hobie" Mitchel, whose development projects have been before the county for most of Tulloch's time in office.
In 2004, Tulloch became an outspoken supporter of Mitchel's plans for a vast housing development tied in with a baseball stadium complex near Dulles International Airport. The stadium would have housed the then-Montreal Expos if they were relocated to the county.
The next year, Tulloch and seven of his colleagues voted to approve Mitchel's Lansdowne Village Greens, a housing and commercial development east of Leesburg.
In 2006, Mitchel purchased two Yamaha watercraft from Tulloch for $1,900, roughly at or below market value but almost ten times what Tulloch reported paying when he bought them used from a friend two years earlier, according to state records.
When he was working to open a Harley-Davidson dealership in Loudoun, Tulloch, then a supervisor, sought advice from Mitchel about land for the venture. Mitchel attended a dinner meeting on the project, Tulloch said. Tulloch hosted the gathering with potential investors at a Lansdowne restaurant.
"He asked me to look for land, and that was it," Mitchel said, adding that he "gave him leads on land" and directed him to a parcel near Dulles but did not invest in the project. Mitchel has since declined repeated requests to be interviewed.
Tulloch said in the December interview that his ties to Mitchel present no conflict.
In February, after news of the FBI probe, Loudoun supervisors strengthened policies governing disclosure of their meetings with developers who have pending projects. Tulloch announced that he had known Mitchel for 15 years. Weeks later, Tulloch joined a majority of the board in voting against a plan for Mitchel's latest housing project, saying he was following constituents' wishes.A Home in Common
Also involved in the Harley-Davidson discussions was Leesburg lawyer Douglas L. Fleming Jr., whose clients have benefited from Tulloch's public decisions.
Fleming was part of a network of real-estate figures who helped guide Tulloch to victory in November 2003. Tulloch has described Fleming as a "brother."
In April 2003, Fleming bought a $505,600 house in Surfside Beach, records show. Tulloch reported in his latest financial disclosure that he owns "43.75" percent of the home and earned rental income from it. Fleming is the only owner listed on the deed.
Fleming, who is a substitute judge in Loudoun's General District Court, has declined to answer questions.
During 2004 and 2005, Tulloch cast votes four times in favor of Inova Loudoun Hospital. The hospital and a citizens group, both opposed to a planned competitor, hired Fleming for legal advice, records show.
Fleming also represented the Islamic Saudi Academy Inc. in a zoning matter before the county in 2003, the year before Tulloch pushed the county to purchase a large parcel from the Saudis.
The home Tulloch reports owning with Fleming is now on the market, along with a Surfside Beach home that Tulloch purchased in 2002. An Internet ad for that house reads "Looking To Sell Fast!!"
Tulloch and his wife filed for personal bankruptcy in the early 1990s. In the past four years, Tulloch has made major purchases, including a sport-utility vehicle and a yacht, records and interviews show. The yacht and another SUV have been on the market in recent months.
Tulloch said this spring that his finances are a personal matter but added that they are "more than in check."
Staff researchers Julie Tate and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.