Lots of Talk, Little Action in Loudoun Corruption Probe
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
In Loudoun County, officials and activists have turned widespread talk of an ongoing FBI investigation into a tool for gaining political leverage, a blunt instrument to attack opponents and, most of all, a topic of endless gossip.
The two-year corruption probe has created such an intense political climate in the Northern Virginia suburb in part because, at this point, nearly every major Loudoun official acknowledges being interviewed by a federal agent -- as do some private citizens.
"I don't know how many times I've heard, 'Well, the hammer is coming down tomorrow. The indictments are coming,' " said Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large), who spoke to the FBI during his reelection run last year in response to what he called a "bogus" conflict-of-interest complaint regarding his work for a Denver-based developer. "There's been a lot of discussion, chitter-chatter, rumor, whatever you want to call it. We're still waiting for the hammer."
Investigators have yet to pursue charges or disband a task force set up in 2007, said Lindsay Gotwin, a spokeswoman in the FBI's Washington field office. The task force is looking into the influence of private developers on the old, Republican-led Board of Supervisors, most of whom were ousted a year ago by voters.
Authorities announced the investigation after reports by The Washington Post detailed how major land-use decisions in Loudoun were 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, e-mails and other records showed.
Just the prospect of federal indictments has kept people wondering -- although Gotwin said initial assessments of allegations of illegal activity often go nowhere.
"The talking hasn't stopped," said Supervisor Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac). "The FBI is still here, and things are still happening." But McGimsey acknowledges that she has no information indicating indictments are near.
"It's like the thing that would never die," said David D'Onofrio, a Leesburg communications consultant who sometimes works with politicians. "The FBI should have a seat on the Board of Supervisors for as much as we hear about them."
In one memorable scene two years ago, Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) wore a hat embroidered with the FBI logo to a board meeting and proudly proclaimed that he had been "cleared" of any wrongdoing by an FBI agent.
York, the county board chairman, said he was skeptical about the claim because the FBI routinely refuses to make announcements about ongoing investigations. So he asked Delgaudio to prove it. Delgaudio pulled out a letter, which did not exactly clear him of wrongdoing but did ask him to appear as a witness to answer questions.
"That letter is old news, and I'm still not being investigated," Delgaudio said recently.
In May, Loudoun School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III made headlines when he denied a sentence in a Center for Public Integrity report that suggested that federal investigators were examining Loudoun's school land-use acquisition process after a controversial property deal went south.