Sheriff gives charities $15,000

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011

After being pressured to return a $15,000 campaign contribution made by former Loudoun restaurateur and convicted felon Osama M. El-Atari, Loudoun Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson (I) made 15 donations of $1,000 each to area nonprofit organizations last month, according to a campaign finance report released Tuesday.

El-Atari, an Ashburn resident who owned several restaurants and was sentenced to 12 years in prison in August for fraudulently borrowing more than $71 million from banks in Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee and Ohio, was known for an extravagant lifestyle and expensive cars. He was also known for making large donations to area political candidates, including roughly $35,000 to Simpson's reelection campaign in 2007 and 2008, according to campaign finance records.

The Washington Post reported in August that El-Atari first committed bank fraud in 2007, when he used a fake insurance policy to get a $5 million loan from a bank in Vienna. He continued to perpetrate a series of similar scams through winter 2009, records show.

In a Nov. 30 editorial, the Loudoun Times-Mirror called on Simpson to return a campaign donation of about $15,000 made by El-Atari in May 2008. The Times-Mirror editorial said that other elected officials had returned questionable funds or made donations to charity.

"Money in politics today is complex, yet we seek to make a simple request. . . . It's time to signal that the 'I' affiliation following your name doesn't just stand for 'independent,' but - instead - for 'integrity.' It's not too late," the editorial said.

According to the Jan. 18 report, Simpson made $1,000 donations to 15 local nonprofit groups Dec. 9, including the Salvation Army, the Community Holiday Coalition, Prison Fellowship Ministries, the Loudoun Abused Women's Shelter, Loudoun Interfaith Relief, the Good Shepherd Alliance, Loudoun County Christmas in April, the Loudoun United Way, Loudoun County Crime Solvers, paws4people, the Animal Welfare Rescue and Educational Foundation, the 4-H Club, Keep Loudoun Beautiful, the Katelyn Hall Foundation and Habitat for Humanity.

Simpson told The Post that he decided to make the donations to ease any concerns that the public had about his campaign.

"I guess because it became controversial, I decided that that's not where the focus needs to be. I felt like if it caused folks concern, I wanted to eliminate any of those concerns," Simpson said. "The money was taken in good faith. [El-Atari] violated that trust and that good faith, and I felt betrayed, as well."

Simpson also wanted to take the opportunity to help the community around the holidays, he said.

"That's why I chose that time" to make the donation, Simpson said. "I figured it could do some good around the holiday season."

Simpson, running as an independent, is seeking a fifth term as county sheriff this year.

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