An owner of the Inn at Little Washington, an exclusive French restaurant in Virginia's Blue Ridge mountains, has pleaded guilty to voter fraud in local council elections last May.
Reinhardt Lynch, 42, who needs council approval to expand his inn, told three employees to vote for him, even though he knew they didn't live in Washington, said Peter Luke, the commonwealth's attorney in Rappahannock County.
"You're talking about voter fraud," said Luke, who added he couldn't remember a similar case in the county. "It's not something you come across every day."
Lynch, whose inn is internationally known for its food and hospitality, was sentenced Sept. 18 to 80 hours of community service and six months' probation and was fined $1,000, Luke said. A 60-day jail term was suspended, he said.
Two of the employees who voted for Lynch were found guilty and given lesser punishment. The third man still faces trial, Luke said.
The case capped months of tension between some residents, who want to preserve the town's bucolic character, and the inn, which charges up to $495 a night to visitors and has plans to triple the number of rooms to 32.
One local man calls it the Inn That Ate Little Washington.
Neither Lynch nor Gerard Treanor, his Washington, D.C., attorney, would discuss Lynch's motivation. Even with the additional votes, Lynch lost the election.
"We are pleased this investigation is concluded," Treanor said. "We have cooperated with the investigation and look forward to getting on to other things."
The investigation began after Newbill Miller, one of five residents who were elected to the council, said he noticed three names on the voter registration list that didn't look familiar.
"The population of the town is 200, plus or minus," said Miller, 54. "I've lived here all my life and I know who lives here and who doesn't . . . . When they voted absentee, I saw it."