The publisher of the Loudoun Tribune admitted Monday that he lied to investors about the newspaper’s financial health, wildly inflating the amount of money he put into the venture and the value of advertising contracts.
Brian Reynolds, a Leesburg, Va., resident with links to many high-profile GOP officeholders in Loudoun County, pleaded guilty in Alexandria federal court to fraud and illegally possessing guns as a felon.
Reynolds, 52, launched the Tribune in 2016 as a free newspaper and website. He persuaded 10 people to collectively invest more than $500,000 in the venture by claiming that he had put nearly $1 million of his own money into the project and had secured about as much in advertising contracts.
In fact, he personally invested only a few thousand dollars in the Tribune, Reynolds acknowledged in court Monday, and he forged the advertising contracts. After printing two issues, he lacked funds to continue with a planned third, and advertisers began asking for refunds or free space in the future.
“They’re all true,” he said in court Monday of the fraud claims. “It’s completely accurate.”
He has agreed to pay $512,000 in restitution. He also admitted to owning several illegal guns, all of which he will now forfeit.
Reynolds already had a felony record for fraud and other financial crimes dating back to his teenage years. When he was charged in Alexandria federal court in 1995 with reselling stolen computer parts, he fled Northern Virginia and was found in Georgia living under a fake name; he served six years in prison.
After his release, Reynolds got married, had children and became a successful Web designer and communications strategist for Loudoun Republicans, including Sheriff Mike Chapman, former state senator Dick Black and former County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York.
“There probably wasn’t a political campaign or political candidate that I didn’t touch in Loudoun County over the course of about three terms,” Reynolds said at a detention hearing earlier this year.
Reynolds said it was his political friends, including Loudoun County Circuit Clerk Gary Clemens, who “were pushing” him to get his voting and gun rights restored. Reynolds did so by petitioning then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) in 2012 and Loudoun Circuit Judge James H. Chamblin in 2013. Reynolds admitted that both petitions contained false information.
In 2015, Reynolds worked closely with Chapman on his reelection campaign, including obtaining and distributing emails written by the sheriff’s political opponent. The release of those emails was investigated by a special prosecutor, who ultimately cleared Chapman of wrongdoing.
Reynolds, who is set to be sentenced in September, faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Reynolds had worked for the campaign of Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman. Reynolds said in court that he worked for Plowman’s campaign, but Plowman said that was not accurate.