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Henrico husband denies special school treatment

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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - Joe Winston, husband of embattled Henrico County school board member Diana Winston, said he and his wife were innocent of wrongdoing and were victims of a political scandal.

"Politics is not a fun game to play," Winston said. "My wife is an educator, not a politician."

Diana Winston resigned from the school board on Monday, the same day the school board announced it asked the Henrico Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor to look into a potential conflict of interest involving Diana Winston and TechnoMarketing, her husband's promotional company.

While Joe Winston acknowledged his family had a close friendship with Henrico School Superintendent Pat Russo and his wife, he said his company never benefited from the friendship nor his wife's position on the school board.

Winston said TechnoMarketing has done more than $200,000 in business with Henrico County Schools since 1997, long before his wife was elected to serve.

"When she was elected in 2007, she asked the county attorney, she said 'my husband does business with Henrico County, is that a conflict of interest?' The attorney said unless you do a contract that the board has to vote on, there is no conflict of interest," Winston claimed.

Winston also said his company consistently gave the county lower bids as a favor. TechnoMarketing sells promotional products such as pens, t-shirts, lanyards and mugs.

Joe Winston served as president of the county's Career and Technical Education Advisory Council for four years. He resigned earlier this month.

Diana Winston has been an educator for more than 40 years.

While Joe Winston claimed his wife resigned out of frustration over allegations of wrongdoing. He said his resignation had nothing to do with the scandal.

Joe Winston claimed several school board members have spent time at Russo's home, celebrating various special occasions. Winston said he and his wife traveled to Italy in June with Russo and his spouse to stay at a friend's bed and breakfast.

Winston said  the school board does not have a policy regarding fraternizing with county leaders, including the superintendent.

Winston said he was shocked to learn that Russo was placed on paid annual leave while the school board reviewed allegations involving the families relationship, and allegations involving inappropriate emails.

"There's no harder working person than Pat Russo," Winston said. "He's a man who will speak up and he's a man of his word."

According to emails obtained by CBS 6 through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Russo and Diana Winston had friendly exchanges regarding a 2014 official trip to China they planned to take.

On another occasion, Diana Winston defended Russo's ability as a superintendent to a school employee who wrote a critical email about Russo's actions. Winston then shared the employee's email with Russo.

Joe Winston said while he and his wife exchanged "friendly banter" in emails with Russo, he said the exchanges were never questionable in nature.

When asked if the emails ever involved political jokes, insensitive or inappropriate jokes, Winston replied, "nothing that I would consider inappropriate."