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HOLMBERG: Richmond mayor faces broader, more intense investigation

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RICHMOND, Va. -- It sure sounded like big news Wednesday when we learned that a grand jury okayed a Virginia State Police investigation into any possible illegal overlap between construction at Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones’ new satellite church in Chesterfield County, any members of the mayor’s staff, any city workers or the mayor himself.

Mayor Dwight Jones requested a review by the state police after news outlets, including CBS 6 News, obtained city emails through the Freedom of Information Act indicating the head of the city’s public works department was involved in the church project on city time. Those emails also indicated the mayor may have been aware of that official’s on-duty work.

Tammy Hawley, the mayor’s spokeswoman, told me, “The state police are getting to move forward with what we asked them to do. That’s good news for us. We very much want them to look into this matter and get it cleared up, without any biases.”

Dwight Jones City Hall

Since the mayor requested the investigation, and not a law-enforcement body, it had to be green-lighted by one of three ways:

  • The governor okaying it
  • The state attorney general saying yes
  • Or a grand jury agreeing it should be looked into

The latter is what occurred. And that apparently happened a while ago. It’s just now making news.

“The mayor was trying to be proactive and get in front of it all,” said political analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth.  But he said the mayor may have gotten much more than he asked for: a full, wide open investigation into hiring, contractor selection and any other possible corruption and misuse of government.

“The investigation is apparently widening,” Holsworth said.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch is reporting the FBI has joined the investigation, which takes it to a whole different level.

That means knees will be knocking and increases the likelihood that city workers will talk to avoid federal trouble. And remember, there are several members of the mayor's senior staff who are also part of his church.

Holsworth reminded us that “at the end of the (governor) Bob McDonnell case not too long ago, the FBI leadership in RVA said that they were going to look for and seek... and address public corruption wherever they may have found it.”

Remember, the city has a very diligent auditor who has been looking into this for a months. That man, Umesh Dalal, is also involved in this investigation.

The way the law is written in Virginia, a city official can be prosecuted even if he or she just knew about a city worker doing private work on city time. That official didn’t have to order the work done to be in big trouble.

Another interesting twist, Holsworth pointed out, this investigation has become public and will play out during this mayoral election cycle. How will this impact old alliances and campaign stances from contenders?

It likely will be months before we hear the results of the investigation.

My guess is, despite the confident assurances of Tammy Hawley, the mayor and some of his key people may have a little heartburn during these coming months.