Mayor Will Sessoms’ attempt to get a Circuit Court Judge to aid and abet in ‘hiding’ or sealing all records in a lawsuit against a former customer of his Towne Bank has been continued.
Sessoms sought a motion to keep the records secret heard Aug. 3, but after the plan was disclosed on Aug. 1 by the Virginia News Source, Sessoms’ lawyer sought a postponement. VNS had already published several documents related to the case. A new date to hear the motion has not been set, but depositions are scheduled for Aug. 27.
The defendant in the case is developer Tim Miller and his x-wife. Miller claims that in cahoots with Armada Hoffler (AH) which was trying to get its condo project at Town Center financed, he signed ‘a straw contract,’ in effect with a $50,000 deposit. He would not have to close on the condo and he’d get his deposit back after Armada Hoffler had secured financing for the project, he said he was told.
Miller said that didn’t happen - leading to a chain of convoluted events and legal actions involving Sessoms, his Towne Bank, Miller, et al, and AH - which Miller claims bordered on or were illegal.
Rick (R.K.) Kowalewitch, opposing Sessoms for mayor in the November election, raised the issue of Sessoms having conflicts of interest because of his bank’s involvement in certain projects. The City attorney released a few opinions to the effect Sessoms wasn’t in illegal conflict of interest. But Kowalewitch said there was no question his bank certainly profited in certain deals.
Kowalewitch claims that because Sessoms’ salary, benefits, and bonuses are based on the bank’s performance, he profited from the various deals, regardless of the conflict of interest opinions issued by the city attorney.
The city attorney declined to release 10 rulings based on ‘lawyer-client’ privilege, although some question whether the city attorney should be involved in giving Sessoms legal advice for his private business interests at taxpayer expense.
Miller also claimed that when the city was considering a ‘convention center’ hotel, the Double Tree, adjacent to the Convention Center, was having financial troubles but wanted to bid on the project. Miller owns 12.5% of the Double Tree Hotel.
The hotel could not get any institution to give it needed refinancing. Then, Miller said, along came Sessoms saying that if Double Tree wouldn’t bid on the ‘convention center’ hotel project, his Towne Bank would refinance Double Tree and give it an additional $4 MILLION.
Double Tree got the refinancing through Sessoms, but reneged by trying to bid to be the convention center hotel anyway. The bid approved was for none other than Armada Hoffler. The council turned the deal down because of citizen opposition and lack of public financing.
At the time, a divided council gave concessions and preferential treatment for construction of the 31st Street Hilton. All city officials appeared before the council and assured it the Hilton was the only convention center hotel needed. Years later they said, ’Nope.! We were wrong. We need one built adjacent to the convention center.’
In the meantime 10 conflict of interest rulings by the city attorney that he would not release prior to VNS’ Aug. 1 story were made public ‘voluntarily’ by Sessoms Wednesday after VNS filed a request to see the Department of Law index as required under the Freedom of Information Act.
Sessoms release of the documents may have been made to cover the fact the city attorney’s office has failed to keep the required index.
Most of newly released opinions detail Sessoms’ involvement with certain deals as a banker, councilman, vice mayor, and now mayor, with one bank or another. He has held offices with Central Fidelity, Wachovia, and Towne Bank since first being elected to council.
He had to leave Wachovia when it established an ethics policy prohibiting its people from being in political office. Towne Bank has no such ethics, so Sessoms jumped there.
The new opinions were initially kept secret to keep from disclosing Sessoms long time involvement in various business deals between him, his banks, and certain business interests. At one time or another he was involved in his triple-banking capacity.
The opinions, some of which could have placed him in conflict of interest, date back to Jan. 4, 1990 when he was a councilman and questioned whether he could act in his public capacity because of his personal interest in transactions of the Virginia Beach Central Business District Commission. City Attorney Les Lilley ruled Sessoms would be in conflict of interest.
In June 2010, Sessoms was ruled to not have a conflict of interest and could vote for a term sheet relating to the 31st Street LC (not the 31st Hotel) project and the city’s development authority.
In March 2009, the city attorney’s office wrote Sessoms: “The mayor would have a personal interest in any city contract or subcontract to which Towne Bank… and Prudential Towne Realty…” would profit. Prudential Towne Reality is affiliated with Towne Bank. Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson works for Prudential Towne Realty
In December 2001, Sessoms asked if his personal interest as vice mayor would represent a conflict if he participated in discussion and/or voted on a resolution to endorse the Town Center as a site for a performing arts theater. The city attorney opined, he would not have a legal conflict. Of course all opinions are based on facts presented the city attorney by Sessoms himself.
The opinion added, however, “the conflict of interest act deals with the types of influences upon a public officer’s judgement which are clearly improper. The law does not, however, protect against all appearances of improper influence.
“In that respect, the Act places the burden on the individual officers to evaluate whether the fact presented create an appearance of impropriety which is unacceptable or which could affect the confidence of the public in the officer’s ability to be impartial,” Sessoms was told.
In July 1999, Sessoms had concerns as to whether he could legally vote on a 31st Street project.
In that case the issue involved a Dairy Queen Ed Ruffin and Bruce Thompson wanted. At the time Sessoms was a officer of Wachovia and Dairy Queen was a customer.
Sessoms said the bank had sent a letter to Ruffin offering to take an application for financing the project and also advised the bank had extended a $400,000 unsecured line of credit to the Ramada Inn that was personally guaranteed by Ruffin and Thompson.
He said the bank also extended a $900,000 line of credit personally guaranteed by the Mah family, business partners with Ruffin and Thompson. He told the city attorney he was not personally involved and that Wachovia hadn’t actually provided financing to the project.
He was given the same green light, despite his long standing personal relationship with Thompson and Ruffin, to vote on the project. The city attorney found that Wachovia would not participating in financing the deal.
Sessoms, however, was told: …”If you are concerned that your participation in this transaction without disclosure could create an unacceptable appearance, there are two options available to you…(1). …Disclose the fact and participate; or (2). …Disclose the facts as presented herein and abstain from voting.
There were other conflicting rulings in November, 1998, first that he would not be in conflict of interest involving a rezoning by the VBDA for property at S. Independence and Holland Road for the Michels Family LLC to construct a facility for Coastal Technologies. Wachovia was not involved, at that time he said.
Sessoms later updated his facts to state that financing had fallen through and that Wachovia had been approached to finance the project. The City attorney wrote: “…You would be prohibited” from participating and would have a conflict.
In an April, 1998 query, it was ruled that if Wachovia was involved in a transaction with the city, he would be in conflict of interest by participating in the issue before council.
A Nov. 1995 opinion found that if his bank at that time, Central Fidelity, was involved in a contract with the VBDA, Sessoms would be in conflict. Again Sessoms was warned, “The law does not, however, protect against all appearances of improper influence.”
He was advised on June 30, as vice mayor after the fact, he would have a conflict in an application of McShort Inc. for enlargement of a nonconforming use. He delayed his interest and abstained from voting.
Sessoms was asked specific questions by VNS by email both at his city office and his bank office, but he has refused to either confirm, deny, or respond.
You can read details of all the opinions by clicking here:
See original story. Mayor seeks judge's help in hiding court record in upcoming case
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