VIRGINIA BEACH — Mayor Will Sessoms pleaded no contest today in General District Court to one of five charges that he violated the state’s conflict of interest laws. The other four were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Sessoms donated $1,000 to the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and had a $500 fine waived as a part of the agreement. Special Prosecutor Mike Doucette also asked the judge that Sessoms not be removed from office.
Doucette said after the hearing that the agreement was just as good as five guilty pleas. He said the important thing was getting accountability for citizens, not imposing the largest fine possible — $2,500 combined for all five charges.
“I feel like I’ve had a ton of bricks taken off my chest,” Sessoms told reporters after the hearing.
He said he “technically” made an error in 2011 that resulted in the charge to which he pleaded no contest. He did not mention the other four.
The charges said he failed disclose that his employer, TowneBank, was involved with a project the City Council was voting on. He said if he had known of the bank’s involvement, he would have disclosed it and still could have voted without violating the law.
Sessoms said the accusations, investigation and court case have taken a toll on him and his family and that he’s unsure if he will run for reelection in the fall of 2016. He said he will decide with his family after “digesting” the case and its fallout.
The hearing was originally slated for Dec. 7 but was delayed because the Virginia Beach judges recused themselves. It was Sessoms’ first and only court appearance after Doucette charged him Nov. 4 with the five counts of violating the state’s Conflict of Interest Act.
The charges followed a yearlong investigation. They alleged that Sessoms broke the law by failing to disclose his relationship with TowneBank before five council votes on developments that affected that bank and its clients.
Sessoms was a president of TowneBank but resigned in 2014 after The Virginian-Pilot investigated his votes on council and ran a story about instances in which they involved TowneBank clients.
After signing the five criminal summonses in November, Sessoms said he never voted with the intent to benefit himself or the bank and that his loyalties were with the city.
Doucette, Lynchburg’s commonwealth’s attorney, told reporters in early November that the law requires technicalities and failing to meet them counts as a violation. He added that other votes were scrutinized; some did not yield sufficient evidence for charges and others exceeded the statute of limitations, he said.
Have a story idea or news tip? Contact city hall reporter Judah Taylor at Judah@SouthsideDaily.com or 757-490-2750.
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