Sessoms charged with five counts of conflict of interest violations

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms has been charged with violating the state’s conflict of interest laws following a nearly yearlong investigation into votes he took on matters that involved clients of the bank where he served as a president.

The five counts are Class 3 misdemeanors punishable by a maximum fine of $500 each, according to an email that special prosecutor Mike Doucette sent to media Wednesday night announcing the charges. Doucette said in the email that a Dec. 7 trial date had been set, “but that will most likely be reset to accommodate the schedules of defense counsel.”

Sessoms did not return messages seeking comment late Wednesday.

Doucette wrote that Virginia State Police Special Agent Robert Cully obtained criminal summons for the charges late Wednesday afternoon.

Each summons alleges Sessoms broke the law by failing to disclose a conflict interest before voting as a member of city council on issues that benefited clients of TowneBank, where the mayor was employed as a president, according to Doucette’s email.

The allegations involve votes on the following projects, according to Doucette: “Emmanuel Episcopal Church on June 2012, April 2014, and October 2014; 2) the 25th Street Project on March 2014; and 3) Madison Landing LLC on April 2011.”

“Each of these entities was a customer of TowneBank while Mayor Sessoms was also president of that bank,” Doucette wrote in the email. “The allegations are that Mayor Sessoms violated the Virginia COIA by failing to make necessary public disclosures before voting on these projects.”

“COIA” is a reference to the state’s Conflict of Interest Act.

Doucette, Lynchburg’s Commonwealth Attorney, has been investigating Sessoms since allegations of potential conflicts were first published in The Virginian-Pilot in November 2014.

More allegations were made in The Pilot story last year, but Doucette discovered insufficient evidence to prosecute the mayor for them, according to his email.

Councilman John Moss said he wasn’t surprised the charges were filed.

“I have always said and will continue to say that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,” Moss said.

Moss declined to say if he thought Sessoms should resign, especially before a trial has been held.

“We need to let this thing play out,” he said. “We still don’t even know the outcome of the federal investigation.”

If Sessoms is proven guilty, Moss said, voters should decided the mayor’s political future.

Doucette’s investigation began after The Pilot published in November 2014 a lengthy report on Sessoms’ voting record as mayor. It reported that dozens of his votes between January 2009 and October 2014 directly benefited TowneBank and its clients.

Nearly two months after the story ran, the bank changed its policies, forcing Sessoms to choose between resigning as a bank president or as mayor.

Sessoms has maintained he did nothing wrong and stayed with the city.

The investigation lasted nearly until the statute of limitations on bringing charges was to expire on Nov. 8.

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