RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A Virginia state lawmaker who recently entered a plea in connection with accusations that he had an improper sexual relationship with a teenager said Thursday he will let the voters decide whether he should stay or go.
Democratic Del. Joseph D. Morrissey announced that he has submitted his resignation but said he plans to run for the same seat in a special election set for Jan 13.
"It is the voters and not political pundits and not partisan caucuses that should decide who serves in office," Morrissey said at a news conference in his Capitol office.
Morrissey's decision to run for re-election surprised many, including House Speaker William J. Howell, who called the move "deceitful, selfish and disrespectful."
"This is a despicable, arrogant political stunt that should disgust each and every citizen of Virginia," Howell said in a statement. He urged Morrissey's voters "to retire Mr. Morrissey permanently."
Morrissey struck a defiant tone, saying there is no precedent for a sitting lawmaker to be expelled from office for committing a misdemeanor crime.
He was sentenced to 12 months in jail with six suspended but will ultimately serve three months, according to one of his attorneys. Morrissey is in a work-release program that allowed him to work as a legislator and lawyer by day while spending nights in a Henrico County jail.
Morrissey's own caucus and several other high profile Democrats have called on him to step down after he entered an Alford plea last week in Henrico County Circuit Court on a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In an Alford plea, a defendant acknowledges there is sufficient evidence for a conviction but doesn't admit guilt.
According to prosecutors, Morrissey and a 17-year-old girl, who worked for him as a receptionist, had sex multiple times at his law office in August 2013 and texted their friends about it. Morrissey, 57, also procured a nude photo of the teen "to help him fantasize about their next encounter," according to special prosecutor William Neely, and sent the picture to a friend.
Morrissey has vehemently denied the allegations and claimed his cellphone was hacked.
One of the most colorful characters in Virginia politics, Morrissey has a long history of courting controversy.
A 1991 courthouse fistfight with a defense attorney earned Morrissey, then Richmond's chief prosecutor, a five-day jail sentence.
After losing his re-election bid in 1993 under the cloud of bribery and perjury charges on which he was later acquitted, Morrissey went into private practice. He capitalized on the widely reported courthouse brawl by calling himself a "fighter" for his clients on ads plastered on city buses and decorating his office with boxing gloves.
Fisticuffs with a building contractor led to a misdemeanor assault and battery conviction and suspension of Morrissey's law license in 2000. Three years later, the state bar revoked his license for failing to tell clients about the suspension. Unable to practice law, he taught in Ireland and then Australia before returning to Virginia in 2006 and winning four House elections in a row.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The days of Virginia governors taking big-ticket gifts - like a Caribbean vacation or a suite at a Redskins game - appear to be over.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe instituted a $100 gift cap when he took office in January as a way of trying to restore Virginia's reputation after a gift scandal enveloped his predecessor. He recently submitted his annual statement of economic interest showing he's received gifts of only limited value.
They include dozens of mostly trinkets related to trade missions and other official duties. McAuliffe's list does not include access to posh vacation homes or tickets to high-priced sporting events that were frequently given to previous Virginia governors.
For instance, McAuliffe reported receiving a $50 ":corporate mascot figurine": from the China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba during a trade mission. Stone Brewing Co., one of the nation's top craft breweries that is receiving a $5 million grant from the Governor's Opportunity Fund to relocate to Richmond, gave McAuliffe a case of IPA beer worth $76.88.
":Transparency and accountability in government are central to Governor McAuliffe's vision for a new Virginia economy,": said Brian Coy, the governor's spokesman.
Virginia politicians are still reeling from the fallout of former Gov. Bob McDonnell's federal corruption conviction. The trial highlighted how a wealthy businessman lavished the McDonnell family with expensive gifts. Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of a dietary supplement maker, gave the McDonnells designer clothes, a Rolex and access to his Ferrari, among other things. A jury found McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of illegally helping promote Williams' products in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans. They are set to be sentenced next year.
McDonnell also reported accepting large gifts from others besides Williams. They include tickets to sporting events worth thousands of dollars, including a reported $19,000 gift from the Washington Redskins for a suite at a game.
As part of their defense, McDonnell's legal team focused on gifts received by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who was Virginia's governor prior to McDonnell. According to court records and published news media accounts, those gifts included use of a free vacation home on a private Caribbean island called ":Mustique": from a businessman, a gift valued at $18,000.
Lawmakers have pledged to tighten gift rules following the guilty verdict in the McDonnell trial, and House Republicans recently said they support a $100 gift cap similar to what McAuliffe has imposed on himself.
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (AP) - Despite a massive explosion in October, authorities say a state-owned launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility should be repaired and ready for testing late next year.
Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff from Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on Oct. 28. The rocket was carrying a cargo ship that was bound for the International Space Station.
The Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority on Wednesday provided news media outlets a tour of the damage from the explosion. Two lightning towers at the launch pad were knocked down by the blast while the two others suffered damage and will need to be replaced. A water tower next to the launch pad was slightly charred and had exterior lighting damaged, but otherwise withstood the blast. A large crater was created in the sand next to the launch pad from the blast where the rocket came down.
Two nearby buildings scheduled to be removed prior to the explosion were also damaged, but the vast majority of the complex was unscathed.
":This pad has come through in very good shape. It's still some significant repairs, but it's a $120 million pad and the repairs are less than $20 million,": said Dale Nash, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority.
NASA says no environmental hazards were discovered in the air following the explosion. The space agency says the water-retention basins at the launch pad have been pumped dry and will be cleaned to prevent future contamination. The impact crater was pumped dry five times to remove what NASA describes as significant levels for perchlorate. Additional pumping will continue, and water samples will be taken each time. The pumped water is being kept in large, enclosed storage tanks and will be taken to an off-site treatment facility. Soil near the crater is also being excavated to remove any residual chemicals, which will also be taken to an off-site disposal facility.
Orbital Sciences plans to launch its next Antares rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station in 2016. The Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority says the launch pad should be able to conduct what's known as a hot-fire test at the launch pad by the end of 2015 in anticipation of the launch.
The Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority has said repairs to the launch pad should not exceed $20 million. Congress has agreed to pick up the tab for those costs. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., toured the launch pad on Wednesday and said it is of national interest to see the facility repaired as quickly as possible.
":This infrastructure survived remarkably well, given the magnitude of the challenge,": Kaine said. ":But there's obviously a cost to repair. The missions that are flown here are very necessary. The mission that is being done serving the space station and other missions here definitely have a public component.":
Almost one year after water for more than 300,000 West Virginia residents was contaminated because of a chemical spill, six former officials for the company responsible for the leak are facing federal charges.
Seven-thousand gallons of a toxic chemical called MCHM leaked into a West Virginia river on January 9, 1½: miles upstream from a water treatment facility. For more than a week, residents couldn't drink, bathe or cook with the water.
The chemical MCHM is commonly used in the coal mining industry for cleaning, and was kept in tanks next to the Elk River by the company Freedom Industries Inc. Several holes were found in the tank that leaked into the river.
The Freedom Industries president at the time was Gary Southern, 53, who was indicted on charges of negligent discharge of a pollutant in violation of the Clean Water Act, among other alleged violations. He also faces separate federal charges of wire and bankruptcy fraud. If convicted on all charges, he could face nearly 70 years in prison.
Three former owners of Freedom Industries were also indicted. Dennis P. Farrell, 58, William E. Tis, 60, and Charles E. Herzing, 63, were indicted on charges of negligent discharge of a pollutant and negligent discharge of refuse matter. They face up to three years in prison.
The indictment for Southern, Farrell, Tis and Herzing alleged that their company failed to make sure the tank holding MCHM was inspected for cracks and to keep it maintained. The indictment alleges that these four men approved funding "only for those projects that would result in increased business revenue for Freedom, or that were immediately necessary for required equipment maintenance."
Two other men who worked for Freedom Industries at the time -- Michael Burdette and Robert Reynolds -- also face charges that they violated the Clean Water Act.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice was committed to vigorously enforcing the Clean Water Act.
"...The conditions at the Freedom Industries facility were not only grievously unacceptable, but unlawful," Holder said in the statement. "They put an entire population needlessly at risk."
An attorney for Southern, Robert Allen, said it was inappropriate for U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Booth Goodwin to prosecute this case, because he, his colleagues and family were affected by the water contamination.
"If my family's a victim, how can I prosecute somebody for causing that spill or allegedly causing that spill?" Allen said. "How can I be fair or impartial?"
Goodwin said he would address Allen's concern "in due course."
Then there is the behind-the-scenes politicking, and on that point Virginia officials think last month's elections gave the commonwealth a level playing field.
While two veteran Virginia lawmakers will step down when the new Congress begins in January, it is Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland's loss of control of the powerful Appropriations Committee that may help the commonwealth land the largest federal campus since the CIA's Langley headquarters was completed in 1961.
"I think the recent election bodes well for Virginia," Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay (D) said. "I wish it didn't, but in the real world I think it does, at least when it comes to the FBI."
At issue is an attempted swap by the General Services Administration of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, one of the most valuable development sites to become available in downtown Washington in decades, for a new 2.1 million-square-foot campus that will consolidate 11,000 FBI workers from 20 locations around the region.
While the GSA has initiated several such swaps to get around congressional spending restrictions, this one takes place on an unprecedented scale and under the scrutiny of local lawmakers. Three sites have been chosen by the GSA as finalists: Springfield in Fairfax and Greenbelt and Landover, both in Prince George's.
Virginians claim that Maryland lawmakers in general and Mikulski in particular have exerted political pressure for the headquarters to be moved to their state. Although the decision rests with the executive branch, Mikulski, as appropriations chairwoman, may have had particular influence in the case of a swap that did not cover the full cost of the new building.
"They want everyone at GSA to know that if they pick Virginia there's going to be pain later," one Virginia Democratic staffer said.
Now Mikulski will hand over her gavel to a Republican, and nearly the entire Maryland delegation will sit in the minority. Virginians hope that shift will blunt the argument from state and local officials that Prince George's deserves this project after being repeatedly passed over by the federal government. But Maryland lawmakers also say the Greenbelt site should win on its merits.
"I personally advocate for Maryland," said Mikulski, but "I don't think it's about Democrats or Republicans. I think it's about the FBI."
Likewise, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said "the politics always cuts multiple ways," and he is confident Prince George's will prevail thanks to "the best location," not clout.
Despite Mikulski's diminished role, Maryland's chances are probably improved by a more organized, concerted effort from Prince George's officials than was ever assembled under previous county executive Jack B. Johnson, incarcerated after a corruption conviction.
Working closely with state officials, Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has put together a subsidy package that could be worth as much as $190 million to support the Greenbelt proposal.
County officials say they are arranging similar support for a bid to bring the FBI to the former Landover Mall, and they are confident that the FBI would boost the economy.
A report commissioned by the county's partner in Greenbelt, Renard Development, and produced by Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute, determined that the FBI headquarters could produce $1.1 billion in economic output. And if Renard adds 2 million square feet of offices, housing, hotels and retail, it could bring the total to $3.5 billion and 21,000 jobs.
Fairfax has not done an economic assessment for the site, as Prince George's has, maybe in part because the FBI, unlike Defense Department units, does not attract a lot of private contractors and the associated property taxes. Aside from a poorly received joke about crime in Prince George's, Fairfax Economic Development Authority chief Gerald Gordon has not been prominent in the FBI effort.
"The EDA fills office buildings: they don't really do land-use stuff," McKay said. Should the Springfield location be chosen, he said, the EDA's role "traditionally would be to work with the private-sector land around the site."
Virginians have expressed concern in the past that a classified CIA facility on the Springfield property will scuttle their bid. Officials say it's an added financial concern, not an insurmountable obstacle.
"There's costs involved with the current tenants," Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said.
Maryland lawmakers have said that a plurality of FBI employees live in their state, relying on a report from their own economic development department. But those numbers are extrapolated from general census data: the FBI has refused to say where its employees reside. Virginia officials argue that FBI workers would rather be close to Quantico, where their training academy is located.
Once two Maryland sites were named, politicking between the two developers that control them picked up steam. Lerner Enterprises, the company led by Washington Nationals owner Theodore N. Lerner, and its co-owners of the Landover Mall property have spent $143,000 this year with Dickstein Shapiro to employ a pair of former Maryland members of Congress, Sen. Joseph Tydings and Rep. Albert Wynn, to lobby on GSA issues, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Locally, the Lerners have also enlisted the help of Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George's), the former candidate for lieutenant governor. Renard has employed Manis Canning & Associates to win support.
To get the complex built, the GSA has initiated two overlapping competitions: one for the best piece of land and the other for the best development deal it can get in exchange for the Hoover building, which is crumbling and dated but sits on 6.7 acres of highly valuable land.
All three finalists, chosen after more than a year of vetting and consultation, have different forms of ownership. The GSA owns the Springfield site, Metro owns the site in Greenbelt but has partnered with a private developer, and Lerner Enterprises and other private parties own the Landover site.
Next month, the GSA will begin seeking developers interested in building an FBI headquarters on any of the sites in exchange for the Hoover building. In a best-case scenario for the GSA, competition for the Hoover building will be so intense that it will be able to complete a straight swap. In that case, Norman Dong, commissioner of the GSA's Public Buildings Service, said he may not need Congress to act.
Major pitfalls remain, however. House Republicans have questioned whether the GSA's proposed swap is appropriate, and real estate professionals who are closely studying the proposal say the GSA is unlikely to reap enough money from Hoover to pay for a new FBI campus. One executive closely tracking the deal estimated that a new FBI campus could cost $1.2 billion while the Hoover building could fetch about $500 million, leaving a $700 million funding gap.
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