A fraud case McDonnell could have pursued
While Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was attorney general in 2006, he did nothing when informed about serious accusations that eventually led to the conviction and 10-year sentence of John W. Forbes II, a former state finance secretary.
The accusations come from a front-page article Sunday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that details efforts to bring to justice Forbes, who was convicted in a $4 million fraud case involving a grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission
Forbes, who served in the cabinet under Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore, was supposed to use the grant money on a program to improve adult literacy. Instead, Forbes used a considerable amount of the grant to pay salaries for himself and his wife and to buy himself a $1 million home.
The case is one of the biggest corruption scandals in recent Virginia history, but as the newspaper reported, McDonnell did nothing when sent a four-page letter in October 2006 detailing concerns of wrongdoing from a woman who worked for Forbes and then was abruptly fired when she asked Forbes about financial irregularities.
Neither McDonnell's office nor the attorney general's office could find the letter, the newspaper says. Former state senator Charles R. Hawkins (R-Pittsylvania), who chaired the tobacco commission, also said he had no recollection of the letter.
The author of the letter, D.L. Billett Jr. of Chesterfield, whose former wife E. Denise Kent had worked for and been fired by Forbes, kept pushing for a probe. He told the Times-Dispatch that he spoke with the attorney general's office after sending the letter in 2006, but was told not to expect much in the way of an investigation. Billett could not remember the name of the official.
Finally, Billett sent the information to Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Chesterfield), other political figures and the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. Fourteen months ago, it finally ended up in the hands of the State Police, which launched the probe that led to Forbes's conviction.
This sorry episode raises big questions about McDonnell's competence, if not his integrity, when he was attorney general. The story seems to be a classic case of sweeping something potentially embarrassing to one's political party under the rug -- in this case that of the Virginia GOP. To their credit, other state Republicans had the integrity to push for a probe.
The pressure is on the General Assembly to create better checks and balances for public bodies such as the tobacco commission, whuich is supposed to use billions in a settlement against major tobacco companies for the public good.
Another aspect is that many of the same Republicans who apparently refused to check into serious allegations of government misfeasance have no trouble painting Washington and the federal government as the source of all evil.
Let's hope the pressure stays on for a reckoning.
| December 20, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
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