by Jeremy Borden, The Washington Post

17 August 2012

 

“Virginia Railway Express will not request an independent investigation into whether an official has done anything improper to benefit a company that he owns, a majority of the agency’s board voted Friday.

“Susan Stimpson, a Stafford County supervisor who serves on the VRE board, had asked for the investigation. Stimpson’s request centered on a letter contained in a 2011 outside audit into VRE’s finances that stated ‘we have no knowledge of fraud or suspected fraud involving VRE.’ But a handwritten note underneath adds, ‘with the exception of the items discussed in the conversation on 11/15/11.’

” ‘Up until this point, no one has even asked for or is pressing . . . for the auditors to come back in,’ Stimpson said, adding that the board needs assurance from auditors that no fraud occurred. ‘I’m very disappointed in fellow board members. . . . We need to ensure our internal controls are functioning.’

“Stimpson’s request was about last year’s audit, when auditors learned that a VRE official had set up a company before his arrival at the agency. VRE looked into whether the company was improperly involved with the agency, according to a Dec. 16 letter to board members from former chief executive Dale Zehner.

” ‘A review of all VRE contracts did not reveal any business relationship between the VRE and the employee’s business,’ Zehner wrote.

“VRE is controlled by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission. Its two rail lines, which connect Prince William and Stafford counties and downtown Washington, carry an average of 16,000 passengers a day, its Web site says.

“Stimpson, along with Fredericksburg City Council member Frederic Howe and Stafford County Supervisor Gary F. Skinner, voted for the independent inquiry. But a majority of board members said the organization should allow a separate FBI inquiry to wrap up before going forward.

” ‘It seems prudent to wait,’ said Chris Zimmerman, an Arlington County Board member.

“The FBI is looking into a separate matter to determine whether another former VRE official steered an agency contract to a company in return for a payoff, according to transportation officials. The Washington Post reported the existence of the investigation Friday.

“The VRE board is composed of elected officials from the localities it serves. Zimmerman voted against an independent audit, along with officials from Manassas, Fairfax, Alexandria and Prince William.

“The outcome of the vote was muddled at first. In a confusing and hectic exchange, the board debated its own voting procedures — the votes from members whose jurisdictions have the most ridership are weighted more than others. Board Chairman W.S. Covington III twice asked for a show of hands — but the second time the vote was tallied, one board member changed her vote.

“Prince William County Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan switched her vote from approving the request for an independent audit to denying the request.

“The rail agency’s attorneys were unsure how Caddigan’s vote would have affected the final outcome, saying they had never confronted a split vote from a locality before.

“Caddigan, who left the meeting early, couldn’t later be reached for comment.

“A majority of board members said that with ongoing scrutiny from the FBI, there was no reason for another inquiry.

“The board also unanimously recommended Doug Allen, 58, a veteran of transit systems in Austin and Dallas, for the job to replace Zehner, who stepped down in July. Allen also will have to be approved by the VRE’s parent boards, the NVTC and PRTC, which are scheduled to take up the issue Sept. 6.

” ‘First and foremost is to continue to provide safe and quality service,’ Allen said in a telephone interview. ‘It’s just a great service. There’s such a great demand for it.’

“He said one of his primary tasks will be expanding VRE, which is growing in popularity. He also said that VRE’s contracting issues and the FBI investigation did not deter his decision to seek the post.”

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“The Covington Pattern” by “Riley”, from Viginia Virtucon blog, “the commonwealth’s free-market online home for news, politics, policy and entertainment since 2006,” on 19 August 2012 adds the following:

“Conflicts of interest. Corruption (or at the very least the strong appearance of it.) Cover-ups. There seems to be a pattern when it comes to things surrounding Wally Covington, Brentsville Dist. member of the Prince William BOCS. As if the whole discretionary funds / Rainbow Riding debacle weren’t enough, guess who is currently the Chairman of the Virginia Railway Express — that’s right, it’s Covington. Under his watchful eye, VRE has found itself embroiled in an FBI bribery / kickback investigation and now an outside audit has apparently uncovered suspected fraud, but he and Potomac Dist. Supervisor Maureen Caddigan led the way in quashing calls for an independent investigation under the flawed premise that the FBI investigation of a different matter must be concluded first.

“Can you say ‘cover-up’ boys and girls? I knew you could. Covington and Caddigan are fighting for their political lives and they know that one more piece of bad news may put them at the tipping point where they cannot continue in office. Sources tell Virtucon this afternoon that this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the VRE and things may get a whole lot worse real soon.”