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July, 2014

  1. Council members grouse about Norfolk management

    July 24, 2014 by Christy

    City Manager Marcus Jones often enjoys the good graces of his bosses on the City Council. But Tuesday night was different.

    “The manager’s taken a couple hits tonight,” Mayor Paul Fraim noted during the informal session, where four council members expressed displeasure with various aspects of city management.

    Councilman Andy Protogyrou led the charge. Protogyrou had called for an investigation of a city-contracted plumber sentenced to 15 months in prison following an FBI investigation. The contractor bribed city employees and overbilled the city for years.

    In a three-sentence memo delivered to the council on Friday, Jones said a city investigation found no wrongdoing beyond two city employees who took bribes from the city-contracted plumber. The brief memo didn’t sit well with Protogyrou, who said he expected a full report.

    “It’s ironic that of all the nights, tonight we have a discussion on fraud, managing fraud and risk, tone, culture, control and policies,” Protogyrou said. “And what bothers me is, we as a council know nothing as to what went on. “For us to receive our information from the newspaper is not right.”

    Protogyrou, a lawyer, questioned Jones about exactly what police, who handled the investigation, had reviewed. “I tell you, I deal with Norfolk PD, and sometimes they don’t take notes. Sometimes they take notes and for some reason they destroy those notes. I know how the system works. I don’t know what happened here, and neither do our taxpayers,” Protogyrou said. “I want to know how it happened, why it happened, what controls were not there, what culture in City Hall didn’t exist, what policies did we not follow.”

    Protogyrou suggested the possibility of a review by the city auditor. Jones then said he wanted Alice Kelly, the city’s finance director, to brief the council at the meeting about changes that had been made.

    “You cannot answer this for me tonight,” Protogyrou said. “I want to know, what is your new culture, and if you can do it in 30 seconds, I’ll be surprised.”

    “Can we try 120 seconds?” Jones asked.

    “No,” Protogyrou replied sharply. “I want it written down.”

    Protogyrou said he could not ask the right questions without preparation from a written report.

    Under state law, police reports from such an investigation could be released to the public, a decision left to the discretion of the affected governments. Because it’s optional, Norfolk and most other local governments in Hampton Roads rarely do so.

    Fraim said police would avoid disclosing investigative techniques in writing. But, he told Jones, “there’s a good, healthy discipline about putting things down in writing.”

    “This plan that’s been put in place after this incident ought to be reduced to writing for this council, just like Andy has said, and presented to us, so then we can ask you questions

    about it. OK? I just think that’s a healthy give-and-take,” Fraim said.

    Councilman Paul Riddick, in a critique of how police treat blacks, took on Jones and Goldsmith over two fatal police shootings and said the city was acting like an ostrich that “buries his head in the sand.”

    “The lack of investigation by the city manager, who also serves as our public safety director for the city, and the police chief… who can only say now that the investigation is in the hands of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, is not giving the citizens of Norfolk the level of comfort that I think is expected of our top public safety officials,” Riddick said.

    Finally, Councilman Tommy Smigiel said

    that developer Ronnie Boone Sr. appeared to be getting a “free pass” for years of putting up buildings that lack proper permits and inspections.

    Gesturing toward both Jones and City Attorney Bernard A. Pishko, Smigiel said, “These two offices here have to, at some point, put their foot down and say, ‘Enough is enough.’

    “We have citizens who could be living in structures that haven’t been approved by law, and I worry about their safety,” he said. “If we can’t handle this as

    a city to the fullest extent, then maybe it needs to be turned over to another division to look into. Another city, another commonwealth’s attorney, somebody else, to make sure we don’t continue to be embarrassed.”

    Read the full article here.


  2. Maury High prom king faces four felony charges

    July 23, 2014 by Christy

    Four felony charges including a charge of malicious wounding will proceed against the Maury High School student who was crowned prom king a week after being arrested in connection with a drive-by shooting.

    During a preliminary hearing Thursday a Norfolk General District Judge decided a grand jury should also consider charges of child endangerment, use of a firearm and conspiracy. The judge dismissed 15 other charges.

    Evidence included the student’s statement to police, in which he said he told his passenger not to shoot, pushed the weapon down and had the gun pointed at him.

    A teenage

    girl testified she was walking from a store in the 2400 block of Lafayette Blvd. when shots were fired from the front passenger side of a car that drove by. She said she was hit in the leg but did not go to the hospital.

    A police officer testified that he stopped a Buick matching the description of the car. He said the student, who was driving the car, was cooperative. The student told police he had a scholarship at Norfolk State University, the officer testified, and said he gave someone a ride for gas money. The officer testified a gun slipped down the leg of one of the passengers as police patted him down. He said there was also a rifle on the floor of the backseat where a toddler was sitting.

    The judge silently read the statement the student made to police.

    Defense attorney Andy Protogyrou cited portions of his client’s statement, including that his client repeatedly told the shooter not to fire from his car. The student also told police he tried to stop the shooter by pushing down the weapon.

    Protogyrou said after the hearing that his client had his passenger for only about a week. News of the student’s return to school after being released on bond raised safety concerns and questions about school policy.

    Read the full article here.

  3. No other Norfolk employees involved in fraud

    by Christy

    A police investigation of a plumber convicted of bribing city workers found no wrongdoing beyond an FBI probe that led to charges against three men, a city spokeswoman said this week.

    The owner of Zoby Mechanical, was charged in March 2013 with bribing city workers and submitting fraudulent invoices to the city. His company had been the city’s plumbing contractor since 2001.

    Zoby is serving a 15-month prison sentence. Two former city employees, a plumbing supervisor  and a maintenance supervisor also plead guilty following an FBI investigation.  A Virginian-Pilot investigation last year showed how Zoby overbilled the city for a decade.

    The city investigation – completed last week – examined whether any other city workers were involved in fraud and found there were none according to a Norfolk City Official.

    In a

    memo to City Council members Friday, City Manager Marcus Jones wrote: “At the conclusion of the investigation, there is no evidence that any other city employees are involved in this criminal act.”

    The report by city police won’t be made public. A Norfolk City Official stated under the FOIA statute the City is allowed to withhold it.

    Sitting next to Jones at Tuesday’s informal session of the City Council, Councilman Andy Protogyrou said the city manager’s three-sentence report to the council was “not right.”

    “I’m thinking I’m going to get a memorandum and instead I get three sentences,” said

    Protogyrou, who initially asked for a city investigation.

    “We as a council know nothing as to what went on. If PD did

    an investigation, then I want to know what happened.”

    Vice Mayor Angelia Williams said she agreed with Protogyrou. “These are things that just don’t make our city look good.”

    Read the full article here.