Sessoms addresses conflict of interest accusations

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Questions are being asked about the votes made by Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms: Did his votes favor the bank where Sessoms is president?

In a recently published investigation, The Virginian-Pilot tracked every vote Sessoms has made as Mayor. Reporter John Holland looked through thousands of documents to see who benefited from each vote, and the conclusion was clear in the article’s headline: “Beach Mayor’s votes benefited customers of his bank.”

10 On Your Side asked Virginia Beach Councilman John Moss if he thinks the issue needs to be investigated.

“Absolutely, for the purpose of exonerating the mayor and the council as a whole,” Moss answered. “This doubt can not be allowed to lay out in the public space unanswered.”

The Pilot’s investigation found in July 2010 Sessoms voted “yes” to convey part of property on Indian Avenue for a developer, who one month earlier borrowed $504,000 from TowneBank. Ironically, one of the homes was purchased after the vote by Councilman John Uhrin, who had abstained from the vote earlier.

In February 2014, TowneBank gave the developers of a property at 25th and Pacific Avenue a $30 million line of credit. A month later, Sessoms voted “Yes” to change the terms of the original deal to buy the parking garage for $7.65 million, as soon as it is complete, rather than after the entire project is complete, which gave millions to the developer quicker.

John Moss voted for it, too.

“I did vote for it, and it made sense to vote for it. Now, whether someone benefited from that vote, I cannot say. I did not benefit from that vote,” Moss said.

In both cases, Sessoms’ vote wasn’t needed; the measure passed overwhelmingly.

The investigation found Sessoms voted at least 60 times involving businesses, developers and individuals who received loans from TowneBank.

10 On Your Side spoke with Mayor Sessoms over the phone Monday morning:

Mayor: “I’ve been out of the country. I have to understand what the allegations are, and then I will respond … thoroughly.”

WAVY: Will you be forced to leave TowneBank?

Mayor: “That is up to Bob Aston and the board.”

WAVY: Have you spoken with Bob Aston?

Mayor: “I plan on reaching out to Mr. Aston today.”

WAVY: Do you plan on stepping down as mayor?

Mayor: “I do not have any plans to do that.”

WAVY: Have you made votes that put you in violation of the State Conflict of Interest Law?

Mayor: “To the best of my knowledge, no.”

WAVY: Have you been contacted by federal, state, or local investigators?

Mayor: “No.”

“My concern is there has been a shadow of doubt placed over the integrity and the honesty of the City Council deliberations, and that needs to be resolved,” Moss said.

On Monday, TowneBank sent this statement to employees: “We are taking immediate action to thoroughly review all of the facts and circumstances … The Pilot found no indication that TowneBank knew of Sessoms’ votes or any potential conflict.”

Document: TowneBank interoffice memo about Sessoms

Councilman Moss emphasized that he considers Will Sessoms innocent until proven guilty. He also said he doesn’t think the Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney can investigate the case, due to possible conflicts. WAVY.com got this statement from the Commonwealth’s Attorney: “We are now aware of these allegations. We will take all necessary actions we deem appropriate. Any review of this matter will take time, and we trust the public will be patient.”

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