RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney confirmed the Virginia State Police has received procedural clearance from a grand jury “to investigate the full matter” regarding any possible illegal overlap between construction at Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones’ new satellite church and any members of the mayor’s staff – and the mayor himself.
A grand jury -- one of the three ways the investigation could have moved forward, the other two ways being the attorney general or governor -- greenlighted the investigation.
“The Mayor requested their review,” commonwealth’s attorney Michael Herring told CBS 6, “but there is an actual formal process that must be followed in order for them to review the construction project and the various relevant actors, including the mayor.”
Herring did not specify when the grand jury gave the clearance that allows investigators to look at “all aspects of the construction process” and anyone in city government who could have been involved.
Mayor Dwight Jones was not available for comment.
Tammy Hawley, the mayor’s spokeswoman said, “the state police are getting to move forward with what we asked them to do. That’s good news for us. We very much want them to look into this matter and get it cleared up, without any biases.”
CBS 6 political analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth said widening of this investigation could mean a number of things.
"The investigation widening to the mayor and the mayor’s staff and the possible inclusion of the FBI now suggests that this investigation is far more serious than simply a review of what may or may not have been happening in the department of public works," he said.
The mayor’s office asked for the investigation after news outlets, including CBS 6 News, obtained city emails through the Freedom of Information Act indicating the head of the city’s public works department was involved in the church project on city time. Those emails also indicated the mayor may have been aware of that official’s work on the church.
Hawley said the mayor had already left City Hall for the day and would not be addressing the matter. “It’s under investigation,” she said. “We’re not going to color it in the press – influence or try to shape it.”
City auditor Umesh Dalal, who has been involved in the investigation, said he can’t talk about any new evidence or the scope of what the state police are reviewing.
“We are not ready to give out any information yet,” he said.
Hawley said the mayor’s office is certain Dwight Jones will be cleared.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Remember, we asked for this investigation. We don’t want any doubt in the public’s mind. We’re just waiting for the state police report.
Emails obtained by CBS 6 show overlap of city and church resources
More than 600 city emails obtained by CBS 6 show that Mayor Dwight Jones’ head of Richmond’s Public Works was kept up to speed on virtually every step of construction on Jones’ new $5 million church.
CBS 6 filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all emails sent or received by Public Works Director Emmanuel Adediran, which pertained to the construction of Jones’ under construction First Baptist Church, located on Ironbridge Road in Chesterfield County.
The correspondence dates from July 2014 to December 2015, and all emails are addressed to or from Adediran’s official city email address.
An overview of the emails reinforced city auditor Umesh Dalal recent findings; Adediran used his work email to send and receive emails concerning several aspects of church business.
This included participation in conference calls and on-site meetings, in addition to numerous conversations about construction, equipment purchasing, design and landscape pertaining to the church.
On August 27, 2014, Adediran confirmed he could make a construction meeting, referred to as a weekly event, that was slated during city business hours.
“Either day and times works fine with my schedule,” Adediran replied. The meeting time would have either been at 4 p.m. or 10 a.m., depending on the day.
Encouragement from church officials indicated Adediran’s level of involvement.
“Thank you for all of your hard work! You are quite an asset to this ministry and to The Kingdom!” wrote a church official.
The email correspondence also showed vendors who have business with the city were in discussion about potential business with the church.
An email sent on Feb. 11, 2015 to Adediran from W.W. Grainger, who also had separate city accounts, included a quote for over $95,000 in kitchen equipment. The quote listed the recipient as Richmond City of General Services, at City Hall's address [ VIEW DOC HERE]. There appears to be a typo in one, so the amount may have been higher.
It was a revised quote from an email sent the day before, with the subject line from the Grainger representative reading “Pricing for First Baptist Church,” and several attached documents detail “…the first round of pricing for the items you ask [sic] me for.”
“I will have a few other options for the same items on Monday,” continued the email from the representative.
It was forwarded to a reverend at the mayor’s church, listed as “the executive minister of business.”
It is not clear from the emails if the city was billed for the items, if any purchase was finalized.
An email on April 22, 2015, to Adediran reads: "The Pastors have asked me to talk with you about purchasing the refrigerator priced at $1345. Please advise."
Adediran responded that the Grainger representative "will call you in about an hour and walk you through the ordering process."
CBS 6 spoke to Mayor Jones at his State of the city address Thursday night, but he didn't have much to say regarding the emails.
“We have the State Police looking into this; they’ve agreed to look into it. So when we have something to talk about, we’ll talk about it. And we’re waiting for those reports to come back,” Jones said.
CBS 6 also contacted city hall for a comment on the emails, but they deferred to the current investigation also.
“We've asked for an outside review and would like to allow the process to take its course,” said the mayor's spokesperson Tammy Hawley.
A spreadsheet itemizing costs of additional kitchen equipment for the church was sent from a Grainger representative, on March 18, 2015 [View spreadsheet here].
The mayor was not copied on the above-mentioned emails.
He was however copied on numerous emails provided in the FOIA request. One was dated Jan. 7, 2014, when the church was informed they needed a geotechnical engineer.
Jones, along with his son who is a pastor at the church and serves on the Richmond City School Board, was copied on a series of emails between the church builder, the executive minister of business and Adediran. In this email thread, the Richard L. Crowder Construction company was mentioned as a contractor who could possibly do soil testing.
Gary Lilley, president and owner of Richard L. Crowder, said they did not do soil testing at the church. His company, which Lilley said has no personal ties to the church that he was aware of, was sub-contracted for the church project.
“We do site work, everything you see outside the building,” Lilly confirmed. His company was first on the site, he said.
He said that his company, which had previously worked on city projects like Huguenot High School, was sub-contracted to work on the church by a firm in Missouri. JCDM Church Builders, of Missouri, was on the original email thread were Richard L. Crowder Construction was recommended.
“By my knowledge we have not been contacted by the city for that,” Crowder said of his firm’s involvement with the church, emphasizing they were subcontracted.
“Is there any indication that contractor’s that work for the city also work for your church,” CBS 6 reporter Mark Holmberg asked the mayor, on Jan. 13, 2016.
“Not to my knowledge,” Jones said.
In that interview with a CBS 6 reporter, which you can listen to in its entirety above, Jones also said he found the inquiry into church and city relationships – having been under fire for the amount of city employees who are also part of his congregation – illegal.
“I think that it is against the law,” Jones said. “I think it is against the law to ask anybody.”
“I would never ask you, ‘Mark what church do you go to?’” “That is just not something that you are obligated to discuss with me.”
“This is the home of religious freedom…this is Thomas Jefferson’s place,” he continued. “If we don’t believe in religious freedom, nobody does.”
According to Richmond-based lawyer and legal expert Steve Benjamin, state law wouldn't necessarily apply to a city employee who did side work on city time.
The "misuse of public assets" statute, 18.-112.1, could be used against anyone in the mayor's administration who directly violated it, by having a city employee to outside work on city time.
But anyone in a government body who knew about it, encouraged it, or directed it could be prosecuted for this felony.
That's why emails indicating Mayor Jones' knowledge and participation in Adediran's apparent church work on city time could be critical.