The latest installment in the Star Scientific soap opera engulfing Richmond has a July 8 hearing to decide if the mansion chef embezzlement case should be tossed out because Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s involvement tainted the case too much to pursue.
If not, the trial is set for Oct. 15. Three weeks before voters have to go to the polls where Cuccinelli is on the ballot, they will hear four days of details, likely including former chef Todd Schneider’s argument that he’s been targeted for blowing the whistle on Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams’ gift-giving ways. It sounds like a “Law & Order” case on TV, but it’s really an example of what can happen when state leaders prize secrecy and money over doing the right thing.
Whomever you believe, this case has spotlighted the gaps in Virginia’s rules to hold the powerful accountable. Disclosure is worth nothing if you can avoid penalties with a simple “I forgot.” Funneling cases through the attorney general’s office is fine until the AG is involved in the case. Unlimited gifts and donations are a perk of office — until it appears to be quid pro quo and reputations start stinking.
In keeping with the state’s byzantine public records policy, even the information that must be shared is behind walls. The disclosure forms are kept in Richmond and you must call ahead to see them. If not for the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project (www.vpap.org), most Virginians would have no ready access to follow the flow of gifts. What else can we expect from a state that took a case all the way to the Supreme Court earlier this year rather than let out-of-state residents into its records?
Source: The Staunton News Leader