Government Lies, Corruption and Mismanagement

Richmond Virginia is in the Middle of a Corruption Probe After 9th Disctrict City Councilmember Gwen Hedgepeth is Found Guilty of Bribery

Douglas G. Conner, Jr., one of three 9th District candidates, says he wants to bring a more business-like attitude to City Hall.
Robb Crocker, Wednesday October 6, 2004

Although 9th District candidate Douglas G. Conner, Jr. lived in Chesterfield County until the beginning of this year, he has always had a deep interest in the city. Besides growing up within the city limits, the business Conner started with brother Don in 1976, Conner Brothers, has always been in the city. In a recent interview with, Conner said he felt it was time to give back.

"It is time I give back to the city because the city has been good to me," Conner explained. "One person can do so much good. People in the 9th District have been let down in recent years and the people have not been represented."

The 9th District has seen its share of problems concerning their City Council representative. The previously elected Councilor, Gwen C. Hedgepeth, is currently serving federal jail time for accepting a bribe and lying to the F.B.I.

Conner has identified four key issues that he considers his top priorities. On the top of that list is a drainage issue in the 9th District. Conner said the current four-year plan needs to be quicker. He says he also considers public safety and the current crime rate a top campaign platform.

"The police need support," he explained.

His other two top platforms are improving education and creating more jobs, which, he says, are directly correlated. Conner, a former industrial arts teacher at Richmond Technical Center, says he would like to see more technical programs in the city's public schools.

In order to identify his platform issues, Conner says he has been campaigning since January at churches, civic organizations and walking the 9th District door-to-door. Despite certain issues, Conner has begun his second round of district visits.

"I can't remember being bit by so many mosquitoes," Conner commented. "I'm learning the perspective of the people."

Conner has pledged that he will bring a more business-like approach to City Hall if he is elected by introducing more results-oriented projects to Council. He is also stressing to his potential constituents the importance of selecting the best possible candidate to do the job.

"That is paramount that the winner is selected based on qualifications," he said. "[The 9th District] really hasn't had any choices [in the recent past]."

Conner, who was born and raised in Highland Park and attended John Marshall High School, also served in the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam War. Conner will turn 61 on Election Day and is pledging that people will come first if he wins.

"Customer service needs to be supplied to our citizens," he said. "And customer service has to be number one if you're going to be a Council person."

Conner will face current 9th District School Board member Eugene A. Mason, Jr. (who was unavailable for (this series) and Larry O'Neal Hucks for the open 9th District seat.

Councilwoman guilty of four felonies; steps down

Saturday April 3, 2004


City Councilwoman Gwen C. Hedgepeth was found guilty by a federal jury on Friday of four felonies: three bribery charges and one count of lying to the FBI.

On Saturday, Hedgepeth delivered a one-page letter to Mayor Rudolph C. McCollum resigning efective Monday at 8 a.m., according to local reports.

In the letter, Hedgepeth cited that staying on City Council "will only result in further deterioration of the public confidence in city government" and "will distract from the many good works and sacrifices of other members of the elected and appointed representatives of the citizens."

Hedgepeth has served on City Council for four years in Richmond's Ninth District.

Hedgepeth was convicted of taking bribes from Robert O. Davis, who was working with the police, for her support for a candidate to fill a vacant City Council seat in January 2003.

The jury deliberated about four hours Friday afternoon before finding Hedgepeth guilty of bribary conspiracy, bribery, attempted bribery and lying to FBI agents. She was found not guilty of mail fraud.

The prosecutions case was based primarily on video- and audiotapes of conversations between Hedgepeth and Davis, who gave Hedgepeth $2,500 over several meetings.

Hedgepeth's defense was that she was confused and didn't realize that she was accepting bribes.

Sentencing was set for July 2.

By law, felons may not serve on the council. City Council is required to replace Hedgepeth within 45 days.

U.S. jury indicts city councilwoman
Friday August 22, 2003

A federal grand jury indicted Richmond City Councilwoman Gwen Hedgepeth (9th District) this week on charges of bribery and lying to the FBI. The charges stem from the July 24 arrest of Hedgepeth. She is accused of accepting a $2,000 bribe and lying to agents during a May interview.

Hedgepeth and cooperating witness Robert O. Davis Jr. were videotaped together in a car on July 21. Court documents show that the recorded conversation during this particular incident indicates Hedgepeth was accepting a $2,000 bribe from Davis for her support of an unnamed appointee for the recent 6th District vacancy.

Court documents also allege she accepted $500 from Davis on Jan. 22 in exchange for voting for a particular mayoral candidate.

Hedgepeth declined to participate in the July 28 vote that appointed Walter Kenney and Robert Jones to the 6th and 4th district seats but has remained on council.

In other news relating to Hedgepeth, she has introduced a resolution to dismiss her council liason Monique C. Randolph. Randolph had been employed for less than six months. According to a local report, Randolph has hired an attorney to contest her firing.

A sordid past haunts Richmond city officials
Hedgepeth's bribery trial scheduled to begin today


The absurdity is not lost on Monroe, a retired Navy Reserve captain with horn-rimmed glasses and close-cropped salt and pepper hair. He flips through his 1866-1998 chronology in a smallish office stuffed with files and folders, some spilling onto a rug worn off-white with age.

"There has certainly been some spicy meatballs along the way," said Monroe, who works out of the Main Library on East Franklin Street.

Councilwoman Gwen C. Hedgepeth is the latest council member to end up in court. She is scheduled for trial today on federal mail-fraud and bribery-related charges.

She has pleaded not guilty and predicts she will be acquitted.

"We have not had mass corruption in the city of Richmond," Hedgepeth declared inOctober while under federal indictment.

Some well-known convicts are expected to testify at Hedgepeth's trial, including Robert Evans, a now-fired assistant to the city manager.

Evans pleaded guilty to mail fraud Dec. 30 after running a billing scam in City Hall. Authorities caught onto his scam after noticing his phony bills from two different companies had the word "debris" misspelled as "debre."

Evans is among nine public employees and elected and appointed officials who have been indicted in Richmond in the past 13 months.

Former Assessor James R. Vinson was among that group. He resigned under pressure from the council last year after he encouraged his office to substantially reduce the tax assessment on his own home. A Richmond jury found him not guilty of related misdemeanor charges.

Before quitting, Vinson came under fire for leaving one of his employees behind at a conference in Florida the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The assessor returned to Richmond on Sept. 13, but not without a female subordinate, whom he would later marry. Also, Vinson made a side trip to Key West, 170 miles from his hotel in Miami. He billed the city for gas.

"I have frequently given thanks for Washington, D.C., with Marion Barry, because it is the only thing that keeps the national media from focusing more on the sleaze and unethical activities associated with Richmond government," said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Barry, a former District mayor, served six months in prison after a 1990 misdemeanor drug conviction. "We never thought of it that way," Sabato said, "but we owe a great debt to Marion Barry."

It's unclear where Richmond ranks among U.S. cities for its number of indicted government officials. The FBI and the National League of Cities do not track crime statistics that way.

But City Hall observers have several theories why so many have faced charges in Richmond. Some pin the blame on the population's tolerance for corruption. Others complain politicians have relied too heavily on their elected offices to make a living.

Still others say some businesses won't allow employees to run for office. Plus, politicians sometimes must sacrifice their time, money and privacy.

"The best-quality folks often don't run. It's a problem in a lot of places, but I do think it is a real problem here," said Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a former Richmond mayor.

Hedgepeth's attorney, David P. Baugh, suggested something else is at work in Richmond. He contends the FBI and U.S. attorney's office are investigating and prosecuting more aggressively in Richmond than in neighboring Chesterfield and Henrico counties.

"To only look on one shore for clams and ignore the rest of them doesn't mean there aren't any clams on those other beaches. Nobody looks," he said. "I'll bet you a significant percentage of the population believes that Richmond politicians are being unfairly targeted. And whether or not that is true, I don't know."

U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty wouldn't comment on any specific case but said through a spokesman: "An even larger percentage of the population would rightly expect and demand honest services for their tax dollars."

Political analysts say the corruption drove some Richmonders to the polls in November, when voters adopted a long list of city-government reforms by a 4-1 ratio. Sabato called that overwhelming vote "a collective cry for help."

The General Assembly recently approved the reforms, which include switching to an executive-style-mayor form of government. Proponents believe an elected mayor would be more accountable to the public.

Some of the legal entanglements involving Richmond's elected leaders have been downright bizarre.

For instance, then-Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell was charged in 2000 with interfering with a city employee, a violation of the city's charter. She was accused of ordering a police officer not to tell anyone about an argument she had with another officer, who she said slapped her. The charge against Trammell was ultimately dismissed.

Less than two years later, Trammell filed a complaint against then-WRVA radio talk show host Allen Price, alleging he made annoying phone calls to her home. She also complained in court that Price joked about her wearing hot pants and going through a mattress a month. A judge dismissed the charge against Price.

"It's almost comic. That's the sadness of it. It's almost like a Shakespearean tragedy," said former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who has called Richmond a "cesspool of corruption and inefficiency."

"You see things unfolding and at portions of it, you laugh. But it's not funny because it is pathos. The sadness is it is affecting what could be meaningful for a lot of people in the city. It is really, really, really sad."

Monroe is thinking about picking up with his chronology again. He got sidetracked with other work in 1998.

He still relies on it to help city workers, residents and college students with research questions. Monroe keeps the yellowing chronology and supporting documents in two binders on his jam-packed bookshelf.

"I probably ought to get back to it. It's been a fascinating sort of thing."

Contact Jeremy Redmon at (804) 649-6804 or