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UPDATE: Stoney to introduce now-$1.5 billion Richmond Coliseum redevelopment plan Monday

The wait is almost over.

Richmond Mayor Stoney announced Thursday that he will introduce the now-$1.5 billion proposal to replace the Richmond Coliseum and reshape a large chunk of downtown at a special meeting of the City Council on Monday.

His announcement came 274 days after the mayor pledged support for the project at a news conference last fall, where he endorsed what could be the biggest economic development project in Richmond history.

Then came silence — nine months’ worth. Stoney was mum about the project publicly, saying only that his administration remained in negotiations with NH District Corp., a private group led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II that submitted the only proposal to build a new arena and redevelop 21 acres of publicly owned downtown real estate north of Broad Street. The two sides negotiated the plans for 17 months.

“Though we had extensive and often trying negotiations, we did not waver from our commitment to make sure this project encompassed groundbreaking economic opportunities,” Stoney said during a news conference Thursday at City Hall.

Farrell disputed the idea that the project had stalled at any point. He said in an interview that the scope of the proposal led to the delay, not any one sticking point between his group and Stoney’s administration.

“It was just a very thorough, thoughtful, exhaustive negotiation,” Farrell said. “The mayor had a vision. We share the vision. We want to help him succeed and bring these goals to the city, and we still need to be able to finance the project.”

NH District Corp. had publicly indicated interest in redeveloping the area months before Stoney announced a request for proposals in November 2017.

The group’s proposal calls for a 17,500-seat arena that would replace the Richmond Coliseum and become the largest arena in the state; a high-rise hotel with at least 525 rooms; 2,500 apartments, with 480 reserved for people earning less than the region’s median income of about $83,000 for a family of four; 1 million square feet of commercial and office space; 260,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space; a $10 million renovation of the Blues Armory; a new transfer plaza for GRTC bus riders; and infrastructure improvements aimed at making the area easier to navigate for pedestrians and cyclists.

The project previously was pegged as costing $1.4 billion. An NH District spokesperson attributed the increase to time and changes in market conditions.

The public portion of the project would be largely underwritten by the creation of the city’s first tax-increment financing district.

Establishing the zone, also called a TIF, would divert new tax revenue from growing real estate assessments or new construction within its bounds to pay down bonds for the arena and infrastructure improvements in a roughly 10-block area north of Broad Street where the project would rise.

The Stoney administration wants the zone to encompass an area eight times larger to capture more new tax revenue, including taxes from a new office tower Dominion built downtown, as well as a second tower for which it has submitted plans to the city. Farrell declined to say Thursday whether the utility company had decided to build the second tower.

The special tax zone will be bounded by First Street, Interstate 95/64, 10th Street and the Downtown Expressway. Stoney said he is proposing a start date of this past July 1. If the project is approved, taxes from any new construction in the area from that point on would pay down the city’s cost for doing the project over a 30-year period.

Last month, the council approved sweeping zoning changes for Monroe Ward, meant to spur investment in the area that is dominated by surface parking lots. Monroe Ward is included in the TIF, so taxes from any new development there would help pay for the project if approved.

In a change from what was originally proposed, Stoney said NH District Corp. would pay for a $10 million renovation planned for the Blues Armory. The historic structure would become a food hall and house a ballroom that the adjacent hotel would use.

In another change, Stoney said the city’s Department of Social Services will remain in its current location at Marshall Plaza for the short term.

Last fall, his administration told council members that the department would be relocated to a vacant building owned by Philip Morris near the Chesterfield County line. That plan drew sharp criticism because of the building’s distance from downtown.

Stoney said NH District Corp. is responsible for finding a “suitable” home for the department, but the city will be under “no obligation” to relocate it if the group fails to do so.

The plans Stoney will put before the council will have fewer apartments than what he announced last November, dropping from 3,000 to 2,500. The number of units reserved for people making less than the area median income has also decreased, from 680 to 480, though Stoney said his administration would use new tax revenues from the development to build “hundreds” more across the city.

The project is expected to create 12,500 jobs during construction and 9,300 permanent jobs once completed, Stoney said, citing figures from a study NH District Corp. commissioned by the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Urban and Regional Analysis. It would generate $300 million worth of business reserved for minority-owned contracting firms. NH District Corp. will work with the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building to hold job fairs in each council district to fill the positions, Stoney said.

The mayor also touted the projected $1 billion in tax revenue the development could generate roughly five years from the time it is approved. His administration committed last fall to direct half of that money to Richmond Public Schools and the rest to increasing the city’s affordable housing stock, improving the city’s core services and installing more public art.

The City Council will vet the plans and must sign off on them if the project is to move forward.

The council will hold a special meeting at noon Monday, when Stoney will formally introduce the package of ordinances advancing the project.

The original proposal NH District Corp. submitted also will be made publicly available on the city’s website, Stoney said.

The council last year formed a citizen advisory commission to review the plans and issue a report on its findings. The commission’s work is expected to take three months and would defer a council vote on the project until later this year.

Said Stoney: “Everyone will have the chance to kick the tires, as we have.”

Shy of going to court, Republican Del. Nick Freitas is nearly out of options for getting on the state House ballot

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, may have lost his last chance to get on the ballot for re-election.

But he said Thursday that he’s prepared to run a write-in campaign for the Virginia House District 30 seat if the State Board of Elections won’t forgive tardy paperwork filings, one by himself and one by a local Republican official — unforced errors that could hand a Republican seat to the Democrats.

“I don’t have any doubt that we will win a write-in campaign if that’s what we have to do,” Freitas said.

After a decision by the Virginia Department of Elections late last week, Freitas is almost out of options short of requesting a court get involved. Should he not make the ballot and be forced to run a write-in campaign, Democrats said they have chances of winning the seat in the fall, when they’re making a push to overturn the narrow GOP majority in the House.

“On the whole, this is a completely unnecessary hiccup for Republicans in what is already a tough year,” Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, said in a Twitter message to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for this story. “Party leaders can’t be happy with Freitas and the local GOP committee.”

In the latest defeat for Freitas, the Department of Elections denied a request by a local Republican committee that he be placed on the ballot for re-election, following a strategic move that Freitas made to withdraw as a candidate and then be renominated.

To recap: The Department of Elections didn’t receive certification paperwork for Freitas from local Republican officials before a filing deadline. Bruce Kay, the chairman of the House District 30 legislative district committee, said last month that he sent Freitas paperwork by email but later learned the person he emailed it to no longer worked at the department. And Freitas filed a notarized form swearing he was eligible for office on July 1, well after a June 11 filing deadline.

Before the three-member State Board of Elections could make any decision, Freitas — worried the board would not rule in his favor — opted to withdraw as a candidate.

A provision in state law allows parties to replace a nominee who withdraws or dies. The law also says no candidate “disqualified” for failure to file paperwork can be renominated.

On July 23, the local Republican committee voted to renominate him, and Kay sent the paperwork to the Department of Elections asking for Freitas to go on the ballot; a state official responded in writing that it was too late. All deadlines had passed.

John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, referred a question to a GOP lawyer, Christopher Marston, who said party Chairman Jack Wilson will explore all available legal options.

The Board of Elections meets Tuesday, but the Freitas ballot kerfuffle is not currently on the agenda.

“We’re certainly going to communicate with them before Tuesday’s meeting,” Marston said. “Whether they decide to put this on the agenda, I don’t know.”

The board members, two Democrats and one Republican, have given no indication of sympathy toward Freitas.

Marston said a lawsuit is possible.

In court, Freitas could have good fortune, Sabato said. “Lots of Republican judges in Virginia.”

Freitas said in an interview Thursday that he would like to see the state board resolve the issue by, at the very least, allowing the GOP to place a candidate on the ballot even if it’s not him.

The local Republican legislative district committee declared him to be the nominee following a party-run process. And although the state didn’t receive two sets of paperwork by the deadlines, the State Board of Elections in the past has granted extensions for campaigns that didn’t file one of those forms on time, Freitas said.

The board granted leniency this year to two candidates whose paperwork was late. Freitas said the state appears to be treating him differently because there were two forms missing, but that shouldn’t matter, he said — under the spirit of the law, the local Republican Party chose him as the nominee and wants him on the ballot.

Sabato said that should Freitas end up running a write-in campaign, he could still have a chance because of the Republican-friendly district.

“It’s going to cost a lot of money and time to convince and educate voters,” Sabato said.

Republican Corey Stewart beat Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, 57% to 41% there, even though Kaine decimated Stewart statewide in 2018.

Freitas, who was elected to the legislature in 2015, narrowly lost the primary for U.S. Senate to Stewart.

The Democrat on the ballot this fall in Freitas’ House district is Ann Ridgeway, a volunteer activist from Madison County, which, along with Orange County and part of Culpeper County, make up the district.

In what is considered a reliably red district, she may have a shot if Freitas is running a write-in campaign.

“You have to be in it to win it, and at the moment Freitas is not in it,” said Trevor Southerland, executive director of the House Democratic Caucus, in a statement. “Whether the House Republican Caucus cedes the district in a crucial election year or they engage in a costly write-in campaign, Democratic nominee Ann Ridgeway is going to be talking to voters about healthcare and education — not explaining why she’s not on the ballot.”

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Jury urges 2 life terms, plus 43 years, for man guilty of shooting his estranged wife and killing her boyfriend

In a plea that at times grew emotional, a Chesterfield County prosecutor on Thursday urged a jury to give Joshua Federico what she said he deserves — life in prison.

Not only does he deserve life behind bars for shooting his estranged wife and killing her boyfriend, prosecutor Erin Barr told the jury, but also because his defense strategy tried repeatedly during the trial to damage the reputation of Federico’s wife, who was seven weeks pregnant when he shot her three times, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

“This has happened all week,” Barr told jurors, calling outrageous the repeated attacks by Federico, through his attorneys, on the character and credibility of Sarah Grove Federico, 31, who was called a liar and a thief who couldn’t be believed. “This needs to be addressed. She got called names with no substantive proof. That’s the person you’re dealing with.”

Joshua Federico “took action that will forever control your life,” added Barr, referring to Sarah Federico’s permanent gunshot injuries. The prosecutor became emotional as she urged the jury in powerful arguments to sentence Joshua Federico to life in prison. “We can take action to control his life. We are horrified. Give him life for what he’s done.”

Barr argued that Federico equally deserved a life sentence for taking the life of Sarah Federico’s boyfriend, Lawrence J. “Larry” Howell, 38, and depriving the baby she was carrying when she was shot of his father.

That child was born in March, a month premature, while Sarah Federico was still struggling to recover. He is healthy and suffered no ill effects from the shooting, despite his mother being struck in the abdomen by one of three shots that nearly ended both lives.

“He stole your life before it even began,” Barr said.

The jurors, some of whom appeared to nod their heads in agreement as Barr spoke, heeded the prosecutor’s call. On Thursday, the fourth day of Joshua Federico’s trial in Chesterfield Circuit Court, the panel of 10 women and two men recommended he serve two life terms, plus 43 years, and pay a $100,000 fine.

Formal sentencing is set for Nov. 14.

The jury earlier on Thursday found Federico guilty of seven felonies, including first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated malicious wounding, after deliberating more than four hours over two days. The two life sentences were for Howell’s slaying and Sarah Federico’s wounding.

“We were able to obtain convictions and an appropriate sentencing recommendation due to the courage of [Sarah Federico], who testified against her attacker in open court, and who endured attacks on her credibility and character with a determined grace,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Miles, who co-prosecuted the case.

“I think that the verdict shows that trashing my daughter was probably not the best manner for defense counsel to have handled this case,” said Ed Grove, Sarah Federico’s father, after the trial.

The jury’s harsh sentence, Grove said, “shows that the community has standards, and they’re not going to put up with anything like this.”

Howell’s mother, Brenda Leyva, who like Grove attended every day of the trial, was equally pleased with the outcome.

In testimony during Thursday’s sentencing phase of the trial, Leyva noted that because of the nature of her son’s death — forensic experts said he was essentially cremated after Joshua Federico dumped his body in a pit and used tires, wood and trash to set him on fire — “we were not allowed to get his remains.”

So the family held a memorial service at a church in their home state of Florida without his body, Leyva told the court.

Leyva said her son, the fifth of her six children, was an aviation technician who had three children — ages 4, 7 and 9 — from a previous marriage. And despite going through a divorce, Howell was an exceptional father and “never took away his love for his children. He just loved his babies.”

To illustrate her son’s compassion for others, Leyva told the court that her son some years back literally gave the shirt off his back to a homeless man — which irritated his older brother when Howell called to say he would be late for their appointment because he first had to go back home and get another shirt.

The families of both victims said they feel blessed that Howell and Sarah Federico’s baby, named L.J. after his father, survived the shooting and is thriving.

“Larry left us a little treasure, a little miracle,” Leyva said.

“L.J. has given [Sarah Federico] something to live for,” said Grove, who added that his daughter refused to take any medications while in the hospital “because she didn’t want to take the chance of hurting the baby.”

Grove said his daughter, who testified for more than an hour Monday against Federico, was not in court for the verdict and sentencing because she did not want to be in the defendant’s presence any more than she had to be. “She’s very relieved” by the outcome, said Grove, a retired trial attorney who practiced for 40 years.

Although Sarah Federico’s wounding and Howell’s death were rooted in domestic issues, the circumstances of the case and the attempt to cover up the crime were far from typical.

Joshua Federico, upset that his wife left him for another man, had accused her of being unfaithful and stealing from him. Federico’s attorney indicated in court that he was worth $2.9 million.

He filed for divorce in June, claiming his wife of six years was cheating on him. But in a counter-complaint, Sarah Federico accused him of “extreme cruelty” and seeking to ruin her financially.

After they separated and she purchased a home on Second Branch Road, Joshua Federico put a GPS tracking device on his wife’s SUV and tracked her movements by his computer, according to trial testimony.

Then late on the evening of Aug. 23 — 20 days after prosecutors said Federico broke into his wife’s home and took $50,000 — Federico told a close friend that he went to his wife’s home to “get some answers.” But after he arrived he shot Howell, who had moved in with Sarah Federico, after he went outside to walk their dogs.

Joshua Federico then accosted Sarah Federico, shooting her in the arm, and stayed in her home for hours, cleaning up the bloody scene with bleach. He then shot her again, in the abdomen, and Sarah Federico played dead when he checked to see if she was still breathing. She tried to get away when he left, and ran to her closest neighbor’s home, where her estranged husband shot her a third time, in the back, as she climbed the rear deck stairs for help.

By then, the defendant had already loaded Howell’s body into Sarah Federico’s GMC Yukon, and he drove it to his farm about 5 miles away. With a tractor and small trailer, prosecutors believe Joshua Federico took the body to a location behind his pasture, and burned the remains in a pit dug a month earlier on a neighbor’s property.

Federico then drove the Yukon to an isolated location in Dinwiddie County, where police soon recovered it.

Authorities said Federico enlisted the help of friends and family as he tried to elude capture, and one of his closest friends testified Tuesday that he drove Federico — with camping gear and canned food — to a vacant barnlike shed on North Spring Run Road, where he hid until his arrest.

Federico also instructed a friend, Constantine “Dino” Trikoulis, to use a tractor on Federico’s farm to dig up a small safe containing $200,000 of the defendant’s money. He provided all of the cash to Federico’s brother, Joe, who gave him $20,000 for his trouble, Trikoulis testified.

The story didn’t end there. While Federico was incarcerated, authorities said he orchestrated a murder-for-hire plot to kill his wife, her father and her brother. But the scheme was uncovered, and in early November, police arrested Trikoulis, along with Federico’s mother, Wendy, and brother, Joe, in the alleged conspiracy to kill his wife and her family members. Federico also was charged.

Federico was indicted July 15 on charges of attempted capital murder, solicitation to commit murder, two counts each of conspiring with others to commit a felony, and attempted obstruction of justice in the murder-for-hire case. No trial date has been set for those charges. His mother and brother face similar charges and are awaiting trial.

UPDATE: Virginia behavioral health commissioner in critical condition after wreck that killed 18-year-old Staunton woman


UPDATE: Virginia’s top mental health official, Dr. S. Hughes Melton, dead at 52 following car crash

Virginia’s top mental health official was involved in a three-car wreck in Augusta County on Wednesday that killed an 18-year-old Staunton woman when his car hit hers head-on while he was in the left lane of a two-lane road, according to state police.

Dr. S. Hughes Melton, 52, the commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, suffered serious, potentially life-threatening injuries in the crash. He was driving a 2018 Hyundai Tucson that bumped a car in front of him on state Route 254 and then crossed into the oncoming lane, where state police Sgt. C.J. Aikens said Melton crashed into a 2003 Toyota Solara driven by Hailey Green, 18, of Staunton.

Green was pronounced dead at the scene, and Melton was transported to the University of Virginia Medical Center, which said he was in critical condition Thursday afternoon.

Maria Reppas, spokeswoman at the state behavioral health department, said the staff “is devastated to hear the news of the car accident, and we express our deepest sympathies to Ms. Green’s family and loved ones.”

“We are also extremely concerned about Dr. Melton,” Reppas said. “He is in very capable hands at the University of Virginia Medical Center. They will provide all necessary tests and medical care to treat him, and we pray for a full recovery.”

Aikens, who said he was unaware of Melton’s state position, said police are “fairly certain” that Melton was experiencing an unspecified medical issue at the time of the crash. The wreck occurred just before 1 p.m. Wednesday on 254 between Staunton and Waynesboro in the Shenandoah Valley.

No charges have been filed, he said. “We’re still investigating.”

Before the crash, Melton had been in Harrisonburg for the annual meeting of The ARC of Virginia, a state advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Reppas confirmed.

The incident began when Melton’s vehicle bumped a 2018 Subaru Crosstrek that he had been following closely in the eastbound lane of the road near Hermitage, Aikens said. The driver of the Subaru, Jean Scheeren, 55, of Waynesboro, was not injured, and her car sustained minor damage.

Attempts to reach Scheeren and the family of Green were unsuccessful Thursday.

Gov. Ralph Northam appointed Melton as behavioral health commissioner almost 16 months ago, as Virginia grappled with changes to its troubled mental health system. Melton replaced Dr. Jack Barber, a psychiatrist and longtime state mental health official who had served as acting commissioner for three years.

Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said, “This is a tragic situation, and we are praying for all involved.”

Mira Signer, the chief deputy commissioner of the behavioral health department, will step into the role of acting commissioner for the department, Yarmosky said.

Melton previously had served as chief deputy commissioner in the Virginia Department of Health, after a career as a family practitioner and addiction expert in Southwest Virginia.

He is a former Army doctor who won a national award as “family practitioner of the year” in 2011 for his practice in Lebanon, the seat of Russell County.