Amid boycotts and protests from some of Virginia’s elected leaders, President Donald Trump delivered a speech Tuesday to mark the birth of American democracy, pronouncing that “in America we are not ruled from afar, Americans govern ourselves, and so help us God, we always will.”
Trump also praised colonists who endured hardship “all in search of one wild and improbable dream. They called that dream Virginia,” Trump said.
Trump’s address was at the center of a slate of events celebrating the 400th anniversary of representative democracy in North America, marked by the 1619 legislative gathering among Virginia colony settlers in Jamestown.
The Virginia General Assembly — the oldest legislative body in the U.S. — eventually inspired the structure of Congress and other legislatures. In a speech, House Speaker Kirk Cox touted Virginia’s deep roots in “America’s soil.”
Speakers in Jamestown on Tuesday sought to balance the celebration of American democracy with a darker pivotal event that took place in 1619: the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English North America via Virginia’s shores.
The event is seen by many as the beginning of slavery in the United States. Commemoration organizers will mark that anniversary with separate events in August.
“It was the beginning of the barbaric trade of human lives,” Trump said, adding that African Americans “sustained our nation from its earliest days.”
At an earlier event on Jamestown Island, Gov. Ralph Northam’s speech called for a “full accounting” of the history of enslavement and disenfranchisement that accompanied the democracy founded in Virginia.
“We have to remember who it included and who it did not,” Northam said, alluding to women, African Americans and American Indians, who would wait hundreds of years for suffrage.
Northam’s earlier appearance put separation between himself and the president; Northam had left the area by the time Trump arrived at Jamestown for the commemorative session of the General Assembly.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax attended both events in Jamestown, appearing behind Trump during his address. Attorney General Mark Herring appeared next to Northam in the morning, but afterward pivoted to an event in Richmond organized to protest the president’s appearance before Trump arrived in Jamestown.
That event drew close to 20 state lawmakers who opted to skip the commemoration events in the Historic Triangle and instead attended a ceremony in Richmond recognizing the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans.
The ceremony, organized by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, was held at the Lumpkin’s Jail site in Shockoe Bottom, the second-largest hub of the slave trade in America before the Civil War. More than 100 people attended.
On Monday, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement saying its 20 members would boycott the events in Jamestown and instead participate in the event at Lumpkin’s, citing “botched planning” and an invitation to Trump that came from Northam and Republican legislative leaders.
“Our purpose here today is to listen to our ancestors,” said Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, chairman of the black caucus, speaking from a stage at the jail site. “They are crying out for us to stand up in such a time as this. You don’t have to be black, you don’t have to be of color, but stand up and be accounted for.”
Responding to criticism that the lawmakers should have been in Jamestown, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said, “There is nothing more American than raising a voice to authority. There is nothing more American than raising a voice to injustice.”
McQuinn, a pastor and member of the Richmond Slave Trail Commission, choked up in a closing speech. She said she cried when thinking of Trump’s recent statement that four minority female members of Congress — three of whom were born in the United States — should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
“He wasn’t just speaking to those four women of color,” McQuinn said. “He was speaking to every person of color in the United States of America.”
Other Democrats, including caucus leaders from both the House and Senate, also boycotted the events in Jamestown on Tuesday in protest of Trump’s attendance.
Before the event started, Trump shot back at them on Twitter, “Heading to Jamestown, Virginia. Word is the Democrats will make it as uncomfortable as possible, but that’s ok because today is not about them!”
Presidential historian Jon Meacham sought in his address at Jamestown to tie today’s embattled political environment with the ideals for democracy celebrated Tuesday.
“Reflexive partisanship is the order of the day. ... Our politics reward the clenched fist and harsh demand more than the open hand and welcoming word,” Meacham said, later adding, “But we don’t tend to build monuments to people who build walls, but to people who open doors.”
A speech by Illinois state Sen. Toi Hutchinson reflecting on the anniversary as the birthplace of state legislatures also turned to idealism, and received a standing ovation from attendees.
“I’m proud because despite the many challenges and setbacks this country has faced, America is still a place where our right to self-governance is not taken for granted, where we can challenge our government and debate our principles, and the institutions which provide for that right are held dear,” said Hutchinson, who is also the president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“The institution of the legislature,” she added, “needs to be protected. For it is as strong and as fragile as democracy itself.”
KING GEORGE — A judge on Tuesday dismissed a bid by the parents of a former Richmond man who was killed in a boating accident in Lancaster County to disqualify the county’s top prosecutor from handling the case against the man charged in their son’s death.
Sallie T. Graham and J. Burke McCormick had asked a Lancaster court to remove Commonwealth’s Attorney Jan Smith from the case. The motion had cited alleged improper and unethical behavior in the handling of the case against John Randolph “Rand” Hooper, who is accused of aggravated involuntary manslaughter and failure to render aid in the death of Graham McCormick, 31.
Tuesday’s hearing was held in King George County, where Judge Herbert M. Hewitt presides. He was appointed in June after another 15th Circuit Court judge, R. Michael McKenney, recused himself from the case.
That move was prompted by an implication that Smith had consulted with McKenney about evidence, or lack thereof, in the case, and that the judge had pushed for a plea deal — an implication McKenney denied. The revelation came from a witness who had discovered Graham McCormick’s body in the water just off his property and wrote a victim-impact statement to the court ahead of what was slated to be a plea hearing last month.
Sallie Graham and Burke McCormick said they were made to believe the same thing by Smith, who they also said pressured them into the plea deal that they didn’t think was harsh enough. They cite several other issues with how Smith has handled the case in their motion filed by their attorney, Gregory D. Habeeb of the Gentry Locke law firm in Richmond.
In court Tuesday, Habeeb argued that as victims in the case, McCormick’s parents’ right to be involved in the case had been violated by Smith.
“This is not a motion I file lightly,” said Habeeb, a former elected official himself who retired from the Virginia General Assembly last year. The decision of voters to elect officials is fundamental to our system of democracy, he said, but not as fundamental as justice, which he said has been miscarried in this case.
Habeeb said he wishes he could sue the commonwealth’s attorney “for the damage he has done to this family,” but state law protects prosecutors from liabilities.
Smith argued in court Tuesday that while state law allows victims of a crime to be consulted about a plea — which he said happened in this case — it doesn’t allow victims to disqualify an elected prosecutor.
According to Smith, state law allows only two types of people to request that a commonwealth’s attorney be disqualified: the commonwealth’s attorney himself, or a person already convicted of a crime who is arguing that he or she was harmed by the prosecutor’s handling of the case.
Judge Hewitt said he was not persuaded that the parents’ rights had been or would be violated if Smith remained on the case.
McCormick said he’s not surprised by the judge’s decision, saying he was bound by the language in the state statute.
“I call on the General Assembly to fix this,” McCormick said. “This should be a rare case indeed, but it should be an option for victims.”
Smith, who was elected in 2015, declined to comment on a pending case.
After Hewitt made his ruling, Smith and the three attorneys representing Hooper asked Tuesday if he would accept the pre-arranged plea deal, in which Hooper would plead guilty to two felonies and serve one year of a 15-year sentence.
Hewitt said that matter would be addressed at the next hearing, scheduled in Lancaster for Aug. 19.
Graham McCormick, who was from Richmond but was living in Atlanta working at SunTrust Bank as a corporate finance analyst, was found dead in Carter Creek off the Rappahannock River around 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 11, 2017. The state medical examiner found that McCormick’s death was caused by drowning, but that blunt-force trauma was a contributing factor.
McCormick had been visiting Hooper and other friends staying at Hooper’s parents’ Irvington home. He had been reported missing from the home about an hour before his body was found. It was originally thought that McCormick had fallen off a dock near the property.
Three days later, authorities noticed a damaged 1999 Boston Whaler on the Hoopers’ property. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries concluded that the vessel struck a bulkhead jutting out of the water near where McCormick’s body was found.
In November 2017, McCormick’s family filed a civil lawsuit, which was settled in April 2018 for $4 million, alleging that Hooper was intoxicated while driving the boat when it crashed.
It wasn’t until July 2018, nearly a year after McCormick’s death, that Hooper was indicted on the charges he now faces.
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Henrico County is scuttling its plans for a new indoor arena at the Richmond Raceway after negotiations with the owners of the racetrack on Laburnum Avenue recently fell through.
Henrico officials started working toward a deal last winter after the Board of Supervisors endorsed two proposals that aligned with the county’s vision for an indoor arena about the same size of the VCU Siegel Center at the Richmond Raceway.
Both options, County Manager John Vithoulkas said, were “contingent” on the raceway location. “All of that has gone by the wayside because the location is no longer in play,” he said. “We just couldn’t come to an agreement on the land.”
In an interview ahead of an official trip to Rocky Mount, N.C., on Friday to visit an indoor facility similar to what Henrico is considering, Vithoulkas said the county will soon ask developers to submit new proposals.
While Henrico considered constructing an indoor arena nearly 20 years ago as part of a bond referendum, officials brought it up again last year as a way to build upon the region’s growing sports tourism market that business analysts say boosts spending at hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
Richmond Raceway spokesman Brent Gambill confirmed in a text message that negotiations with Henrico had fallen through.
“While we were unable to come to an agreement on this project, we look forward to continuing to work with Henrico County for the betterment of the community as we seek to grow sports tourism and entertainment in the region,” Gambill said.
Gambill declined to answer questions about negotiations ending; Vithoulkas said the county wants to own the land underneath the arena to make the project work financially.
“There’s not going to be a recommendation that goes to the Board of Supervisors unless it’s absolutely beneficial to the taxpayers of the county,” Vithoulkas said.
County officials last winter estimated that the new arena could generate approximately $17 million in annual visitor spending, and that having a private operator manage it would save the county about $2.5 million in annual operating costs.
Officials kept other details about the project, including a county-commissioned firm’s evaluation of the proposals and the potential arrangement with the raceway, guarded earlier this year, denying requests for documents and information exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Henrico Board Chairman Tyrone Nelson said he hasn’t been involved in the negotiations, and had been expecting the county to finalize the terms of an operator agreement this summer.
While Nelson had been an early proponent for placing the arena at the raceway, he said he hopes the new proposals will recommend locations that are centrally located so that people on opposite ends of the county don’t feel left out.
“I was hoping some miracle could happen,” he said of the proposed raceway location. “Somewhere along the way a snag was hit, so we’re restarting the process. We’ll see what comes of it.”
Vithoulkas said the Board of Supervisors will review the project and decide on its next steps at its meeting Aug. 13.
A blood-testing company that has been operating a laboratory formerly run by the now defunct Health Diagnostic Laboratory has filed for bankruptcy protection and has laid off some of its employees in downtown Richmond.
Texas-based True Health Diagnostics LLC notified state and local officials of the job cuts on Monday and warned that the company may be forced to close its operations entirely.
On Tuesday, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.
The company operates the laboratory at 737 N. Fifth St. in the Virginia Bio+Tech Park.
True Health Diagnostics said the job reductions were necessary because the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has suspended all Medicare payments to the company, according to a letter sent to the Virginia Employment Commission’s rapid response unit and the Richmond mayor’s office.
“Medicare payments are a significant source of revenue for the company, and without these payments the company must commence employee layoffs and may need to commence additional employee layoffs and/or a business shutdown,” said the letter, signed by True Health’s chief financial officer, Christian Richards.
The company’s notice to government officials lists 392 jobs that it says are “currently affected.”
However, True Health’s newly hired chief restructuring officer, Clifford Zucker, said Tuesday that the 392 jobs listed in the notice include employees working outside of the Richmond area. He said 80 employees were laid off on Monday and that one-third of those worked in Richmond.
In its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, True Health estimates it has between $10 million and $50 million in assets and between $100 million and $500 million in liabilities.
The city of Richmond is listed among the company’s 30 largest unsecured creditors with a claim of $690,290.
“Should the company fail to obtain additional funding, then the company will likely lay off additional employees at the company’s laboratory operations, and the company may also need to completely shut down operations at the company’s laboratory operations,” the company’s notice to state and local officials says.
True Health, based in Frisco, Texas, got into its financial problems because it has been in a dispute with the federal government over Medicare reimbursements.
The company filed a lawsuit on July 2 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas claiming that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had withheld $20 million in payments to the company since 2017 without due process.
“The result of all of this has been financial ruin for True Health,” the lawsuit claims.
True Health said in its lawsuit that it serves about 335,000 individuals per year, more than 65,000 of whom are Medicare beneficiaries. The company said in its lawsuit that it employs about 400 people nationwide.
The government agency initially imposed a 100% suspension of payments to the company in May 2017 based on “credible allegations of fraud,” but then reduced the suspension to 35% of payments, withholding about $800,000 a month from the company, according to the lawsuit.
“Although this allowed True Health to survive, it still left the company without the financial means to clear existing obligations and required it to seek loans to stay in business,” the lawsuit said.
This June, the agency again suspended 100% of its payments to the company, again based on “credible allegations of fraud,” according to the lawsuit.
True Health said in court documents that it had never received an adequate opportunity to challenge the merits of the suspension, and it warned that unless the suspension was lifted, the company would file for bankruptcy or liquidate outside of bankruptcy.
The federal court dismissed True Health’s lawsuit on July 22, enabling the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to continue withholding payments.
True Health said in its notice to state and local officials that the company is “exploring all options to obtain additional funding to keep the company fully operational and prevent further mass layoffs or a business shutdown.”
A representative from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not respond for a request for comment.
True Health bought most of the assets of Richmond-based Health Diagnostic Laboratory in 2015 in a bankruptcy court auction.
Health Diagnostic Laboratory, a fast-growing blood-testing company that once employed hundreds of people in Richmond, went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2015 after settling a federal investigation into its physician reimbursement practices.
Like HDL, True Health offers blood tests to identify early biomarkers for chronic disease, but True Health has a broader platform than just cardiovascular disease and diabetes, Chris Grottenthaler, True Health’s founder and chief executive officer, said in an interview in 2015.
At the time, Grottenthaler said his company offered jobs to about 350 former HDL employees, and the company was continuing to operate in about 100,000 square feet of the more than 250,000-square-foot office and laboratory space that HDL had been using.
In 2015, True Health had a 15,000-square-foot office and lab in Frisco, with about 85 employees. Grottenthaler said then that the company was adding jobs in Texas, and that it planned to maintain operations there and in Richmond.
“The Richmond lab has some unique capabilities, and some fairly advanced technology, so we will continue to operate that, but the core operations in Texas will remain intact as well,” Grottenthaler said at the time.
Grottenthaler started True Health in March 2014, at first financing the startup business with investments from friends and family. True Health got additional rounds of financing to help support the development of its lab and office in Texas and received institutional funding for its acquisition of HDL.
Grottenthaler grew up in Loudoun County and went to high school in Ashburn. He studied international affairs at James Madison University and received an MBA from American University.
Joshua Federico told a close friend that he shot his estranged wife, paralyzing her, after exchanging fire with her live-in boyfriend, who was killed, before setting the boyfriend’s body on fire in a pit, the friend testified Tuesday at Federico’s trial on murder and malicious wounding charges in Chesterfield County.
In dramatic testimony that could potentially break open the case for the prosecution, Constantine “Dino” Trikoulis testified on Tuesday that Federico — after Sarah Federico was injured, and Lawrence Howell, her boyfriend, was fatally shot — broke into Trikoulis’ home in the 500 block of North Brighton Drive and was sitting on the couch when Trikoulis returned early Aug. 25, after midnight.
Guided by questioning from Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Miles, Trikoulis testified that Federico told him he needed a place to hide out. And after Trikoulis told Federico he couldn’t stay, Federico recounted his involvement in the shootings, which occurred late Aug. 23 and into the early hours of Aug. 24.
Federico told Trikoulis that he went to the home of his estranged wife, who he believed was cheating on him and whom he planned to divorce, “looking for answers.” Trikoulis further testified that Federico told him that when he arrived at his estranged wife’s home in the 13700 block of Second Branch Road, he encountered Howell, who “fired on him.”
Federico told Trikoulis that he returned Howell’s fire and then shot Sarah Federico as well, Trikoulis testified on the second day of Federico’s trial in Chesterfield Circuit Court.
Sarah Federico testified Monday that Howell was shot after he went outside to let out their dogs. He then stumbled back inside, collapsed and died.
In further testimony, Trikoulis said Federico explained that he took Howell’s body to property behind Federico’s farm, and dumped the body in a pit that had been dug about a month earlier. Federico said he set the body on fire with wood, tires and trash from around the farm, Trikoulis testified.
Although Trikoulis said he refused to let Federico hide in his home, he agreed to take him to a vacant, barnlike shed on North Spring Run Road — where Federico was eventually apprehended — and Federico took along some camping gear and canned food.
Trikoulis testified that Federico instructed him not to say anything about what Federico had told him, and that Federico gave him a piece of paper with a phone number on it and said to give it to his brother, Joe Federico.
Trikoulis testified that after the shooting, he continued to go to Federico’s house and farm in the 12300 block of Black Road — where he frequently worked the property and kept some goats.
While there, he used a tractor on the property to dig up a small safe containing $200,000 of Federico’s money, and provided all of the cash to Joe Federico, who gave Trikoulis $20,000 for his trouble, Trikoulis testified.
Defense attorney Paul Gregorio initially objected to Trikoulis being allowed to testify. After Circuit Judge Lynn Brice heard arguments and allowed Trikoulis to proceed, Gregorio questioned why he was coming forward now and didn’t provide police with the information in the beginning. Gregorio accused Trikoulis of changing his story and said he agreed to testify against Federico in exchange for favorable treatment from prosecutors.
Trikoulis has been held at Riverside Regional Jail since his arrest late last year in connection with the case. Trikoulis, along with Federico’s mother, Wendy, and brother, Joe, were arrested Dec. 7 in an alleged conspiracy to kill Sarah Federico, her father and her brother in a murder-for-hire plot.
Trikoulis faces two counts of conspiring to commit capital murder for hire, being an accessory after the fact to murder, and two counts of obstruction of justice. His preliminary hearing is set for Sept. 24.
Under questioning by Gregorio, Trikoulis admitted that he “never told the truth in the beginning” about Federico admitting to the shootings, and didn’t do so because he was scared of Federico and his family.
“Now you change your story and one year later you come forward,” Gregorio said incredulously. “Now all of a sudden, you’ve been enlightened?”
“I’m doing the right thing,” Trikoulis replied.
Trikoulis provided additional incriminating testimony about Federico: He said Federico had confided that his estranged wife was a “cheater” and that he wanted to track her movements with a GPS device on her vehicle.
Trikoulis said that less than two weeks later, Federico told him that he had put the tracker on her SUV “to see where she was going” and was monitoring the locations from his computer.
Trikoulis also testified that he overheard Federico talking with his brothers about breaking into his estranged wife’s home “to get back at her for stealing from him.” Trikoulis said Federico later told him that he had broken into her house and “made out pretty well,” taking a large sum of cash.
Sarah Federico testified on the first day of the trial that $50,000, among other things, was taken during the Aug. 3 burglary — 20 days before the shootings.
She also testified that her estranged husband shot her inside her house, cleaned up the bloody scene with bleach, and then tried staging a false narrative of the crime before chasing her to a neighbor’s home and shooting her again in the back.
A state firearms examiner testified Tuesday that three 9 mm Luger cartridge casings recovered from the downstairs bathroom where Sarah Federico was first shot, as well as a casing recovered in her living room and one that was recovered at the bottom of her neighbor’s back steps where she was shot again, had all been fired from the same weapon.
The examiner said two .380-caliber cartridge casings — one recovered outside Sarah Federico’s home and a second in the fire pit where Howell’s skeletal remains were recovered — also were fired from the same weapon.
During a search of Federico’s home after his arrest, investigators recovered about 15 firearms of various makes and models and thousands of rounds of ammunition stashed in various parts of the house, including 9 mm, .22-caliber and .38-caliber cartridges, according to testimony.
Cartridge casings for all three calibers were recovered from the shooting scene, but prosecutors have not matched any of the spent casings to the ammunition collected from Federico’s home. The suspected murder weapon was never recovered.
Prosecutors plan to wrap up their case before noon Wednesday after calling their three last witnesses.