- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2007

Two lawyers appointed to investigate corruption and election fraud in the tiny coal town of Appalachia, Va., successfully prosecuted the case at a cost of $150,000.

On Wednesday, former Mayor Ben Cooper was sentenced to two years in jail for masterminding the scheme that helped him steal the 2004 election.

Prosecutors said Cooper bought votes with beer, cigarettes and even pork rinds and directed 13 others in a conspiracy that also included stealing absentee ballots from the mail.

Tim McAfee and Greg Stewart, private practice lawyers from Norton, Va., were appointed special prosecutors in 2005 because a conflict of interest prevented Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chad Dotson from taking the case.

Although most special prosecutors in Virginia are full-time commonwealth’s attorneys, private lawyers such as Mr. McAfee and Mr. Stewart submit time sheets and are compensated by the Virginia Supreme Court at a rate of $90 an hour.

Mr. McAfee said the estimated cost is justified by the results: nearly 1,000 charges against 14 defendants, some of them elected officials or town employees who have since lost their jobs.

“I would hope that reasonable-minded people would say that’s a cost society needs to bear in order to make this a corrupt-free government,” Mr. McAfee told the Roanoke Times.

There’s no limit in Virginia on what a private lawyer acting as a special prosecutor can charge, unlike for court-appointed defense attorneys, whose pay is the lowest in the nation.

Cooper, 64, resigned as mayor of the economically depressed town of about 1,800 in Southwest Virginia after his indictment in March. He pleaded guilty in November to 243 felonies. He was ordered to report to jail March 2.

The sentencing of Cooper and four other defendants Wednesday marked the end of a lengthy saga that brought national attention to the town that sits just a few miles from the Kentucky state line.

Mr. McAfee and Mr. Stewart said the sheer size of the Appalachia case made it all but impossible for another local prosecutor to take on.

The $150,000 prosecution price tag is just an estimate by the two attorneys, who have yet to file their final time sheets. Mr. McAfee said his share likely would amount to about $100,000. Except for about $36,000 he received in April for the case’s investigative phase, he and Mr. Stewart have gone without additional pay pending the conclusion of the case.

• Moving on

The interim director of the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency is leaving her position to head the Department of Health and Human Services in Montgomery County.

Uma Ahluwalia will be in charge of an agency with more than 1,300 full-time employees and a budget of $239.4 million.

“Uma brings with her a comprehensive background in social services that will serve her well in her new position,” said County Executive Isiah Leggett. “I was also impressed with her administrative experience that is very broad-based.”

Mrs. Ahluwalia was the D.C. agency’s interim director in the previous administration and then briefly under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, and has worked in social and health services departments in Prince George’s County and Washington state. She also served as an acting assistant chief of staff in the office of Parris N. Glendening, a former Maryland governor. She resigned in April 2005 as head of the Washington state Children’s Administration after the deaths of numerous children and a budget overrun of $12 million.

Mr. Fenty lauded Mrs. Ahluwalia’s dedication and service to the District. “Her leadership has brought positive change, and we hope to continue to build on her success after her departure,” Mr. Fenty said.

• Crime lab chief

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced the appointment of Peter Marone as the executive director of the state crime laboratory.

Mr. Marone, who most recently served as director of technical services at the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, succeeds Paul Ferrara, who retired Dec. 31.

Mr. Marone, 58, has worked at the lab for 29 years and was instrumental in establishing Virginia’s DNA databank.

The search for someone to replace Mr. Ferrara attracted candidates from across the country because of the department’s reputation, Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said.

“The governor was very impressed with Mr. Marone’s extensive experience at the Virginia lab at the very time it was developing a national reputation as a trailblazer, especially in the area of DNA analysis,” Mr. Hall said.

Mr. Marone began his forensic career in 1971 at the Allegheny County crime laboratory in Pittsburgh before accepting a position with Virginia’s crime lab in 1978. From 1998 to 2005, he was the department’s central laboratory director.

Mr. Marone’s annual salary will be $141,000.

In 1989, Virginia’s lab became the first in the country to offer DNA analyses to law-enforcement agencies and the first to create a DNA databank of convicted sex offenders. Five years later, Virginia became the first state to discontinue traditional blood-evidence analysis in favor of DNA analysis.

In 1994, a “cold hit,” or match, from the DNA databank resulted in a first conviction.

• New supervisor

A lawyer who once served on the staff of Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, was elected last week to fill an open seat on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

Michael May also is former county planning commissioner. He easily defeated Democratic challenger Jeff Dion in a special election held to fill the vacancy created when Supervisor Corey Stewart was elected chairman.

Republicans will have a 6-2 majority on the eight-member board.

His arrival brings the board up to full strength for the first time since former Chairman Sean Connaughton was sworn in as chief of the U.S. Maritime Administration in September.

• Hot to trot

One week after welcoming Miss Maryland to the state Senate, Sen. John C. Astle, Anne Arundel Democrat, had the distinct pleasure of introducing Miss Senior Maryland.

And he let his colleagues know it.

“You should see her in her running suit,” Mr. Astle said.

He quickly followed with a qualifying quip.

“I had my sensitivity training; I’m really qualified to do this,” he said.

Mary Fawcett Watko was named Miss Senior Maryland last year and was the fourth runner-up in the Miss Senior America pageant.

“There must be something in the water in my district, or maybe it’s something in their representation in the Senate,” Mr. Astle said.

A handful of senators quickly replied that it must be the water.

• Private life

Former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s chief of staff, James C. “Chip” DiPaula Jr., returned to the private sector last week, taking a top job with the retail properties firm Petrie Ross Ventures LLC.

Mr. DiPaula will serve as chief operating officer and partner at the firm, which develops retail properties, including the Centre at Forestville, the Centre at Glen Burnie, Centre at Golden Ring and the Mall at Shelter Cove.

Mr. DiPaula was Mr. Ehrlich’s chief budget wonk before moving into his lead role as chief of staff. He managed Mr. Ehrlich’s successful 2002 campaign for governor and ran the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

No word yet on Mr. Ehrlich’s plans.

• Saying thanks

During his last days as mayor of the District, Anthony A. Williams apparently wanted to say thank you in style to those who knew him best.

Mr. Williams doled out $5,000 on Dec. 31 from his constituent-services fund to the Willard InterContinental hotel.

The purpose of the payment was to cover the deposit for a “party for security detail,” according to the former mayor’s latest constituent-services fund report.

Mr. Willliams’ security detail consisted of city police officers assigned to protect him on routine city business. But the job also involved quite a bit of travel.

In 2004, The Washington Times reviewed more than $300,000 in credit-card expenses the security detail incurred as officers crisscrossed the country protecting Mr. Williams.

Some of the charges included bills at a luxury beachfront hotel in Hawaii, a Las Vegas nightclub called the Rum Jungle and the Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York.

• New leadership

A former D.C. Council candidate will lead efforts to help the Republican Party grow in the District.

Antonio Williams, who ran for the Ward 6 seat in the fall, was elected vice chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee last Monday.

Less than 8 percent of the District’s 388,000 registered voters are Republicans. Party Chairman Robert Kabel has been trying to build the party by encouraging Republicans to enter local races.

Mr. Kabel was re-elected chairman and will oversee the committee’s affairs through the 2008 general election cycle. He has pledged to work with Rep Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, and the Democrat-led Congress for passage of the D.C. voting rights act.

• Tom LoBianco and Jim McElhatton contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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