- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2007

Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring is expected to announce early next month the status of an investigation into roughly $170,000 missing from Mayor L. Douglas Wilder’s 1989 gubernatorial campaign fund.

The investigation has so far focused of Larry Wilder, the governor’s son and the campaign treasurer.

“The question is did Larry Wilder as treasurer of the account lawfully accrue and dispose of the funds,” Mr. Herring said yesterday.

In addition to possible criminal charges against his son, the case also poses potential political problems should Mr. Wilder, a Democrat, decide to seek re-election.

That is because Virginia law prohibits people from running for office if they have not filed the appropriate campaign finance reports, paid related fines and returned certain donations required by law.

Mr. Wilder — who became the country’s first elected black governor in 1990 and came out of retirement to become Richmond’s mayor in 2005 — has failed to file his final campaign finance report from his successful gubernatorial bid.

Mr. Herring said the state board of elections will make the decision on whether Mr. Wilder, 76, can run again for office.

“The last thing I intend to do is to wade into the ability for Doug Wilder to run for office,” he said. “That is not my call. That is their call.”

Mr. Wilder’s office did not return calls seeking comment.

Questions surfaced in 2004 after the board discovered during an internal audit the “Wilder for Governor” 1989 campaign committee had failed to file a campaign report since Jan. 15, 1999.

The board found the report, filed by Larry Wilder, showed the committee had a $172,571 account balance.

Mr. Wilder’s long-time advisor Paul Goldman, who replaced Larry Wilder as committee treasurer in 2005, told the board he was unable to recover bank records and that the account balance had somehow dropped to just about $3,000.

“In terms of the monies reported in the January 15, 1999 report but not in the account as of today… all this money went to Mr. Larry Wilder,” Mr. Goldman wrote in a June 22, 2005 letter to the board. “Bottom line: No records relative to the actual disbursement of this money have been located.”

In response, the state board of elections referred the case in late September 2005 to Mr. Herring’s office.

This is not the first time Larry Wilder has been the focus of an investigation.

In 2000, he plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of cocaine possession, admitting he battled drug addiction from 1992 to 1999.

As part of a plea agreement, he served three years’ probation and was ordered to pay $1,000 and perform 250 hours of community service.

He also was scrutinized for the handling of $1.8 million raised in a separate account for his father’s inaugural ball in 1990.

A loophole in state law at the time allowed him not to disclose how nearly $1 million leftover was spent.

In 1999, the Internal Revenue Service, which said Mr. Wilder owed taxes on the money, reached an undisclosed settlement with him.

Mr. Herring, a Democrat and Richmond native, inherited the “Wilder for Governor” case in 2006 after he was elected to office.

Despite Mr. Herring’s announcement of an update in August, some critics have asked why the investigation has taken so long and wondered whether it is because of the personal relationship he had with Mr. Wilder.

Mr. Herring shrugged off such accusations yesterday.

He said assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Bullard completed an internal review this spring, based on campaign finance reports filed with the state election board and Justice Department records tied to Larry Wilder’s handling of the 1989 inaugural fund. The internal review was then forwarded to an independent prosecutor, who returned his findings to Mr. Herring’s office this month.

Now, Mr. Bullard is talking with Mr. Wilder’s attorney “to see if there is a way to resolve it” through a plea bargain or “more likely the matter will be referred out to an independent prosecutor to make a decision of whether to charge [Larry Wilder] criminally,” Mr. Herring said.

As for the missing money, Mr. Herring said, “We have a sense of where it went, but it would be inappropriate for me to say where.”

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