You read it correctly, folks. Things just got a bit more serious.
The Muckraker has learned that the FBI has opened an investigation into Prince William County’s transactions with Quality Business Engineering (QBE), the local firm where Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland now holds the position of Executive Vice President.
As regular readers may remember, on April 18 the Muckraker was the first to publish a comprehensive post on the county’s transactions with QBE and the troubling involvement of Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland, who had close ties to the firm. At the time, our contributors built on an earlier and admirable post on Moonhowlings.net that had been the first outlet to raise questions about the Candland-QBE connections and the favorable terms QBE had secured in its deals with the County.
Well, now the FBI has taken notice. According to our sources, County Supervisors and staff have been advised of the investigation, and the County’s legal counsel has informed them that the County cannot represent them in their dealings with the FBI and that they should seek independent counsel at their own expense if they wish to be represented.
In our April 18 post, we asked our readers how they felt Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland would have reacted if he had discovered that another sitting supervisor had voted in support of deals involving taxpayer funds and a privately-held for profit corporation founded and run by the chairman and chief benefactor of an organization set up to market and support that other supervisor? An organization, in fact, that included the supervisor’s father-in-law and one of his office staff? And how do you think he would have reacted to that supervisor then being hired some months later as a high-level executive of that very same for-profit corporation?
We of course knew the answer to those questions. Pete Candland would have expressed outrage, and his cabal’s blog would have used the opportunity to launch a vicious attack on the supervisor in question, calling not only for an investigation, but legal action. Yet, what we described in the preceding paragraph is precisely the contours of Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland’s conduct and his relationship with QBE.
In light of the FBI investigation, below we have reprised and updated our earlier report on the troubling circumstances surrounding Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland and the QBE transactions.
As we previously reported, county records show that on October 11, 2013, QBE purchased the vacant building and 9 acres that used to constitute Prince William County’s Pace West Alternative School. QBE bought the property for just under $1.4 million, substantially below the assessed value of more than $5 million in 2012 when QBE made the offer, as well as below the $2.76 million assessed value in 2013, the year the sale closed. The ostensible reason for the substantially reduced sale price was that QBE was required to make the site’s fields available for public use.
Such a restriction on use that runs with the land often reduces a property’s resale value and is a legitimate reason for negotiating a reduced sales price. What eventually became clear, however, is that QBE (sometimes substantively reflected in these transactions as Haymarket Properties Group, LLC) had a different understanding of that commitment than others appear to have had.
Prior to the purchase of the Pace West site, QBE leased office space on a floor above the Haymarket Town Hall, which was, according to a July 13, 2012, story in the Washington Business Journal, “a spot conducive to frequent chats between CEO Shawn Landry and local politicians.” What makes this particularly interesting is that the old school site QBE purchased was partly in the County and partly in the Town of Haymarket. QBE decided they wanted the entire property within the boundaries of the Town of Haymarket for ease of land-use decision-making, and so while a contract-purchaser they sought a boundary adjustment between the County and the Town of Haymarket. The resulting discussions among QBE, the Town of Haymarket, and the County, appear to have resulted in agreements that did not require that the fields be available for public use indefinitely, contrary to what appears at an earlier stage to have been the understanding of a variety of parties, including Town of Haymarket officials who proposed modifications to a proffer statement submitted by QBE. Instead, it appears that QBE secured the ability to sell the property at a later date without requiring that public use of the fields be preserved.
In other words, it appears QBE purchased the property at a reduced price because of restrictions people understood it was willing to accept that were then not included in the final disposition of the property, and that thus do not reduce the resale value of the property for QBE.
The Field Leases
As part of the boundary adjustment and sale, QBE negotiated (in August of 2013 and prior to the consummation of the sale) a 10-year lease agreement with the Prince William County Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) for use of the fields. DPR is responsible for all maintenance, liability and improvements, and at the end of 10 years (absent extension) has to return the property to QBE, including removing any improvements should QBE so desire. Furthermore, if for a period of one year no partner is willing to enter into a “commercially reasonable form of lease agreement,” QBE is entitled to develop a plan for use that is consistent with the by-right zoning. The annual lease the county pays QBE for use of the fields is equivalent to the county property tax on that part of the property.
At the time of the sale there was some grumbling about how favorable the deal was to QBE. That’s not unusual in a public-private partnership arrangement, since there has to be some strong incentive to entice private participation. What agitated people in this particular case was that it appeared QBE had started the transaction with a sale price substantially below market value by agreeing in principle to long-term restrictions on the use of the property, restrictions which they then allegedly maneuvered to have removed during the complicated tripartite discussions about boundary adjustments. This successful maneuver made the property far more valuable than what QBE had paid for it. In effect, despite having received a substantially reduced sale price based on presumed restrictions, QBE could now not renew the lease after 10 years, require the county to remove field improvements, etc. at taxpayer expense, and then sell the property for a by-right use at a substantial profit.
The Rise Up Prince William Connection
As some might recall, in July of 2013 (before the boundary adjustment, lease agreement, or consummation of the sale to QBE), Pete Candland publicized a cross-county walk he was doing to raise money for an organization called Rise Up Prince William. Despite publicity in the newspapers and social media there was confusion among potential participants because there was no mechanism for signing up for the walk. Calls to local charities marketed as beneficiaries of the walk revealed that they didn’t know anything about it. They had simply been told they were going to get some donations from the event. Web searches turned up sites with Rise Up Prince William logos accompanied by Candland for Supervisor signs and language explaining that contributions for Supervisor Candland’s campaign fund would be accepted outside event locations. To many people it became clear that the walk, if not Rise Up Prince William itself, was a primarily a campaign/publicity vehicle for Candland.
On the day of the event, InsideNova reported that Candland was accompanied by a support vehicle, consisting of a “black platinum F-450 pick-up truck,” which it turned out was driven by none other than QBE founder and CEO, Shawn Landry. According to the press report, Landry was the president of Rise Up Prince William, described as a newly created nonprofit Landry “and some of Candland’s other constituents formed to support Candland’s ongoing community service efforts.”
Candland claimed to have raised more than $10,000 as a result of the walk, with most of it coming from an anonymous donor. A former Republican supervisor promptly revealed that the bulk of the money raised came from QBE’s Shawn Landry. Indeed, when the Muckraker received and reviewed the 2013 records for Rise Up Prince William we found that an anonymous donation of $10,000 had been received with an office address that matched that of QBE.
And who were the Candland “constituents” that formed Rise Up Prince William to support Candland’s ongoing community service efforts? Well, according to state records the organization had only three voting members. They were:
(1) A secretary/treasurer named Dennis Peterson, who is not a Prince William County “constituent” at all, but instead is a man who lives in Pennsylvania and turns out to be Pete Candland’s father-in-law.
(2) Candland mentor and sometime Candland staffer and appointee, Mac Haddow (who was sent to jail for violating federal conflict of interest laws to enrich his family, who lobbied Pam Am 103 victims in an attempt to ultimately get sanctions removed on Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafy, who wreaked havoc at the Chantilly Youth Association, who used his spiritual influence to establish the Candland hit-blog the Gainesville Truth Squad, who has attempted to pollute the county’s strategic planning process, who is a key member of the cabal that runs the forgery, fraud and fabrication Sheriff of Nottingham blog, and who received carte blanche authority in Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland’s office).
(3) a chairman who is none other than QBE CEO, Shawn Landry.
The “constituents” of whom Shawn Landry thus spoke were none other than Mr. Landry himself and Mac Haddow.
QBE Hires Pete Candland as Executive Vice President
As mentioned earlier with regard to the two agreements highly favorable to QBE, the field lease agreement was negotiated in August 2013 and the sale was consummated on October 11, 2013. In other words, both transactions occurred while QBE CEO Shawn Landry was serving as chair of an organization set up, by his own admission, to support Pete Candland’s efforts. As troubling as this is, things became even more troubling not long after.
Less than 5 months later, on March 10, 2014, QBE CEO Shawn Landry announced that Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland had been hired as QBE’s new Executive Vice President.
Candland Opens Business on QBE Property
As if all of this did not raise enough ethical flags, earlier this year Candland opened an ice cream shop business called “Cookies & Cream” on the QBE property.
So now we have a situation where the sitting Gainesville Supervisor participates in sweetheart deals involving the county and a private business that is owned by a person who is running a nonprofit that “supports” that Supervisor’s “efforts.” Then, after those sweetheart deals for the business close with the county, the business hires the Gainesville Supervisor as its Executive Vice President. Then, the Gainesville Supervisor also starts a new business of his own on that company’s property.
There are a number of dessert establishments in Haymarket, including Pickle Bob’s and Cupcake Heaven, who presumably pay market rates for their space. Now they’ll find themselves competing with a business owned by Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland that has essentially been subsidized by the county taxpayer through the sweetheart deals that QBE entered into with the County. Deals that this same Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland participated in while a Supervisor. Deals that this same Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland participated in while the CEO of QBE was running an organization that “supports” that Supervisor’s “efforts.” Deals that we believe ultimately led to Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland being hired as QBE’s Executive Vice President.
The FBI Investigation
The ethical violations here are obvious and no reasonably honest person would have participated in these transactions without at least making appropriate disclosures. We think it’s clear that the taxpayer got shafted and that Pete Candland operated with a goal of personal, financial gain in mind. None of that surprises us. Mentored by Mac Haddow and deeply immersed in his cabal’s forgery, fraud and fabrication blog, it’s clear that Candland is one of those individuals who has the ability to convince himself of the righteousness of his actions, no matter how unethical, as long as he benefits from them.
But is it illegal? That, we think, will be much tougher for the FBI to prove. We think the history of the Sheriff of Nottingham blog demonstrates definitively that Supervisor Candland would have no difficulty dissembling to the FBI, and we simply cannot believe that he would have left written evidence of a quid pro quo between his actions as a supervisor and his employment at QBE.
In short, proving he acted illegally will be very difficult. But his actions should be roundly condemned. They are those of a fundamentally dishonest person conditioned to use his public office for personal financial gain, and the FBI is quite justified in launching an investigation.
You read it correctly, folks. Things just got a bit more serious.