City of Bristol worries BVU investigation could impact The Falls - WFLA News Channel 8

City of Bristol worries BVU investigation could impact The Falls project

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Two letters obtained by News Channel 11 through a public records request reveal the City of Bristol, Va. is worried the ongoing criminal investigation into Bristol Virginia Utilities will hold up an audit that could hurt the city's bond rating and ultimately impact The Falls project at Exit 5.

The first letter, sent from Bristol's city attorney to the commonwealth attorney in December warns her that the city's audit will be held up until BVU can complete its own financial reports. The city attorney goes on to say that kind of delay could hurt the city's bond rating and ability to borrow, which could impact significant city projects.

"I hope that the sheriff's department will be sensitive to the fact that an unnecessarily lengthy investigation can cause a serious financial impact on entities that are not the focus of the investigation," Peter Curcio wrote.

Washington County Commonwealth Attorney took issue with that, saying in her response two months later that since BVU is a separate entity, she doesn't think it needs to be included in the city's audit. Price copied the city attorney, city employees, Bristol council members and BVU board members in her response saying, "Some individuals want to use (The Fall issue) as the basis for applying pressure to me and to the sheriff's office for concluding the BVU investigation prematurely."

She also wrote investigators' hope was that the BVU investigation would not negatively impact the city's operations or projects.

Washington County Sheriff's Office Senior Detective James Blevins says neither he nor prosecutors are dragging their feet.

"It's not something that our division, our department is taking lightly and we are devoted to bringing it to a logical conclusion as soon as we possibly can," Blevins said. "We're doing everything we can from the standpoint of conducting this investigation thoroughly and fairly to get everything done as quickly as we can."

Bristol Mayor Guy Odom said the letter was never intended to hasten the investigation.

"That letter was at the request of Nicole Price to explain the position of the city, BVU and the relationship of the audit," Mayor Odum said. "She requested the letter. There was absolutely no intention on the city's part to intimidate or hasten the investigation."

According to the mayor, the city is now moving forward with its audit without including BVU, something he says he's hopeful won't hurt Bristol's bond rating. 

The letters address far more than The Falls project. The commonwealth attorney's letter also accuses high paid BVU employees of trying to thwart the criminal investigation.

In her letter, Price says if the city wants to blame anyone for the length of the investigation, it can blame BVU management.

"Despite being instructed by their Board to fully cooperate with law enforcement, they do not," Price wrote. "We continue to encounter refusals, delays, and other tactics from the current management 'team' of BVU which slow down the investigation. It is hard to believe that these highly paid employees who have deliberately and blatantly disobeyed their board's directive are still in charge of day to day operations at BVU. I can provide concrete examples of management's continued efforts to thwart and stall this investigation. You can understand it is strange to be asked by City officials and community members why it is taking so long!"

"It goes without saying that the investigation will be concluded as soon as is practical," Price continued. "The Sheriff and I did not create the BVU situation. However, it is incumbent upon us to deal with it."

We contacted Price for additional comment.

"I think it's fair to say the letter speaks for itself," Price said.

BVU Interim President and CEO Michael Bundy says as soon as he read the letter he made it a point to check in with the detective every Monday. However, he believes all BVU employees, himself included, have been cooperative.

"I don't know of any member of this staff that has not been (cooperative) and if I was aware of that I would fix it," Bundy said. "I don't know where (the commonwealth attorney's comments) came from. As soon as I read the letter I reached out and said, 'What is it that we can do better?' I reach out to Detective Blevins every Monday and say, 'Hey Detective Blevins is there anything we can to do to help?'"

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