Charlottesville Breaking News

Barn storm: Farm manager not guilty in Bronfman case

It was the case of a billionaire versus a farm manager, what a friend of the accused describes as a steamroller attempting to crush a gnat. But when the jury rendered its verdict on embezzlement charges October 27, the gnat– actually a towering former UVA linebacker– walked tall from the Albemarle County Courthouse amid grateful sobs from his daughter.

The 82-year-old patriarch of the family enriched by the Seagram liquor fortune, New York-based Edgar Bronfman Sr., had accused 52-year-old Michael Nemeyer of illegally enriching himself with bank accounts and credit cards that should have been devoted to Georgetown Farm, Bronfman's sprawling weekend retreat near the northwestern county village of Free Union.

Trial testimony indicated that after Bronfman announced his intention to sell the property about two years ago, Nemeyer expressed an interest in settling what he claims he thought were loans. That acknowledgement, says jury foreperson Ellen Schmidt, was a key factor in the jury's view that there was no criminal deception.

"When the owner said he was selling," recalls Schmidt, "Michael said, 'Well, I still you owe you money.' There was no evidence that he went out of his way to hide anything."

Yet the court file indicates that Nemeyer once penned a letter to the farm's bookkeeper (who separately stands accused) in the billionaire's name. And one of the exhibits introduced at trial was a letter Nemeyer sent Bronfman a...

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Travel plans: Will Bypass bypass peds, bikes, and transit?

The proposed Western Bypass, the resurrected $235 million road project that will cut a 6.2-mile swath from Forest Lakes South to the North Grounds of the University of Virginia through neighborhoods west of Route 29, will not include bike or pedestrian access. Yup. And that's a fact that frustrates advocates for alternative transportation.

"We implore you to focus not only on the roadway design," writes Len Schoppa with the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation, in an email to the Albemarle Board of supervisors, "but on design elements that impact the ability of this project to improve bicycle, pedestrian, and transit connectivity in our region."

"The Bypass RFP makes it clear that the Bypass will not allow bicycles or pedestrians," says County Supervisor Dennis Rooker, who has convened a task force to add recommendations in an addendum to the RFP in the hopes of getting a better Bypass, 55 percent of which lies in his district.

As Schoppa points out, the current RFP for the project includes few mentions of bicycles and pedestrians, no mention of public transit, and only vaguely touches on "the need for more trails."

"This is an understatement," says Schoppa, who says the project could be a great opportunity to assist alternative modes of transportation. "All community surveys of parks and recreatio...

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'110 percent sure': Jurors say no doubt in Abshire's guilt

"There's a verdict!"

The cry at the Orange County Circuit Court at around 4:20pm on Tuesday, October 25 brought family and friends of the late Justine Swartz Abshire racing up to the third floor courtroom, terrified that they'd hear an acquittal after the jury deliberated less than two hours.

"I've waited so long for this to be right," sobbed Justine's maternal aunt Tracie Rossman inside the courtroom as she waited for return of the four-man, eight-woman panel. "It better be right."

Legal analyst David Heilberg says a jury's quick return is often good news for the prosecution, but not always.

"There are some cases where they go out and are back in five minutes with an acquittal," he says. "The only predictable thing about a jury is its unpredictability."

At 4:38pm, with the jury in place in two rows of chairs in front of Judge Daniel Bouton's bench, the court clerk read aloud words the Swartzes have waited five years to hear: "Guilty of first degree murder."

The pronouncement prompted several of the victim's family members to sob audibly; and...

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They're back! Locals stock up on anti-stink bug artillery

Fall should mean apple cider, changing leaves, and fuzzy sweaters, but in the past few years, something less charming has been added to that autumn list: stink bugs. First there's one, crawling harmlessly on the side of your house. Then suddenly there are hundreds: crawling on every surface, finding their way into sleeves, curtains, even your hair.

But is the problem getting better or worse this year?

"It's spotty," says Brian Cecil, an employee at Martin Hardware. "In some places it's worse, in some places it's not. But overall, they're a problem."

As reported in the Hook last year, the brown marmorated stink bug, also known by its scientific name Halyomorpha halys, was first officially documented in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2001. Since that time, the Asian insect that releases a pungent odor when stressed has spread up and down the East Coast unhindered by natural predators and seeking a warm place– your house– to hibernate during winter.

Their numbers can be startling.

"You could hear them crawl," says Cecil, recalling the sight of a tarp outside a house in Faber covered so completely that "you couldn't see any blue."

"It was unsettling," he says with a chuckle, noting an influx of customers to the Preston Avenue hardware emporium seeking stink b...

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Sioux 'em! North Dakota gives up on its mascot

With unemployment around 9.7 percent, competition is fierce in the job market, and people want to know where the jobs are. If you’re a graphic designer looking for work, Grand Forks, ND, might have some opportunities.

Earlier this month, the North Dakota Legislative Council received a cost estimate from University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley showing that retiring the school teams' Fighting Sioux nickname and logo to comply with the NCAA’s Native American mascot policy (and a court-imposed settlement) will cost approximately $750,000. About $575,000 of that will go to developing a new moniker and logo for the school.

Total costs of changing UND’s mascot from the Fighting Sioux to the Brute Buffalos or the Running Nokotas (not bad— it’s North Dakota’s state horse) could tally $20 million if the school is forced to make physical changes to the Ralph Engelstad Arena. State representative Mike Schatz, who requested the cost estimate, ardently opposes that move. In an open letter, Schatz wrote, “Does an organization funded by public money have the right to tell a state what it can call its athletic teams? If it does, then we no longer live in a free society.”

Schatz’s constituents and colleagues agree. In March, the legislature approved a bill ordering UND to retain its controversial nickname and logo, even though the University was alread...

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