Charlottesville Breaking News

Final tally: Officials seek $24 million more from Dowdell's minions

With the prosecution winding down its decade-long work on the Terry Dowdell Ponzi scheme– one of the world's largest until Bernie Madoff took such crimes to new depths– prosecutors and investigators took a victory lap of sorts Friday at the Charlottesville federal courthouse. They announced an effort to seek more than $24 million in restitution atop the $34 million recovered by a quick-thinking Securities and Exchange Commission official's account freeze.

"It's a great message case," said Steve Levine, the SEC official who reportedly froze Dowdell's accounts nearly ten years ago, just a day before a pack of wire transfers were about to move the money to Dowdell and fellow conspirators. Levine notes that most of the convicts were brokers, those whose training is designed to prevent them from ever claiming that they, too, were duped.

The most recent broker to fall is Brigit "Gitte" Mechlenburg. A now 63-year-old Dane who'd been working in Massachusetts, Mechlenburg had already been barred by the SEC from the investment industry when she allegedly rounded up about $13 million from investors in what Dowdell and others had been calling their "Vavasseur" program.

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Trial set: Eric Abshire pleads not guilty to wife killing

The Greene County man accused of killing his wife and staging her death as an automotive hit-and-run pleaded not guilty to first degree murder at his arraignment Thursday, March 3 in Orange County Circuit Court.

Thirty-six-year-old Eric Dee Abshire, who has been incarcerated at the Central Virginia Regional Jail since his December 17 arrest, spoke clearly as he entered the plea before Judge Daniel Bouton. He agreed to waive his right to a speedy trial, giving his court-appointed attorney, Charlottesville-based Charles Weber, additional time to scrutinize several boxes of evidence collected by the prosecution during the four-year investigation into the November 2006 death of 27-year-old kindergarten teacher Justine Swartz Abshire.

Acknowledging the complexity of the case, Judge Bouton set aside two weeks for trial, October 12-26. He also granted the defense's request for access to transcripts from an investigative grand jury, but warned Weber that only he and his staff get access to the top-secret testimony.

At a February 10 hearing at which Abshire was denied bond, Commonwealth's Attorney Diana Wheeler claimed "many" witnesses reported fear of retribution if they testified before the grand jury. One in particular, Wheeler said...

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Buck stops here: Former mayor settles throttling case w/client

The trial for the assault charge against attorney Frank Buck for throttling his client in court ended quickly March 3 in another courtroom, without the former mayor getting hauled off to jail. Instead, Buck and his former client, Milton Leo John, a 53-year-old airline pilot who faced a separate charge for using abusive language, settled their differences with a civil settlement, and the criminal charges were dismissed.

The case rocked the Charlottesville legal community when the 65-year-old Buck, who served as mayor from 1980-1988, was arrested last fall for misdemeanor assault, which carries up to 12 months in jail.

"I snapped," Buck admitted to Hook reporter Courteney Stuart after the November 11 incident.

The case caused a cascade of legal calisthenics including seating a pair of special out-of-town prosecutors as well as a visiting judge after Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman and General District Judge Bob Downer recused themselves, each citing Buck's long tenure practicing law in Charlottesville.

The throttling took place November 10 during a recess in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, where Buck was representing John on a child support issue and the discussion turned to a previous domestic abuse charge that John wanted expunged. According to John's complai...

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Scenic treasure: How conservation lines the pockets of the rich

What if Biscuit Run were the tip of the iceberg, just the latest and largest in a litany of public payments to private citizens? What if the state gave away vast sums– some measuring in the millions of dollars– to induce millionaires to "conserve" luxurious estates that they may have had no intention of developing anyway? And what if Virginia, which forces the humblest homeowners to place their real estate transactions in public view, created a special law allowing the millionaires to shroud such deals– currently measured at $106.8 million a year in taxpayer money?

Welcome to Virginia, where "conservation" makes it all possible.

Best intentions
Virginia boasts that its land preservation incentives are the "most generous" in the count...

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Derivative: 'Number Four' flawed in countless ways

I Am Number Four is shameless and unnecessary. That's sad, when a movie casts aside all shame, demonstrates itself willing to rip off anything that might attract audiences, and nevertheless fails. What we have here is a witless attempt to merge the Twilight formula with the Michael Bay formula. It ends with sexy human teenagers involved in an endless special effects battle with sexy alien teenagers who look like humans, in a high school and on its football field.

Let's pause for a moment to consider this apocalyptic battle. It is all special effects. None of it is physically possible. It might as well be a cartoon; it's essentially CGI animation intercut with brief bursts of inane dialogue. Brief, because the global action market doesn't much care about dialogue, and besides, when people start talking about something, you could run into the hazard of having actual characters in a plot. Minute after relentless minute, creatures both human and alien, whom we care nothing about, wage war and occasionally disintegrate into clouds of tiny pixels for no particular reason. Full review.

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