Does anyone believe that if they stole almost $80,000 from the city of Virginia Beach, they’d be able to walk? Not spend a day in jail? Get a slap on the wrist?
Of course not. But the rules are different for crooked city officials.
Yesterday, the former head of Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development — Warren Harris, a liar and thief — was sentenced on four felony counts of Embezzlement by a Public Official. Despite a plea from prosecutors for jail time, Circuit Court Judge Steven C. Frucci gave him an eight-year prison sentence, every single day of it suspended.
The sentencing guidelines suggest just probation. Of course, there’s nothing to prevent a judge from going above the guidelines.
If ever a case cried out for jail time, this is it. Stealing from your neighbors, from the folks who pay your salary, is a particularly despicable act and a violation of public trust.
Chew on this: While the taxpaying schlumps of Virginia Beach were going to work every day and dutifully paying their taxes, Harris was jetting off to see the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, on the taxpayers’ dime. He took trips to Dubai, Panama, California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Illinois sometimes staying in luxury hotels that cost more than $800 a night, gorging on fancy meals and top-shelf liquor and not doing a lick of work.
All while the hard-working people of Virginia Beach picked up the tab.
Harris belonged to the Norfolk chapter of the National Association of Guardsmen (not related to the National Guard), a social and networking club. Several of his trips were with this organization and he entertained fellow members at a local golf and yacht club.
Beach residents got stuck with that bill, too.
Here, have a peek at his many expensive adventures in the court filing of facts in the case.
Harris even used tax dollars to buy expensive ads — more than $30,000 of them — in programs for the NCAA Final Four, the Major League Baseball All Star game and other sporting events. As a result of his largesse — with our loot, of course — he was given complimentary tickets while you watched on your 24-inch flat screen.
Best of all, as a department head, Harris was able to approve his own expenses.
He answered to know one.
Oh, and when he was about to be discovered, Harris allegedly threatened employees not to tattle on him.
According to The Virginian-Pilot: “The investigation — conducted by Virginia Beach police, prosecutors and the FBI — also revealed that Harris had made passive threats to employees about the consequences of reporting him to the city auditor. After another city employee was fired for embezzlement, Harris reportedly told employees during a recorded staff meeting that ‘snitches get stitches’.”
In the course of investigating spending irregularities by another employee in the office, the city’s finest public servant, Auditor Lyndon Remias, expanded his investigation into Harris’ antics. Soon the FBI was involved.
Harris abruptly left the job he’d held since 2007 in 2018. At the time of his resignation Harris’ annual salary was about $170,000. According to a 2016 report in The Virginian-Pilot, Harris was one of the city’s star employees who was given back-to-back bonuses of $15,000.
Of course, this was when corruptocrats were running the city.
Colin Stolle, Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney, asked for jail time for the disgraced public official on Monday, arguing that Harris betrayed the trust of the citizens of Virginia Beach.
“Economic development done right is vital for the city,” Stolle said. “Mr. Harris used lies and deceit to betray the trust of the City, his supervisor, and most importantly the citizens of Virginia Beach. That broken trust is serious and must be repaired.”
Harris has been ordered to repay the $79,479 that he charged on a city credit card for his personal use.
How will he do that?
A spokeswoman for Stolle told me yesterday that Harris plans to use his accumulated leave with the city to cover the cost.
Why wasn’t Harris forced to forfeit his leave when he was indicted? Or at least when he pleaded guilty?
While he didn’t offer himself as a character witness for Harris, former Mayor Will Sessoms, who was convicted of conflict of interest in 2015, was in court yesterday for the proceeding as were a number of supporters.
Harris will be back in court on March 14 to prove that he’s made restitution.
He’s a very lucky man. Ordinary decent criminals would be doing time.