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Contractor's $205 Million Lawsuit Against City Awaits Mayor-Elect

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When City Hall transitions to a new administration, mayor-elect Dwight C. Jones stands to inherit a litany of headaches, from the budget impasse to declining tax revenues.  

Then there are the leftover lawsuits. Chief among them: A. Hugo Bowers' suit against the city and Mayor L. Douglas Wilder for $205 million.

A well-known minority contractor, Bowers charges that Wilder and his staff conspired to undermine his business, telling local contractors and companies doing business with the city to refrain from doing business with Bowers' firm, BFE Consulting. 

Wilder may be leaving, but Bowers says that won't change his position: He isn't interested in settling with Wilder and pines for his day in court.

“There is no leadership in Richmond that has stood up to resolve the matter of this heinous crime,” Bowers says, adding that he's spoken with City Council members who simply defer to the city attorney's office. Shrugging off the lawsuit as Wilder's problem, he says, would be a mistake.

“You don't ask the fox in the hen house ‘Are you taking care of the chickens?’” he chides, “especially when he has feathers in his mouth.”

Bowers' lawyers anticipate a trial in April. Mike Sitton with the Jackson Law Group is working to schedule depositions with Wilder, departing Chief Financial Officer Harry Black and Rita Henderson, head of the city's minority business office, by year's end. Sitton plans to depose former Chief Administrative Officer William Harrell even sooner, possibly in the next couple of weeks.

In the lawsuit, Bowers charges that all four were involved in contacting local construction companies and developers and spreading the word that hiring Bowers would lead to “problems with the Mayor's office.” It all started when the city contacted construction firm Whiting-Turner and developers HRI Properties and Mil-Rho Manager LLC, the suit alleges, and instructed them to boot Bowers from the Miller & Rhoads hotel project.

As a result, the suit alleges, Bowers was kicked off the project. In August, both HRI and Mil-Rho, named as defendants in the original lawsuit, reached a settlement and agreed to testify on Bowers behalf in court. Bowers says Harrell has also agreed to testify.

The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also got involved, sending a letter to the Richmond division of the FBI and requesting an investigation. Salim Khalfani, executive director of the state NAACP, says federal agents interviewed him earlier this year. The FBI declines to confirm whether an investigation is under way, but Khalfani says the FBI's looking into whether Wilder's actions violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

A spokesman for the mayor-elect says Jones has yet to be briefed on the matter, and it's unclear what kind of exposure the city faces if Bowers prevails. Sitton says the city's attorney's office has, in essence, told Bowers to “take a hike.”

Bowers says he's intent on seeing the city, and Wilder, “make whole” the damage done to his business. “They are going to tell the truth, as well as everybody in this case,” Bowers says. “And if the truth is told, then I want my money.”

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