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Exile's Return

For some former city officials — now felons — making a comeback is a matter of time.

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Consider some of Richmond's ex-officio ilk, such as former City Councilwoman Gwen C. Hedgepeth. She got word Aug. 13 that her stay in the Sunshine State at the minimum-security, female section of the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex would not be abbreviated. That's when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond dismissed her complaints of an unfair trial and sentencing, and upheld her April 4, 2004, conviction on four bribery-related charges. She'll serve 44 months in prison after all. Her expected release date, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, is Oct. 11, 2007.

The end — or, perhaps, the beginning — is nearer for her former City Council colleague Sa'ad El-Amin. He now has less than a year to go before he's expected to be released. El-Amin was convicted in 2003 of tax fraud conspiracy and sentenced to three years and one month in federal prison.

El-Amin's attributes as a nascent politician in 1998 were held up by Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams against those of then-Councilman Timothy M. Kaine. Williams had asked Richmonders to stop "laughing, or howling in disgust," and "see a brilliant logic in this pairing." The pairing, had it happened, would have meant the installation of Kaine as mayor and El-Amin as vice mayor. Council elevated Kaine to the post but not El-Amin.

El-Amin has seen a new light while locked up, says a friend who asks not to be named. From letters he has received from El-Amin, it sounds as if his irascibility has softened; his insight sharpened. It's been a little more than a year since El-Amin underwent triple-bypass heart surgery at the minimum-security facility in Ashland, Ky., where he was being held. In that time, he's had a change of heart, a change of address and, apparently, has planned another.

El-Amin was transferred Aug. 4 to Federal Correctional Institution Butner, located in North Carolina near the tri-cities area of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. According to the prison bureau, his scheduled release date is Aug. 8, 2006.

When that day comes though, expect no prodigal son, his friend assures. El-Amin plans to retire to Fairburn, Ga., and not to Richmond. "I have no desire to return," he says in a letter to his friend, calling the city a "town without pity" in which he'd have little opportunity to wield influence again. But it seems he can't or won't sever his ties to Richmond entirely. He confides to his friend that he revels in reading the Richmond Free Press, which he receives in jail, and listening to WRVA news at night. He opines prosaically on the demise of local African-American institutions such as the Community Pride grocery, Consolidated Bank and Trust and the Black History Museum.

"I keep up with the doo doo that goes on," El-Amin writes. The fact that Doug Wilder now is mayor, he continues, "also influences my decision" not to resume residency in a place where "Wilder's power trip" abides.

Not so for H. Louis Salomonsky. On Dec. 11, 2003, the developer, architect and former vice chairman of the city's Industrial Development Authority pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion for trying to bribe Hedgepeth. El-Amin, already convicted of his crimes but not yet sentenced, was subpoenaed in the case.

Salomonsky was fined $40,000 and sentenced in U.S. District Court to two years in federal prison on March 6, 2004. He was released July 27 after serving 14 months. Since then he's been spotted walking briskly near his office on Main Street in Shockoe Bottom. He looks fit and trim, reports a friend, his hair stylishly short and youthful. S



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