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Student Sierra Club Dropped Eco-Festival After "Incident"



The past isn't the only thing catching up with John Burton Wade, the idea man behind last weekend's environmental film festival at the Byrd Theatre in Carytown.

The Virginia Commonwealth University Sierra Student Coalition, the festival's initial financial sponsor and organizer, pulled its sponsorship and involvement last month after being confronted with Wade's present.

The coalition of about a dozen students initially pledged between $3,500 and $4,000 to the festival but unanimously voted to cancel its funding and end its official involvement after allegations arose of an alleged sexual assault involving Wade and a member of the coalition.

Members of the student Sierra group confirmed details of the vote, and of the discussion that led to the decision to pull sponsorship. A number of members of the Sierra club have since said they regret pulling funding from the film festival based on the allegations.

A Richmond Police spokeswoman says that "Wade is a person of interest" in a report filed Jan. 14. A related report, filed the same day with Virginia Commonwealth University police, references the Richmond Police report, calling it an investigation of an alleged "sexual assault."

Wade says he didn't sexually assault anyone. As for the film festival, he says, the Sierra group "was not the initial sponsor or an organizer," though they were an initial sponsor from whose ranks he drew early support. Wade dismisses the group's financial support as irrelevant because the club had not yet provided any money by mid-January "and by that point all my bills had been paid."

Wade served three years in federal prison for his involvement in vandalism -- characterized as eco-terrorism by government prosecutors — of vehicles, homes and construction equipment in the Richmond area. During the acts, Wade and two fellow Douglas S. Freeman High School students left notes and other markings linking themselves to the Earth Liberation Front, a radical domestic eco-terror group. Wade pleaded guilty to the charge.

Since his release last year, Wade has attended VCU and become involved in environmental issues on and off campus.

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