THE ISRAEL LOBBY ENTERS STATE GOVERNMENT

RISE OF THE VIRGINIA ISRAEL ADVISORY BOARD

By Grant F. Smith

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1

Project Biodiesel – The Jerusalem Connection and the Tobacco Commission

Chuck Lessin briefed us on an Israeli project involving a new Israeli technology to develop biodiesel cost effectively and thus overcome the historical dependence on government subsidies that have plagued the industry. Chuck reported that because of his personal involvement with the project and its VIAB origin, he turned to Don Ferguson to clarify if there are any conflicts of interest and was told that there are no conflicts. VIAB Board Meeting Minutes[1]

George Packer’s 2013 book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America chronicles North Carolina gas station, roadhouse restaurant and convenience store entrepreneur Dean Price. In the 1990s Price witnessed regional decline reflected in three key industries—furniture making, textiles and tobacco. After the 2005 landfall of Hurricane Katrina and other factors led to a doubling of diesel fuel prices, Ray Price fell in love with the idea of biodiesel.  Partially driven by his intense dislike of foreign oil producers, Price believed he could make money and help local farmers transcend the coming apocalypse of “Peak Oil.”

Peak oil is a forecast period in time when the maximum extraction of petroleum is reached, after which it enters into inevitable decline. M. King Hubbert, who coined the term, in 1956 theorized that peak oil production would occur in the year 2000, hitting 12.5 billion barrels per year. But subsequent theorists moved the date further into the future, while increasing the theoretical production capacity in line with ever evolving production data.

Armed with a powerful combination of theory, goodwill and desire to make a buck, Price founded a refinery sourcing locally grown canola into biodiesel. He had the significant advantage of control over distribution, since he sold the biodiesel through his chain of gasoline stations.

Dean Price was destroyed by his biodiesel venture. Despite his long experienced in the market, plummeting transportation fuel prices did him in.

Pop’s Bingo World and The Jerusalem Connection

Unlike Dean Price, Charles Lessin  had no career in transportation fuels when he invested in a biodiesel startup in 2014. In his biography as vice chairman of the Virginia Israel Advisory Board, Lessin was touted as:

President and CEO of American Homecrafters Inc., based in Richmond, VA. American Homecrafters has developed and built over 300 exclusive single-family homes in the Richmond metropolitan area. Chuck continues to develop new and innovative business opportunities, including his latest venture Virginia On-Line Fantasy Sports, LLC.[2]

Greater numbers of Virginians are more likely familiar with Lessin’s other line of business, a bingo hall, which he operates on the fringes of the capital city of Richmond (population 227,000). Lessin’s sprawling Pop’s Bingo World has reported close to $40 million in revenue over the past two decades. That’s why Lessin has been referred to as the “Bingo maven.[3]  It all started as a small-time family business with no fixed location.

Patriarch Lenny Lessin and his sons Charles and Alan ran itinerant bingo games in the South Side of Richmond together for nearly fifteen years. In the early days, crowds of 150-200 would arrive at a local synagogue to play for a dollar per card, typically buying packs of 25 to 45 cards in cash. Over the course of an afternoon, winners of a round could net $100, or a daily jackpot of $1,000. A typical game required 30-40 calls to reach a winner.

Bingo can be traced back to a game of chance played in Italy in the early 1500s called “Il Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia” It’s long been a successful money-raiser because of that same emotional “high” produced by any game of chance. Good customers tend to be repeat players, some spending down their Social Security check or other fixed income while enjoying an afternoon.

For decades the only way to legally run bingo  in Virginia has been on behalf of a nonprofit, charitable entity that runs the game with “volunteers.” So, in 1984 the Lessins  established and administered a non-profit called “The Jerusalem Connection.” The Jerusalem Connection’s stated mission at the time was clear—to prevent the intermarriage of Jews with non-Jews. Or, as it claimed on its non-profit tax return in 2000, to “help to combat the worldwide problem of assimilation."

At the time, anti-assimilation “education” was a major concern within establishment Jewish organizations in the United States. In 1998, Benjamin Netanyahu announced a new initiative directed against Jewish assimilation and intermarriage with non-Jews that he viewed as a “demographic threat.” It was a jointly funded Israeli government–Jewish federations program called Birthright Israel. The program’s free ten-day trips to Israel for teenage Jews from American colleges and universities have since been called “birthrate Israel” by some participants who saw that the transparent goal of the operation to get each traveler to marry one of his or her fellow Jews. The Jerusalem Connection duly provided funding to Birthright after its founding as well as to many other Jewish educational programs, mostly in the U.S., designed to keep Jews together and grounded through a religious education.

But Chuck Lessin was soon no longer running a synagogue basement operation. During the time of his transition to a full time bingo  operation, only about 1.8percent of Virginia’s population was Jewish, some 18,000 people with an estimated 12,500 living in and around Richmond.[4] He wanted to broaden the operation to reach a much more diverse mass market. But how would a more religious and ethnically diverse customer base feel about The Jerusalem Connection’s core mission?

At first, Lessin didn’t appear to worry much about that. In 2004 he launched a new purpose-built, 6,000 square foot bingo hall at 210 Giant Drive just off Midlothian Turnpike. It had a well-lit parking lot, modern bingo equipment, uniformed security guards and an affordable food menu so players didn’t have to leave the facility. Since many bingo  players like to smoke, he even spent $11,000 on an air filtration and extraction system. In honor of his father, who had passed away three years earlier, he dubbed it Pop’s Bingo World.  

 

   

Billboard advertising Pop's Bingo World

It was an instant run-away success. Working with his father and brother in the late 1990’s, Charles had struggled to break $100,000 per year in bingo revenues. In its first year of operations, Pop’s Bingo World  generated nearly $2 million in bingo revenues for The Jerusalem Connection.

But there was, of course, overhead. The Jerusalem Connection owned the buildings and had to make payments on the mortgage. Also, bingo players expect to win some rounds, and The Jerusalem Connection claimed it paid out $1.5 million in winnings. Still, the margins were good enough to make $47,000 in grants for “Jewish education” including to Birthright Israel.

Pop’s Bingo World marched steadily along, usually producing 14 percent margins on annual bingo revenues, which climbed to $4 million in 2014 after a decade of operations. As part of the world of Jewish philanthropy, Lessin may have been monitoring the General Assembly of Jewish Federations as it began to soften its longstanding, hardline anti-assimilationist narrative.  The reason for this softening was, as Michael Siegal, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Jewish Federations North America General Assembly (an umbrella organization to federations) said—somewhat like bingo itself.  Being Jewish was now a numbers game:

Being Jewish is a numbers game. And some of the numbers should be keeping all of us up at night. Here are some numbers or you to think about. Six million Jews in North America, eight million Jews in the rest of the world. Fourteen million people total. One fifth of one percent of the world’s population. And now less than two percent of the North American population. Just on those numbers alone, we will be challenged as a community.

So, the General Assembly began to take a much softer line on “anti-assimilation” rhetoric and emphasize “inclusiveness” to be able to count “mixed” Jewish non-Jewish families within Jewish federation “numbers.”

Charles Lessin’s The Jerusalem Connection, and it is fair to call it his, since Charles is the longest running board member, went with the flow. Lessin decided The Jerusalem Connection wasn’t—publicly anyway—going to be anti-assimilationist anymore. ."

Late in 2011, The Jerusalem Connection told the IRS in a publicly available tax return filing that it was actually getting into the business of assimilation. Not by encouraging marriage between Jews and non-Jews. But rather:

The organization is using the services of rabbis, social workers and psychologists to reach out to those Americans temporarily living and studying Judaism in Israel, who require social service professionals to assist in the acclimatization process of Israeli life and culture. These Americans are in Israel to study Jewish law and bible in pursuit of becoming rabbis and teachers of Jewish studies. The main purpose is to provide emotional and spiritual support to these Americans who can’t assimilate well in yeshivas and other institutions of learning in Israel.[5]

Pop’s made other moves that would lower potential public perceptions that it was an operation targeting the pocketbooks of mostly lower income non-Jews to subsidize mostly Jewish causes. In 2012 on the same property as the bingo hall,  Pop’s opened a community garden that grew vegetables to feed “200 needy people” and provided cut flowers to hospice care facilities. In 2010 Lessin  also shifted business strategy by renting out Pop’s hall to a local Boys and Girls Club to run the bingo  rounds for a day with Pop’s only sharing in the profits. Despite the strategy shift, net revenue at The Jerusalem Connection plunged, producing nearly $700,000 in losses between 2008 and 2014. Lessin had all the appearances of needing cash from another source.

Conflict of Interest Waiver from the State Attorney General

This apparently set Charles Lessin casting about for other opportunities. Lessin was a board member of the Virginia Israel Advisory Board under the office of the Governor. The board’s work on a $1.5 million grant from the Tobacco Commission to VIAB’s “Project Jonah” that began in the year 2013, explored later, must have made a big impression on Lessin.

Lessin formed Appalachian Biofuels LLC naming himself as its Chief Executive Officer. He briefed fellow VIAB board members in a July meeting that he was “personally involved” in:

…an Israeli project involving a new Israeli technology to develop biodiesel cost effectively and thus overcome the historical dependence on government subsidies that have plagued the industry.

Donald Ferguson from the Office of Attorney General who attended the meeting, told the gathering he saw no conflicts of interest in such a deal.[6]

It was just five days before the VIAB meeting that Appalachian Biofuels, LLC had requested a $250,000 grant from the Tobacco Commission to develop the project through the Russell County Industrial Development Authority. Lessin told the Tobacco Commission that he’d also be soliciting $800,000 from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, another grant of $300,000 for rail access to carry biodiesel fuel,  and $355,000 in additional special projects funds from the Tobacco Commission. But what exactly is the Tobacco Commission?

VIAB at the TROF[7]

Virginia and other states settled lawsuits against major tobacco companies in 1998. The estimated revenue over the first 25 years of the settlement is $246 billion.[8] Unfortunately, most states spend less than three percent of their settlement payouts on smoking cessation programs or preventing kids from smoking. These were the intended purpose of the damage settlement.

In Virginia, a portion of the tobacco settlement funding is distributed by a 28-member body created in 1999 now called the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission. TRRC has awarded more than 2,000 grants totaling over a billion dollars across Virginia’s tobacco region.[9]

The largest grants distributed by TRRC includes a $12 million grant to Liberty University Center for Medical and Health Sciences. In 2014 $10 million went to Virginia Electric & Power Company to build infrastructure in Brunswick County in the south of the commonwealth. In 2005 $8.1 million was paid out to Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation for a regional telecommunications backbone initiative. Although the average grant paid out is less than half a million dollars, private companies, in partnership with county economic development agencies, sign performance agreements that obligate them to create a guaranteed number of jobs within a fixed time period as a condition for receiving grants. Those who are successful often return to the commission’s Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund, or TROF, for multiple payouts.

The Tobacco Commission has been at the center of several scandals. Senator Phillip Puckett, a Democrat representing the 38th District of Virginia, was investigated by the FBI for a complex job swapping scheme. Puckett served on several legislative commissions and committees, including the Tobacco Commission.[10] In the midst of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s 2014 drive to pass Medicare reform, Puckett suddenly announced his resignation from the Virginia Senate to assume a job at the GOP-controlled Tobacco Commission. This move torpedoed the Medicare legislation as control of the Senate shifted to Republicans. It also allowed Puckett’s daughter to take a position she could not accept while her father was a state senator—Domestic & Juvenile Court judge.

Condemnations printed in the Washington Post thundered, “This is nothing short of bribery” and “The corrupt pay off the corrupt.” Although the FBI investigated and subpoenaed Tobacco Commission records, no criminal charges were ever filed. However, one FBI investigation into the Tobacco Commission that did lead to an embezzlement conviction was the case of the Literary Foundation of Virginia.

In 2001-2002 John W. Forbes served as Secretary of Finance of the Commonwealth of Virginia while also sitting on the board of the Tobacco Commission. Forbes sought a $5 million grant for a foundation to provide education to the residents in the Southside of Richmond and Southwest Virginia.

The Tobacco Commission wired $5 million in two installments to the Literary Society in 2002. But the organization had a sham board of directors. Forbes’s wife served as Executive Director with a $130,000 per year salary. When Forbes left government in 2002, he assumed the job of Executive Director and siphoned out $4 million via other sham organizations that he then used for personal benefit. Forbes was sentenced to ten years in prison and ordered to pay $4 million in restitution to the Tobacco Commission.[11]

The Virginia Israel Advisory Board has successfully tapped the TROF many times to fund its Israel business projects. Because each grant requires a signed performance agreement, it is not supposed to simply be free money. For business startups, the performance agreements specify the number of jobs that must be created, average pay, and tax revenues generated. More recently, the performance agreements have become more demanding, requiring copies of tax return filings as proof that stated performance agreement metrics have been achieved. If a new startup fails, grantees are not supposed to keep the money instead of returning it as required by signed performance agreements. However, as discussed later, county monitoring of actual jobs and tax creation appears to be lax, and there is no real incentive to report that targets have not been met.

In the fall of 2019, the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission  office seemed to be keeping a low profile. It is not listed in the directory in the building where it is housed near the state capitol building. If you ask the reception desk why, they will helpfully explain that not all building offices are listed. But it may be found on the fifth floor in suite 503, behind a heavy secured wooded door with a brass nameplate.

In 2019 the executive director of the Tobacco Commission is Evan Feinman. Feinman’s pathway to leadership of the commission was circuitous. When Terry McAuliffe was only a gubernatorial candidate, Feinman worked in his campaign as policy director, frequently interacting with major donors on their policy requests.[12] After McAuliffe’s victory, he appointed the then 31 year old Feinman to the position of Deputy Secretary of the Virginia’s Department of Natural Resources. The agency had 2,400 employees and an annual budget of $420 million.[13]

Feinman is a lawyer from a family of lawyers. His father, Ron Feinman is the founder of One World Structured Settlements. A structured settlement takes a series of payments from a legal settlement, and for a fee, converts it into a lump sum payout for the recipient. Feinman the elder was past president of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals, and Regional Vice-Chair of the B’nai B’rith International Planned Giving Committee. B’nai B’rith, established in 1843, is one of the oldest Jewish organizations in the United States. It was originally created to help Jewish immigrants to the U.S. learn English and gain access to hospital care and life insurance. He was also a past board member of the University of Virginia Hillel Center. Hillels across the country actively promote Israel on American campuses, frequently targeting Palestinian student organizations and their actions and events spotlighting Israel’s human rights abuses.

Evan Feinman’s selection as head of the Tobacco Commission in May of 2015 was portrayed as part of Governor McAuliffe’s attempt to make the commission more transparent and accountable after a comprehensive audit. Its name was changed from the “Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission” to the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission. The renamed organization’s turn-around was premised on no longer making grant awards based on political considerations. Transparency was to be achieved by creating an online database of awards.[14] The number of commission members was reduced to 28 from 31, while demonstrated experience in business, economic development, finance and education became a job requirement.[15]

Charles Lessin claimed that the private equity infusion portion into his biofuels deal would be $2.1 million, for a total $3.5 million project capital expenditure and that the goal was having 40 people employed at an average annual wage of $37,000 within three years. In October Lessin signed a detailed performance agreement for a $565,000 grant committing him to return the funds to the Tobacco Commission if he failed to deliver. By June, Lessin had received at least $210,000 of the grant to develop the project.

 

   

Former Bush furniture factory loading docks in St Paul

Lessin’s pitch to Russell County was to use a massive, quarter million square foot facility in St Paul, Virginia to manufacture biodiesel. The modern facility in the far southwest of the state had originally been a furniture factory, and featured office space, a manufacturing floor with 24 to 30 foot high ceilings, and fiber-optic connectivity. Lessin’s proposed upgrades included an active spur that could connect tanker cars with nearby Northern Southern or CSX freight rail lines. Yet in a September 2019 visit, it was obvious that the Industrial Development Authority of Russell County was still trying to get businesses into the mostly vacant facility. There was no public information available about the fate of Appalachian Biofuels LLC. What happened?

Like Ray Price before him, in 2016 Lessin privately claimed to the Tobacco Commission that a “drastic decline in world oil prices” meant that the project could not move forward. The day Lessin signed his Tobacco Commission grant application, prices were above $100 per barrel. By the time Lessin notified the commission the project was canceled, prices were under $30 per barrel.

Tobacco Commission Again Abandons its Fiduciary Responsibility

But that didn’t mean Lessin was off the hook. Early in 2017, the Tobacco Commission  notified Lessin that Appalachian Biofuels LLC now had to pay back the $565,000 grant. Lessin appealed[16] for a reduction in the “claw back” amount, but in January of 2018 was told that the Tobacco Commission Executive Committee had declined his appeal.[17] It was willing to work out a payment plan. So, on January 22, 2018 Lessin paid $355,000 of the grant back to the Tobacco Commission. That amount of the total grant was supposed to have been held in an escrow account.[18] But, with no evidence that it was, the question arises as to whether all of the grant funds were held by Lessin or Appalachian Biofuels LLC, and how repayment was made.

During the same time period, The Jerusalem Connection told the IRS it had written off $339,358 in “investment losses” after selling unspecified “assets.” Although total bingo revenue was $4.2 million in 2018, net revenue had fallen from $1.2 million in 2017 to $480 thousand in 2018, with expenses exceeding revenues by $443 thousand. The Jerusalem Connection had never suffered such dire financial straits. Was a bookkeeping entry for Appalachian Biofuels LLC transferred to The Jerusalem Connection’s balance sheet when it was already a total loss? Was the repayment of the grant really then made by The Jerusalem Connection?

The Jerusalem Connection appeared to be teetering on the edge of financial insolvency. Perhaps the Tobacco Commission grant was not held in an escrow account but rather intermingled with Lessin’s other business and charitable operations. And, perhaps not wanting any negotiations for a “repayment” of the remaining $210,000 he owed the Tobacco Commission—whether from his own funds or The Jerusalem Connection—in February 2018 Lessin made an entirely new pitch. He asked the Tobacco Commission to look at the bigger picture, which Tobacco Commission Executive Director Evan Feinman memorialized in an August 5, 2019 letter:

In a February 2018 meeting with between (sic) TRCC staff and yourself, it was agreed that in your capacity as a member of the Virginia Israel Advisory Board, over a two-year period, you would work to meet the performance metrics promised as part of project 2941 (40 new jobs, capital investment of $3.5M) to the Commission’s footprint.

In July 2019, at the request of TRRC staff you provided a detailed confidential listing of the projects you have (and continue to be) involved with that are within the Commission footprint. After reviewing the locations, capital investment and jobs provided with these projects, TRRC staff can confirm that you have fully met the employment and capital investment obligations as agreed and the project can be closed. Thank you for your partnership with the Commission and please be in touch should you have any follow up questions.[19]

Lessin likely didn’t have any further questions. The bingo maven had asked Feinman to relieve him of a $210,000 obligation that should have been repaid by his small limited liability company. It was forgiven and written off solely through consideration of Lessin’s position as a semi-fellow government official. Lessin’s official work on a portfolio of other—some likely quite dubious— Israel-related economic development projects as a board member of VIAB, were weighed against this debt and judged to have more than covered it. Feinman then duly—without reconvening the executive committee of the Tobacco Commission, or making an announcement to the news media of the sweetheart deal, forgave Lessin’s financial obligation.

What should have happened?

The Tobacco Commission should have sued Appalachian Biofuels LLC to repay the entire amount of the grant. Creditors of small, “closely held” LLC’s like Appalachian Biofuels with one or two owners are the most likely type of LLC to have their corporate veils pierced by creditors.[20] A court can hold the owners personally liable for obligations. As the holder of a performance agreement, the Tobacco Commission could have gone after Lessin’s home, bank account, investments and other assets to satisfy the terms of the agreement. A court would have certainly allowed this, since the quick collapse of global fuel prices likely would have precluded any meaningful expenditures by Lessin on biofuels production. Lessin was the perfect defendant. There was no real separation between him and the LLC. Lessin’s biofuels company had recklessly failed to promptly return the grant money when it was clear the project would not proceed. The Tobacco Commission, which was supposed to invest in projects of benefit to Virginians, suffered an unjust cost under Lessin’s failure to return the money.

The fact that Lessin never adequately capitalized the company and even appeared to engage in commingling assets with a charity when it was necessary to cover his losses should have led to a winning case for the Tobacco Commission.  Or the U.S. Department of Justice. Or the IRS.

Pop’s Bingo World in 2019

A summer 2019 visit to Pop’s Bingo World  reveals it has lost some of its do-gooder veneer. The surrounding area is home to check cashing storefronts, fast cash for auto title companies and hotels offering rooms for as little as $30 per night. A giant billboard steers potential customers off the main drag down Giant Drive to Pop’s Bingo World.

At Pop’s, the community garden to feed the needy is still advertised at the entrance, but was paved over between 2015-2016 to make way for additional parking. The latest new development is the sprawling Pop’s Bar and Grill. A sports bar, the building is adjacent to the bingo hall, features 160 flat screen TVs and a “chill pit” where sports-minded customers can sprawl on overstuffed couches to view as many games as they can parse.

   

Pop's Bingo World bingo hall and adjoining sports bar

The main outdoor activity these days is not gardening,  but rather massive barbeque pre-game grilling fests in the outdoor lot. “We don’t make any money on the food, especially the brisket,” grumbles the bar tender. “The margins are all in the drinks.”

One breakthrough is alcohol sales for customers in the bingo hall. If patrons order drinks at Pop’s Bar and Grill, wait staff will cordially carry and pass them through a small window and into Pop’s Bingo World,   which, though adjacent, has no direct customer access to the new bar.

Just as in the 1980s, a September 2019 afternoon spent at Pop’s is a social affair. “There’s an elegant lady who shows up in her Sunday best, totally decked out,” chimes the bartender. “She’ll even go home after a few rounds, change, and come back in a completely different outfit. Really classy. But it can get slow at the beginning of the month. You know, people have to take care of their bills before they, you know, come down and start spending money here.”

These days, even Charles Lessin is complaining publicly, telling a local news affiliate that:

It’s just not a popular game anymore…I wish I could think of other examples. Pac-Man, maybe. Pac-Man’s not popular now because the other games that compete with it are so much better it’s absurd. Well, that’s bingo.

Lessin’s Appalachian Biofuels business and its sweetheart exit deal with the Tobacco Commission never made headlines, but the Virginia Israel Advisory Board is making headlines. Seemingly every other week a new Israeli business, gathering to connect Virginia technology companies and Israeli companies in joint ventures, or yet another project at Virginia’s universities in partnership with Israeli industries is announced. So, where exactly did the Virginia Israel Advisory Board come from and how does it interact with other state agencies beyond the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission?

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[1] VIAB board of directors meeting Minutes July 29, 2014

[2] Viab.org website consulted on September 2, 2019

[3] Simerman, John, July 21, 2010, “Richmond tries again with bingo hall”, East Bay Times, https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2010/07/21/richmond-tries-again-with-bingo-hall/

[4] Virtual Jewish World: Virginia, United States, Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/virginia-jewish-history

[5] “The Jerusalem Connection,” 2010 IRS form 990, statement of program service accomplishments.

[6] VIAB board of directors meeting Minutes July 29, 2014

[7] Northam, Ralph S. Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia, December 18, 2018, “Executive Amendments to the 2018-2020 Budget” PDF page 19 https://dpb.virginia.gov/budget/buddoc19/BudgetDocument.pdf

[8] Tobacco Free Kids, “A State-by-State Look at the 1998 Tobacco Settlement 20 Years Later” https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/what-we-do/us/statereport

[9] The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission is the new name for the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. The name was changed as part of an effort to reform how the commission operates. See Associated Press, May 15, 2015 “Lynchburg Native Feinman to lead Virginia tobacco commission.” https://www.newsadvance.com/news/local/lynchburg-native-feinman-to-lead-virginia-tobacco-commission/article_d0f15800-fb12-11e4-ba1f-57cee79afee4.html

[10] At the time it was still called the “Tobacco Indemnification & Community Revitalization Commission.”

[11] U.S. Attorney’s Office, November 23, 2010, “Former Richmond Secretary of Finance Sentenced for Embezzling $4 million from Tobacco Indemnification Fund”  https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/richmond/press-releases/2010/ri112310a.htm

[12] Helber, Steve, Associate Press, September 25, 2015. “Prominent UVA Alum Makes Controversial Donation of $50k to the McAuliffe Campaign”

[13] Faulconer, Justin News & Advance, January 11, 2014 “Lynchburg native Feinman a natural fit for state DNR post”

[14] At the time of writing, three quarters of the way through the year, no year 2019 grants had been published on the TROF website. They were released to the author under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

[16] During testimony to the Executive Committee, Charles Lessin’s legal representative, Chris Nolan from the law firm McGuire Woods, testified that Lessin was at one time in possession of the entire $565,000 grant, but that “when the project was not looking good, he and the IDA agreed the best thing to do would be to put that money into escrow and I believe it’s with a law firm in Southwest Virginia.” The law firm was Chapin Law Firm P.C., which represents the Russell County Industrial Development Authority. The firm is led by state Senator Augustus Benton “Ben” Chapin Jr, the Russell County Republican who replaced Democrat Phillip Puckett during the prior Tobacco Commission scandal investigated by the FBI. See page 14 of the testimony referenced in the following footnote.

[17] Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Executive Committee Meeting, January 8, 2018, pp 10-25 https://www.revitalizeva.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Executive-Committee-Meeting-Minutes-2018-01-08.pdf

[18] The author obtained records that $355,000 was paid to the Tobacco Commission in a check dated January 17, 2018 with a memo saying “All monies in Trust for Appalachian Biofuels LLL” [sic] trust account at Chapin Law Firm P.C.” See http://IsraelLobby.org/Biofuels for all VFOIA documents. There is no indication how long the funds had been in the “trust” account following Lessin’s transfer when “the project was not looking good.”

[19] Closing Letter, Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, August 5, 2019. See a complete copy in the Appendix.

[20] NOLO, “Piercing the Corporate Veil: When LLCs and Corporations May be at Risk - An LLC or corporation's owners, members, or shareholders may be on the hook personally for business debt.” https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/personal-liability-piercing-corporate-veil-33006.html