State Police: Joint airport investigation doesn’t have ‘lead agency’

NEWPORT NEWS — The Virginia State Police and two federal agencies are jointly working an investigation into the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport — but none of the three agencies has so far been designated to lead the case, a spokeswoman said this week.

“We’re all working on different pieces of it,” Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne N. Geller said when asked which agency was spearheading the investigation.

Geller said questions about any further developments — including the ultimate decision on whether any charges will be filed — will be answered by federal prosecutors. Joshua Stueve, an Alexandria-based spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, declined to comment on the airport case.

Last week, Sandy Wanner, the Newport News airport’s acting executive director, said three investigators — special agents with the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service‘s Criminal Investigations Division, and U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s Office — met with five airport employees at the airport on June 20. All three special agents attended each interview, Wanner said.

The airport’s attorney, James S. McNider III, described the investigation as a joint one in an email on a separate issue earlier this month to City Councilwoman Sharon Scott, who is also a member of the Peninsula Airport Commission’s six-member board.

“Just this morning, a new front was opened — a criminal investigation by the federal government and the Commonwealth has begun,” McNider wrote to Scott on June 13.

The investigation comes in the wake of a scathing Virginia Department of Transportation audit report that detailed widespread issues with airport spending — including a risky loan guarantee to a startup airline that ultimately led to taxpayers dishing out $4.5 million to cover the loan.

After People Express Airlines collapsed and defaulted on the loan, the airport commission paid off the $4.5 million debt using $3.5 million in state airport construction grants, $300,000 in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and $700,000 from a regional marketing group funded by local city councils and county boards.

Wanner said he didn’t know what the investigators were focused on — and would not name the airport employees who the special agents interviewed. Geller would…

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