BRISTOL, VA (WJHL) – Just days after the sudden resignation of former Bristol Virginia Utilities Board Chairman Jim Clifton we found federal grand jury records that reveal his name is among those that have caught the eye of federal investigators during Operation Electric Boogaloo.
Investigators returned to the public utility Tuesday, according to BVU officials. Clifton resigned Friday, citing personal and work reasons.
A list of grand jury records from March 2014 through October 2015 mentions Clifton and his employer by name. That list reveals multiple subpoenas issued over the course of the corruption investigation specific to Clifton and the dealership where he works as general sales manager.
We questioned Clifton in July about the nearly half a million dollars’ worth of transactions Crabtree Buick Pontiac GMC secured from BVU since his appointment to the board. Our investigation found the car dealership sold more vehicles to the public utility than any other dealership in the region.
“I didn’t influence anybody to take our bid,” Clifton said at the time. “I’ve gained no personal benefit from anything.”
At the time, he told us the deals were all part of a blind bid process.
“Either we’re the low bidder or we’re not,” he said.
Within two weeks of our story, the grand jury list reveals investigators subpoenaed records from the dealership and its owner related to payments to Clifton. The next month they subpoenaed General Motors Corporation for Clifton’s tax records, payments to any employee of Crabtree Buick/GMS and all fleet sales and/or political subdivision sales related to Crabtree Buick/GMC.
In a letter to former BVU CFO Stacey Pomrenke’s attorneys in November Assistant U.S. Attorney Zach Lee supplied her defense team with the list, which he said details “the records obtained via grand jury subpoena during our investigation.”
The spreadsheet was meant to help Pomrenke’s attorneys find records that they might need to prepare her defense. A jury found Pomrenke guilty of 14 charges in February.
“It would catch me off guard if they found anything on me,” Clifton said in July. “I have not done anything wrong, so if somebody can prove otherwise, obviously I’ll have to be on camera and eat those words.”
As the federal investigation continues, BVU board members selected Don Ashley to be the new chair during a board meeting Monday.
“His resignation was somewhat of a surprise,” Ashley said of Clifton’s decision to resign last week.
Ashley says he’s unclear where the federal investigation will go next.
“I know their work continues,” he said. “We’ll just have to see what still happens, but as the board as we’re configured now we’re just trying to do our jobs the next three months and see what happens.”
To our knowledge Clifton does not face any criminal charges at this time. We reached out to him for comment today but have not yet heard back.
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