Councilman had business contract with developers of 31st Street hotel project

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Councilman Linwood Branch

City Councilman Linwood O. Branch III, owner of the 10th Street Days Inn Motel, acknowledged he has received income 'in excess of $10,000'  from a Gold Key time share operations contract with Edmund C. Ruffin and Bruce L. Thompson, the city's partners in the proposed development of the 31st Street 4-star hotel.

He also provided documentation to the Virginia News Source that he had requested and received three legal opinions in the last three years from City Attorney Les Lilley clearing him to vote on the deals and amendments favoring Ruffin and Thompson.  After VNS approached him for information about his business and financial dealings with the city's partners, both of whom have federal criminal records, Branch said he and they had cancelled their contract for 'the remainder of its term.'  He also said he was not going to seek re-election to his beach borough council seat.

Branch, in his most recent statement of facts, told Lilley he received 'in excess of $10,000,' from room rental referrals from the oceanfront hotel and time share magnates.  He refused to tell VNS how much more than that he actually received  since 1997.  He only admitted the contract existed after VNS began its investigation.

Other oceanfront time share sources said the income should be in the 'tens of thousands' of dollars a yearOther motels, they said, received time share incomes ranging from $50,000 to more than $100,000 last year alone.  None of those were owned by public officials.  "Would I refer more to a motel owned by a councilman?  Absolutely," one time share insider said.  "I'd be crazy not to."

In addition, time share officials said the locations at which time shares are solicited, such as the booth at Branch's motel, sell for between $25,000 and $45,000 a year - over and above room referral fees.

Branch denied he gets any of that income.  He did state that he 'sub-leases' that portion of his Days Inn Motel out to another company, Lar-Jac Corporation, a family related company and Lar-Jac leases that space to Ruffin and Thompson's Gold Key.  In an April 24, 2001 opinion Branch told the city attorney the rent amounted to $7,000 a year.  One time share insider said of that rent, "Somebody's getting ripped off at that price.  Those locations sell for a lot more than that."

Branch, after promising to sit down and explain his business and financial dealings with Ruffin and Thompson, reneged on his word and refused.  In fact, since VNS couldn't meet with Branch, it was forced to interview his empty chair.

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