John Lawson of W.M. Jordan - a man of many interests with potential for conflicts

It turns out that John Lawson, head of W. M. Jordan general contractor, has far reaching tentacles in controversial Virginia Beach projects with potential for conflicts.  So far, he has dodged all of  them.

On June 23, The Virginia News Source reported that W. M. Jordan, one of Virginia's largest construction companies based in Newport News, had won the contract to build the taxpayer funded $31.5 MILLION 31st Street parking garage to accommodate the taxpayer subsidized 31st Street Hotel across the street on Atlantic Avenue.  

VNS also reported that Jordan is the contractor to build the controversial hotel as well as being 1/3 owner of the hotel.  The other owners are Bruce Thompson and Edmund C. Ruffin.

Now Inside Business - a Landmark Publication - reports in this week's issue that Lawson is also the 5th largest shareholder in TowneBank which provided the primary financing for the hotel.

Despite the potential for multiple conflicts, Lawson has apparently dodged them all.

One of the major potential conflicts was that there were penalty clauses against the city if the garage wasn't completed in time to coincide with the hotel's scheduled opening on Feb. 28 of next year.  Several felt that by controlling the construction schedules of both hotel and garage, Lawson's company could delay the garage and stick the citizens with additional daily penalties.

When the issue was raised, after his successful bid to build the parking garage, Lawson signed a hold harmless agreement stating that he would pay for any delays, but he told Inside Business he would finish on time or earlier than required by the contract.

In its June 23rd story, VNS raised the question as to whether Lawson had lied in the contract documents he signed with Virginia Beach.  It is a felony to lie on contract documents.  Because of the short time fuse under which the city was operating to get construction started, the city included a questionnaire with the contract bid documents.  The questionnaire is normally separate from the bid documents.

The 'boilerplate' language in the contract states, among other things, "The undersigned [the document was signed by Lawson] hereby further certifies that the bidder has not knowingly falsified, concealed, misled, or covered up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact in connection with this Bid Proposal/Contract...".

The questionnaire states:  "The undersigned guarantees the accuracy of all statements and answers herein contained...".

Question 6 asks:  "Are there any judgments, claims, arbitration proceeds or suits pending or have there been any in the past five years against your organization or its officers?"  To which Lawson answered, "No".

When it was pointed out that Virginia News Source had seen copies of court records involving various court actions, Lawson said, the media doesn't know how to read the contract or questionnaire.  "This is not a news item," said Lawson.  He said every single question refers specifically to  suits over construction contracts the company has had. [There is no language in the questionnaire stating the questions relate to construction contracts - Editor's note]

"Every single question involves construction contracts - every single one. Not a single suit (or one) pending on a contract on one we have had in last 5 years."  The other suits he said involved personal injury cases against the company or actions involving subcontractors.

There was a suit involving the construction contract against W. M. Jordan by the City of Norfolk, but it was subsequently non-suited, but it was a contract suit said an assistant  Norfolk city attorney.

Clarence Warnstaff, the city's project engineer, said the city documents had been cleared by his city attorney's office and no changes nor action was recommended in the case.  The city had no choice at that time, but to proceed with the contract, wrongly or rightly and Lawson was the beneficiary.

Nevertheless, Lawson, whose interest in the hotel is personal, can financially benefit as the (1). builder of the hotel, (2).  builder of the garage, (3).  stockholder of the lending bank, and (4).  as part owner from the operation of the hotel.

Lawson joined Thomson and Ruffin as a partner in the hotel over a year ago.  He became a stockholder with TowneBank when it acquired Harbor Bank, where he was serving on the board of directors.  His father was one of the founders of W. M. Jordan.

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