Steve Chapman rented residency to run in a Republican primary for House Delegate, asserted the landlord who wrote the Manassas Park mayor.
“Mr. Chapman has never lived in my house at 155 Polk Drive,” reads the letter signed by Michael Wilbourn. In a phone interview Friday, Wilbourn confirmed that he wrote the letter to Mayor Frank Jones.
Chapman’s residency during October and November 2004 is at issue in the two criminal indictments handed up by the grand jury last week. Chapman was indicted for felony election fraud and misdemeanor illegal voting.
While the indictments list the dates of the alleged offenses in October and November 2004, no other details are given.
At a press conference last Wednesday, Chapman’s attorney said the indictments stemmed from Chapman’s move to Manassas Park in late September 2004, registering to vote, and voting there in November 2004.
At the press conference, Chapman and his supporters proclaimed his innocence. They said the charges would be thrown out of court. And they claimed the charges were a smear campaign instigated by Chapman’s opponent, longtime Delegate Harry J. Parrish.
Parrish has represented the 50th District, which includes Manassas Park, since 1981. Both Parrish and Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert, a Democrat, have denied all claims of collusion.
“During the summer of 2004, I met Mr. Chapman at church and mentioned I was looking for a new roommate. In September, he approached me with a request to be a renter. He told me he was interested in a political campaign and that he needed to establish residency in my area,” wrote Wilbourn, the son of former Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III, R-Gainesville.
In a phone interview Saturday, Manassas Park Mayor Frank Jones said Wilbourn wrote the letter to him March 29 in response to questions that the mayor asked Wilbourn about Chapman’s residency. Jones said a citizen approached him with concerns about the legitimacy of Chapman’s voting in Manassas Park and running against Parrish. In response, Jones said he asked Wilbourn to verify Chapman’s residency.
Jones said he forwarded Wilbourn’s letter to the Manassas Park voting registrar, Patricia Brendel. She could not be reached for comment Saturday. Jones said he did not provide the letter to Ebert. Thursday, Ebert said he received the information that led to Chapman’s charges from more than one person.
One of the informants was Parrish campaign consultant J. Kenneth Klinge, both Klinge and Ebert said last week. But Ebert maintained that the charges have nothing to do with the campaign, and everything to do with whether Chapman voted illegally.
Ebert has since recused himself. Chesterfield County Commonwealth’s Attorney William W. Davenport was appointed to prosecute Chapman.
“I didn’t bother to find out any further information and agreed to rent him a room, but at a lower than normal rate … based on his statement that he would not really be staying at my house that often to begin with,” Wilbourn wrote.
Campaign spokesman Thomas Kopko provided reporters Wednesday with a document he argues that verifies Chapman became a Manassas Park resident in September 2004. Chapman’s attorney said that Chapman rented a room in late September 2004 in Wilbourn’s house. Chapman’s understanding was that he could eventually buy Wilbourn’s house, his attorney said.
“He stayed there not every night, but quite a few nights,” attorney Gilbert K. Davis said.
While Chapman was raising financing to purchase Wilbourn’s house, he found out Wilbourn wasn’t going to sell, Davis said Wednesday. So he purchased another home in Manassas, a condo at 8734 Richmond Ave.
In a phone interview Saturday, Chapman said he closed on the Wedgwood Complex condo in late March 2005. The document that Kopko provided at the Wednesday press conference was a proof of lease for the mortgage lender for his condo, Chapman said Saturday.
“When I went to buy my house on Richmond Avenue, the mortgage lender needed proof of where I lived,” Chapman said. “So I went back to Mike [Wilbourn] because that’s where I’d been living. I brought it over to our old house. We both signed it.”
The form, signed by Michael Wilbourn, states that Chapman paid Wilbourn $250 a month in rent between September and December 2004. But Friday, Wilbourn would not comment on whether he filled out and signed the form, dated in early March 2005.
“I’m trying to be as neutral as possible here,” Wilbourn said. “I’m just wanting the legal process to work this out in as fair a process as possible for everyone involved.”
Wilbourn’s letter states that Chapman paid him $125 a month in rent. Though the months are the same in the letter and the form, the dates are slightly different.
“He’s kind of contradicting himself,” Chapman said of Wilbourn on Saturday. “I guess that’s the crux of the whole case. Mike’s a nice guy, but I think other people are pushing him.”
Chapman said he had other documentation that he lived at Wilbourn’s house in the fall of 2004, including cancelled checks. He said that his attorney had those documents.
“Mike’s a nice guy but his parents have been friends of the Parrishes for years,” Chapman said. “He’d understood I wasn’t running against Harry or that Harry was not running.”
Chapman said that once Wilbourn learned he was campaigning against Parrish, Wilbourn asked him to quit.
“He told me a couple times that I should just get out of the race,” Chapman said.