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VRE welcomes state probe of operations

November 17, 2012 12:10 am



Virginia Railway Express officials say a state review launched because of anonymous allegations is unwarranted, but they welcome it and want operations to be in the open.

They also expressed support for two employees named in an Oct. 3 letter from Gov. Bob McDonnell calling for the review of VRE management by the state's inspector general and the auditor of public accounts.

The governor's letter said there are "internal control issues" involving VRE employees. The letter also questions the "legal construct of VRE" and the Operation Board's authority.

VRE board members and staff are being interviewed as part of the inquiry.

The issue came to light this week after Fredericksburg City Council member and VRE board member Fred Howe mentioned it at a council meeting, He said he was going to be interviewed as part of the inquiry.

The governor's letter says numerous sources made several allegations, mentioning VRE employees Sirel Mouchantaf and his wife, Jennifer Mouchantaf. He is VRE's director of engineering and construction and she is the company's equal employment opportunity officer.

Howe talked about the situation at the VRE board's monthly meeting Thursday.

He first praised VRE and its service. Then he did the same for Sirel and Jennifer Mouchantaf.

Howe said they have his full support and that he "doesn't agree with everything in the letter."

"I have full faith" in them and VRE, he said again after the meeting.

He added that the inquiry could be a good thing for VRE.

Fellow VRE board member and Stafford County Supervisor Susan Stimpson said the inquiry is needed.

She tried in August to have an independent audit launched for fiscal 2011, but the VRE board voted against it.

Stimpson primarily based her concerns on a former VRE employee who had pleaded guilty to taking subcontractor kickbacks after he was snared in an FBI investigation.

"We already know there was a problem," she said. "Internal controls weren't working somewhere."

Stimpson added that she thinks VRE is a solid organization. The inquiry "is not an indictment of VRE at all," she said.

But she said an outside audit is the right thing to do.

Doug Allen, VRE's CEO, and spokesman Mark Roeber said that the issues raised in the governor's letter were thoroughly dealt with after the allegations were raised a year ago.

The VRE board's Chairman Wally Covington wrote a letter to McDonnell this week in which he explains how the VRE handled the situation.

In the letter, he says the board "took those unsubstantiated allegations seriously and conducted an examination as well as a forensic audit to make sure that all aspects were addressed."

State auditors from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation also looked into the issues.

Allen said those inquiries into the allegations found no wrongdoing.

He also said the current review is looking at VRE's organizational workings and not individual allegations.

Allen and Roeber believe the state's review will show that everything is fine at VRE.

The Mouchantafs, who Roeber said did not want to comment, still hold the same positions at VRE.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

In the past month, Gary Skinner, a Spotsylvania supervisor and Virginia Railway Express Operations Board member, has seen some real ups and downs in the progress of the new third track and station at Crossroads Business Park off the U.S. 17 Bypass.

It appears there has been haggling--among VRE, CSX and the county--about who will do what and how exactly things will be done.

After a few meetings, including one last week involving all of the decision-makers, Skinner seems comfortable that the project remains on track.

The way it shakes out is that the county will handle the parking-lot design and construction, VRE the station work and CSX the third track and signals.

"I don't have any concerns at this moment," Skinner said after the VRE board's meeting Thursday.

Skinner figures the county could wrap up work on the 1,500-space parking lot by August.

And he said the station is still on target to open in late 2013.

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.