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  • Writer's pictureSam Orlando

Augusta County Corruption: Supervisor Wells' Shocking Admission of 'Criminal Games' in Threat to Reporter



Written by: Sam Orlando


Supervisor Butch Wells Faces Allegations of Intimidation and 'Criminal Games'

AUGUSTA COUNTY, VIRGINIA - In a startling revelation, Augusta County Supervisor Butch Wells is facing serious allegations of intimidation and involvement in what he cryptically refers to as "criminal games." This comes to light in the aftermath of a contentious phone call with Chris Graham, Editor of the Augusta Free Press, raising concerns about potential attempts to stifle free press and public scrutiny.


The Phone Call

During an 11-minute phone call on Friday morning, Wells sought information from Graham related to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made to the county. The conversation took an ominous turn when Wells mentioned having "a file started" and declared, "I play criminal games."


Graham's attempts to ascertain the nature of these "criminal games" were met with cryptic responses and veiled threats. Wells refused to disclose who the pronoun "they" referred to and kept the details of his alleged criminal activities open to interpretation.


Background

The timing of this phone call is noteworthy as it occurred less than 24 hours after a circuit court judge heard arguments in FOIA cases brought by Augusta Free Press and Breaking Through Media. The cases challenge the county's denial of access to digital copies of recordings from a March 20 closed meeting of the Board of Supervisors.


The closed meeting gained public attention due to revelations surrounding the resignation of Steven Morelli, a former board member facing sexual harassment allegations. The legal battle over the recording stems from Supervisor Scott Seaton's admission of recording closed sessions, leading to a request for the recordings and subsequent denials.


The Legal Battle and Public Scrutiny

In challenging the FOIA denials, evidence emerged, including text exchanges between Morelli and other board members, indicating awareness of Morelli's resignation before the closed meeting. This contradicted the county's claim that the resignation occurred just before the meeting, justifying the closed session.


Despite a prior resolution recognizing the legality of recording closed sessions, Wells, who previously voted in favor of the resolution, now appears to be posturing against Seaton and reopening issues already settled by the board.


Alleged Intimidation and Criminal Games

The essence of Wells' phone call, attempting to extract information from Graham about the source of certain details, raises concerns of intimidation. His statement, "I play criminal games," adds a troubling dimension to the allegations.


Graham's refusal to provide the information resulted in Wells hinting at potential consequences. The transcript of the call reveals a tense exchange where Wells seems more interested in uncovering Graham's sources than addressing the serious questions raised about his own actions.


Public Records Request

In response to Wells' claim of having a "criminal file" related to Graham's FOIA request, a subsequent FOIA request was filed for a copy of this file. The county's response, disavowing the existence of any physical file, raises further questions about Wells' motives and the nature of his statements.


Augusta's Board of Supervisors in Crisis

The allegations against Supervisor Butch Wells underscore the delicate balance between public accountability and potential abuses of power. The situation highlights the need for transparency, ethical conduct, and respect for press freedom within local government. As this story unfolds, the community awaits answers regarding Supervisor Wells' admitted involvement in what he terms "criminal games." The implications of these revelations extend beyond the legal battles and strike at the heart of democratic principles that demand accountability from those in positions of authority.


To stay up to date on stories about local government, remember to subscribe to Breaking Through News on the Newsbreak app, or on our website at www.breakingthrough.com.


What follows is a full transcript of the conversation between Augusta County Supervisor Butch Wells, and Augusta Free Press Editor Chris Graham. This is sourced from Augusta Free Press.


Transcript

Call begins: 10:44 a.m., Friday, Dec. 22, 2023

CHRIS GRAHAM: Hello. Hi, Butch. This is Chris Graham with Augusta Free Press.

BUTCH WELLS: Hey, Chris, how are you?

CG: Good. I’m sorry. I’m calling so late. I know you called earlier this morning.

BW: Not a problem. Just an early riser. Just got a quick question. Yesterday evening, according to Timmy, you filed another FOIA request?

CG; I did.

BW: There was a young lady’s name in that FOIA request. Can you tell me how you got that name?

CG: It’s been all over the place for months. That’s how I got that name. I couldn’t even tell you …

BW: How did you, how did you get that name?

CG: Well, I know that …

BW: If you don’t want to tell me, just say you don’t want to tell me, but I got a good feeling I know how you got it, and I just wanted to confirm it. Because I’ve got a file started.

CG: You’ve got a file started?

BW: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, I’ve got a file started. They’re playing, they’re playing political games. I don’t play political games. I play criminal games. And, yeah, I’ve got a file started.

CG: What … who are they?

BW: I just wanted to know what your source was for using that young lady’s name.

CG: Who are they?

BW: You’ll find out when it starts. So, you’re saying you don’t want to tell me?

CG: I’m saying that I can’t even …

BW: You didn’t even hesitate yesterday to say where you got those text messages from. You said Scott Cline.

CG: Yeah.

BW: I was going to give you, I was going to give you the chance to say where you got this young lady’s name that you put in that FOIA request.

CG: Yeah, I will tell you that that name has been all over the place, and I couldn’t tell you the first place I heard it, because it’s been out there since March.

BW: OK, but you’re saying it’s been all over the place? Well, where are some of the sources that you got her name?

CG: Where are some of the sources that I got her name? Gosh, I got … you want me to tell you the numerous texts I got that at the time before he even resigned who was telling me these things?

BW: Who did those texts come from, yeah.

CG: So, tell me why it’s appropriate that Tim Fitzgerald told you last night that I filed a FOIA request and that name came up.

BW: Any board member’s, any board member’s privy to that FOIA request, any board member’s privy to a FOIA request that comes into our government.

CG: Let me ask you about that name, then. Why is that name significant to you?

BW: We’re not gonna go there. I’m just asking you where you got that name?

CG: I’m asking you why? Because that name is something that, it seems like you’re confirming to me that that name is significant.

BW: No, I’m not confirming you. I asked you a question. Where did you get that name?

CG: You called me to threaten me with something criminal because of that name. So now I’m asking you why that name was significant.

BW: No, I didn’t. You asked me. I was responding to your question. You asked me why. And I told you why i said I started my file.

CG: OK.

BW: And that’s not a, that’s not a threat. You don’t want to answer, you don’t want to answer it.

CG: That’s not a threat?

BW: No, it’s not. I’m just telling you, I started a file.

CG: And now I’ve started a file.

BW: You’re not, you’re not even involved in this, Chris. You’re not the one I’m starting a file on.

CG: Apparently, I am.

BW: Do you know where you got that name? And why it was just her.

CG: Because that name, obviously, the fact that you’re calling me and badgering me on this is a sign that that name is important.

BW: I’m not badgering you, Chris, I’m just asking you a question.

CG: You just called me, you just called me to tell me that you’re starting a criminal file against somebody.

BW: You told, you said it yesterday in court. You didn’t have any problem yesterday in saying you got, when the judge asked you where you got those texts, you said, Scott Cline.

CG: Yeah.

BW: OK, and that’s all I’m asking you today is, you put that lady’s name in the FOIA request, where did you get her name?

CG: Why is that name important?

BW: Never mind. You’re not gonna answer me.

CG: Yeah. Why would I? Why would I answer you? Because again, this name has been out there for months. OK? Michael, Michael Schull talked about this.

BW: That’s your response to my question. It’s been out there for months.

CG: Yeah.

BW: You have any idea how it got out there?

CG: Um, how it got out there?

BW: If I had heard different things all these months, I would know the source of where it came from. I’d be able to say, Chris, I heard it from so and so, I heard it from someone. I wouldn’t say, oh, it’s just been out there for months.

CG: I’ve corroborated …

BW: I’m just trying to get an answer to that, when …

(crosstalk)

CG: So, when you hear a name or any supposed fact one time, it’s not a fact until you hear it repeatedly, you know, from … In my case, so that’s, that’s how I can’t report one thing, if one person tells me one thing, they could certainly be lying, they could have different reasons for saying things. So, then you check around, hey, what, what have you heard? And honestly, this was not even something that until Michael Shoal in July, said during the Board of Supervisors meeting, that the March meeting was about sexual harassment, that wasn’t even on my radar. We were writing about the animal shelter, we were writing about police and body cams. Michael, inadvertently …

BW: That’s not what I’m talking to you about? I’m just asking you a simple question.

CG: Well, it’s not a simple answer. Because again, you hear you hear one person say one thing, that doesn’t mean anything. You have to, you have to be able to check with people and get two, three, four, and then when all of a sudden you hear the name repeatedly, that’s when …

BW: What I’m asking is, where did you hear from? Because I will go to that source and say, where did you hear from?

CG: Are you subpoenaing me for something? I mean, now, I’m not going to be, I’m not going to be, I’m not going to be, I’m not even thinking of the word snitch here. It’s not, you can investigate however you want to investigate. You’re a member of the Board of Supervisors, I’m gonna have to ask Tim now …

BW: You’re not making sense with what you said yesterday in court and now what I’m asking you today. You didn’t have any problem saying, I got those text messages from Scott Cline.

CG: Because that’s where the text messages came from.

BW: I’m asking you where you got this lady’s name from?

CG: Are you a judge? In court yesterday, he asked me, the judge asked me a question, where did these text messages come from? That’s the honest answer. That’s what the text messages came from.

BW: I thought you’d offer up where the name came from. So, if you don’t want to, just OK, that’s fine. This has been fine. You’re not going to upset me if you say, I don’t want to tell you, just say I don’t want to tell you.

CG: I’ve been saying everything I can that I don’t want to tell you, because I have had, I have had numerous people say that name to me, and that’s the only reason it rose to the level of, I better put that in the in the Freedom of Information Act request.

BW: OK, well, who were some of the numerous people. You want to name any of them?

CG: I do not want to name any of them. How many, how many reporters have you ever dealt with?

BW: All I wanted you to say is you didn’t want to name any of them.

CG: No, because reporters don’t reveal their source. They don’t, I don’t, I don’t feel, I don’t feel obliged to reveal a source to you, as a member of the Board of Supervisors who started this conversation saying you wanted to start a criminal file.

BW: No, I’ve already started it.

CG: Well, good. I’m not going to add your criminal file.

BW: You’re not even part of it.

CG: I’m not going to add to your criminal file.

BW: OK. OK.

CG: Why is that name important to you?

BW: Because you included it in the FOIA request. How did you come about using her name?

CG: Why would it matter if I used her name?

BW: I’m just asking you.

CG: I’m asking you why. Why does it matter that I used her name?

BW: Because you made the request.

CG: Were you asking, were you among the people telling Steve Morelli to step down from the board?

BW: That doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m asking.

CG: That has everything to do with what I’m asking you. I was going to ask you that question …

BW: I can’t comment on that because it was in closed session.

CG: I was going to ask you that question yesterday, if the county had not intervened and pretended that what they couldn’t find for 45 minutes was suddenly found.

BW: Alright, after yesterday, I thought you might say who gave you that lady’s name. After listening to you in court, I said, well, I’ll give Chris a call and see where he came up with that name.

CG: And the first thing you said was, I’m starting a criminal file.

BW: No, that’s not what the first thing I was. You asked me why, and I told you, I don’t play political games. I played criminal games.

CG: Good. I’m not going to participate in your bogus criminal investigation.

BW: I think you were sitting in court the day Judge Shah said that he felt like there was a criminal act involved. That got my attention.

CG: He did not say that. The attorney for the county said that.

BW: No, the judge said it. I was sitting there.

CG: I was sitting there closer than you were. The attorney for the county said that repeatedly.

BW: Well, I triple checked it after I left there. And that is what the judge said.

CG: Did you read the judge’s ruling?

BW: Chris, I didn’t call you to argue with you or even go into all of this stuff. I just said, where do you get the lady’s name? And obviously you don’t want to tell me, so that’s OK. No hard feelings.

CG: Oh, there are hard feelings. There are hard feelings.

BW: Oh, OK.

CG: Yeah, there are hard feelings.

BW: Not on my part.

CG: There are hard … because you called me to badger me. You called me to threaten criminal stuff. I take that, I’ll take that, I’ll take that the way it was intended. This was, this was an intimidating phone call.

BW: No, it wasn’t. I didn’t start out as an intimidating phone call. I asked you a simple question, and you turned it into it. I didn’t. I answered your questions. You didn’t answer my question.

CG: The recording will indicate that this was an intimidating phone call. We’ll let the people judge.

BW: OK. Yeah. I knew I’d be recorded, so I didn’t say anything that bothers me.

CG: That’s fine. Yeah. If it doesn’t bother you to call a reporter and intimidate a reporter, that’s, that’s, good for you. It says a lot about it says a lot about the folks …

BW: I had no intentions of intimidating you. I just asked you where you got that name from.

CG: And I’ve asked you, you, you who seem to be a paragon of answering questions, talking to me about answering questions, I’ve asked you repeatedly, why does that name mean anything to you?

BW: OK.

CG: And so you don’t want to answer that question, even though it’s important enough to call me and ask me about that.

BW: You didn’t call me to ask me that question. You asked me that question because I call you gonna ask you this question.

CG: I didn’t know what question you wanted to ask. You had a simple question, to ask a simple question, and the question for me is, why does that name mean anything to you?

BW: Yeah, it means a lot to me. So …

CG: I understand. And I know why it means a lot to you.

BW: How do you know that?

CG: How would I know that?

BW: How do you know that?

CG: I know that it means a lot to you.

BW: See, these are these are kind of games that I’m talking about. So, you don’t want to tell me. That’s OK. And you’re not the only one. Never mind. This is not gonna go anywhere. Sorry I wasted your time. I thought after yesterday that you just might say, well, this is where I got it.

CG: Why would you …

BW: So, I understand. I understand.

CG: Yeah, and now I’ve got to call Tim Fitzgerald. OK, so, thanks for calling me, or thanks for calling earlier. Yeah, I appreciate that.

BW: OK.

CG: Alright, thanks.

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