Tax scandals, lawsuits, and Rotunda renovations: This week’s news briefs

UVA's Rotunda. Photo: Dan Addison, UVA Public Affairs. UVA’s Rotunda. Photo: Dan Addison, UVA Public Affairs.

Below, find our latest news briefs—several stories we’ve got an eye on. Pick up C-VILLE’s print edition tomorrow and check daily for regular updates. 

Charlottesville resident involved in international tax scam 

Credit Suisse Group, an international financial services holding company based in Switzerland, doesn’t have any offices in Virginia. But according to a Newsplex report, court documents filed in Virginia federal court reveal that a Charlottesville resident was involved in a billion-dollar tax scam that Credit Suisse admitted to last week. The individual’s identity is protected by the Swiss Banking Act of 1934, which instituted bank secrecy.

The Swiss bank admitted to helping thousands of Americans evade taxes by filing false income tax returns and hiding money in overseas accounts. Credit Suisse admitted to charges of criminal conspiracy and will have to pay a settlement of $2.6 billion. The company is still permitted to conduct business in the U.S.

The Charlottesville resident was one of 22,000 other Americans who committed tax evasion with the help of the Swiss bank. All in all, Credit Suisse helped Americans avoid an estimated 12 billion dollars in taxes. Due to Swiss banking laws, neither the resident nor any other evaders are likely to be charged.

Local couple sues GM over son’s death

An Albemarle County couple has filed a lawsuit against General Motors, attributing the 2009 death of their son to an ignition switch defect in his ’07 Pontiac G5, one of 2.6 million GM models to be recalled this year. According to the complaint, filed May 21 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Southern Division, the defect was first identified in the 2001 Saturn Ion and systematically covered up. Ignition switch failure has the potential to shut down the car’s engine and electrical system, causing brakes and airbags to fail.

The plaintiffs, Gordon and Brenda Hair, lost their son Benjamin in December 2009. Ben Hair—who had attended Virginia Tech and competed on the school’s swim team—wrecked going 50 mph in a 45 mph zone in the early afternoon. According to the complaint, the Hairs were unaware of  the possibility of mechanical failure until this year when GM issued a sweeping recall in March. The company cited faulty ignition switches for six different models ranging from 2005 to 2011.

The Hairs are suing GM for withholding information, and theirs isn’t the only legal action against the company. Earlier in May, the Department of Transportation announced it would levy a $35 million fine against GM for the cover up. The Hairs’ complaint alleges that the company knew about the defect long before this year and tried to obfuscate the facts in their son’s death. Lack of skid marks and failure of airbag deployment were two signs that the vehicle suffered mechanical failure, according to the suit, which describes “devastating effects on Brenda Hair,” including severe depression and reclusiveness, culmi-
in a stroke early this year.

According to the complaint, Benjamin Hair’s G5 also contained an Event Data Recorder, a device which would have preserved critical data, including the position of the ignition switch. Despite knowing that the device could have determined whether the ignition switch played a role in the crash, the complaint claims GM allowed the vehicle—along with the recorder—to be crushed. As early as 2002, the ignition switch supplier Delphi had appraised GM that the switch was not up to minimum specifications, but GM approved it anyway. In 2005, GM redesigned the part but scrapped it, according to the complaint, because the “’price [was] too high,” and “none of the solutions represent [ed] an acceptable business case.’” The redesign would have raised the cost of manufacturing $0.57 per vehicle.

As of Tuesday, May 27, GM had not filed a response to the suit.

Phase two of Rotunda renovation begins 

Now that students are off Grounds for the summer, it’s back to work on the University of Virginia’s iconic Rotunda. Phase one of the project, completed last spring, included installation of a new oculus and copper roof, masonry repairs, and refurbishing work on the window sashes and architraves.

According to local reports, the second phase, which is expected to take about another year, will include repairs on the dome room, fire safety mechanisms, building infrastructure, and installation of new marble capitals on the columns.

The cost of the project comes in at $42.5 million, and is funded by a combination of private donations and state appropriations.

Waynesboro man uses disguised camera to take upskirt photos of Target shoppers 

A 31-year-old man was arrested last Thursday for not-so-discreetly taking upskirt photos of women at a Target store in Waynesboro. According to a report on NBC29, Joshua Norred used a camera disguised as a pen to photograph female shoppers, which was confirmed by Target security footage. Police told reporters that Norred confessed immediately upon being confronted, and he has been charged with unlawful photographing, a class one misdemeanor.