Home The strange political bedfellows in the Augusta County-Nexus Services dustup

The strange political bedfellows in the Augusta County-Nexus Services dustup

Chris Graham
Augusta County
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Politics is sure making for some strange bedfellows in Augusta County, which is blowing up over controversial comments made by the Commonwealth’s attorney at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting.

You almost need a scorecard to keep track of who’s who and where they all fit in.

I’ll do my best.

We’ll start with the Commonwealth’s attorney, Tim Martin, whose comments to the Board of Supervisors were regarding the ongoing public back-and-forth between Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith and Nexus Services Inc.

Tim Martin is a Republican, ran as one in 2015 and again in 2019.

Smith, who is nominally an independent, ran as one in 2015 and 2019, but is otherwise staunch contemporary Republican, Second Amendment sanctuary and the rest.

I think it’s safe to count both as Republicans.

Next up here is Nexus Services, which bought its space in the county’s Mill Place Commerce Park from Countryside Holdings Inc.

Countryside Holdings is managed by Frank Root, and Tom Sheets, the owner of Blue Ridge Lumber in Fishersville, is a partner in the company.

Root and Sheets are reliably Republican campaign donors, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, backing with their money the likes of Jim Gilmore, Mark Earley, Jerry Kilgore, John Avoli and Emmett Hanger, with Sheets crossing party lines to give money to Bath County State Sen. Creigh Deeds when he ran for attorney general and governor.

So, largely on the same side as Smith and Martin, right?

Well, Sheets, in comments to the News Leader regarding Martin’s message to the Board of Supervisors, doesn’t seem all that happy with Martin, specifically comments from the prosecutor to the Board of Supervisors seeming to connect him to the folks at Nexus Services, whose principals are under criminal indictment.

“Because we’re selling to somebody he doesn’t like, he calls them a criminal enterprise,” Sheets told the News Leader. “That’s not my definition, but I’m not trying to put definitions on ‘em, you know? But he’s implying that somehow we’re connected with something criminal, and I totally reject that.”

It’s actually the grand jury that first threw out the word “criminal,” returning indictments against Donovan, the CEO of Nexus Services, and his domestic and business partner, Richard Moore, a vice president at the company, in a case in which it is alleged that Donovan and Moore stole $426,000 from Zachary Cruz, the brother of Parkland High School mass shooter Nikolas Cruz.

The pair were indicted on charges of obtaining money by false pretenses, financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and conspiracy to commit a felony.

Another Nexus Services vice president, Timothy Shipe, was also indicted on obtaining money by false pretenses and conspiracy to commit a felony charges in connection with the case.

The three were arrested earlier this month on those charges and released on bond.

No trial date has yet been set.

Nexus Services, which is in the immigrant bonding business, has also been the focus of numerous state and federal criminal investigations in its short history, including a $1.5 million employment tax fraud indictment against Moore announced last December, and a 2021 lawsuit filed by attorneys general in three states, including Virginia, and the federal Consumer Protection Bureau alleging that the company preys on immigrants held in federal detention centers by concealing or misrepresenting the true nature and costs of its services.

With respect to Donald Smith, Nexus Services has focused its criticism of the sheriff on his office’s treatment of minorities, and in its efforts to raise issue with Smith has backed local Black Lives Matter members who have led local protests against Smith.

Martin told the Board of Supervisors last week that the strategy from Nexus Services with supporting the BLM protests is aimed at “creating a record such that when they are finally moved against, they can claim retaliation. That’s it.”

Also with respect to the BLM protests, there’s also an apparent tie between Nexus Services and RISE, a Waynesboro-based non-profit that focuses on education and community outreach for the local Black community.

RISE has joined Nexus Service in protests aimed at the sheriff’s office.

So, if what the folks at Nexus Services are doing is pure PR strategy, it’s putting a company that works with immigrants and supports Black Lives Matter protestors together with a local civil-rights nonprofit, which could be another bit of smart PR.

It’s worth noting here that Root and Sheets backed different candidates running against Smith in the 2015 sheriff’s race, then both supported Neil Kester in his challenge to Smith in 2019.

You can’t assume that there’s anything there other than coincidence, but that would put Root and Sheets very much on the same side, vis-à-vis Donald Smith, and now it would seem, Tim Martin, as the folks at Nexus Services.

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].