Three Weeks After We Uncover a Judge and Attorney’s Potential Conflict of Interest, VR Research Starts Asking Questions Through a Front Group
A sequence of events leads us to ask if Sentara Healthcare is trying to shoot the messenger rather than address accountability questions that we and others have raised. Sentara is the Virginia-based, tax-exempt, charitable health care company that’s amassed $6 billion in net assets.
We’re probing how Sentara uses government to crush competitors, the lengths they are going to do that and the impacts on average citizens.
On Feb. 22, we published the second of a two-part investigative story on potential conflicts of interest by Norfolk Circuit Chief Judge Mary Jane Hall and longtime Sentara outside counsel Jamie B. Martin. They worked together for Sentara when Hall was in private practice for four years. Neither appears to have publicly reported this potential conflict of interest. And Hall chose not to recuse herself before ruling in favor of Sentara’s efforts to block Chesapeake Regional Medical Center’s application to open an open-heart surgery center.
On Mar. 1, we filed an ethics complaint with the Virginia State Bar against Ms. Martin. The Bar has since dismissed our complaint, saying, in essence, nothing to see here.
VR Research and Request Archive
Two weeks later, on March 15, a person identified as “Robert Burden” of “Request Archive” filed a records request with Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) asking questions about Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) and any ties to EVMS. We discovered the Request Archives FOIA through our own FOIA to EVMS.
We were unable to find any independent contact information – including a website or LinkedIn page – for “Request Archives.” But we were able to determine that Request Archives is an alternative “trading” name for the opposition research firm VR Research.
Here’s how VR Research describes itself on its website:
“At VR Research we analyze public records to help our clients make informed strategic decisions and maximize opportunities as they arise. We develop strategic knowledge for corporate, public affairs and government relations campaigns.”
Questions About Robert Burden
We’d like to understand if Robert Burden is an actual person. And, if he is, we want to know if he’s employed by VR Research and why VR Research appears to have tried to hide its identity when filing a FOIA request seeking to learn more about C&BP.
Is VR Research working for Sentara or Williams Mullen either directly or indirectly? We have been unable to contact VR Research principals Austin Burke and Mike Rice.
We also contacted Sentara spokesperson Danya Bushy to ask if there is a direct or indirect vendor relationship between the tax-exempt, charitable health care giant and VR Research. Bushey also did not respond to our request for comment.
If Request Archives isn’t an actual company, and Robert Burden is a false name, those might not be simple deceptions.
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Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.