Tidewater Auto Auction owner Michael Hockett Jr. admitted in federal court on July 18 that he tried to blackmail a councilman opposed to his multi-million dollar rezoning request. Hockett pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The court offered no promise of leniency in sentencing. The plea agreement lets Hockett avoid a trial set for Aug. 13. Earlier this year, Hockett asked the Suffolk City Council to rezone 120 acres so he could move Tidewater Auto Auction from its current location in Chesapeake, VA, to the Bennetts Creek area of Suffolk. The $13 million project came under fire from the council, particularly Councilman Dana Dickens III. Hockett hired two men to blackmail Dickens before the rezoning vote, according to court documents. The men, Matthew Peelish and Richard Burry, trailed Dickens for weeks in an attempt to find blackmail material, documents state. When those efforts failed, Hockett paid a stripper $300 to go to Dickens' office and perform while one of the men took photos of the two together, documents state. The pictures did not come out, so the men took pictures of the dancer in front of Dickens' office and presented one to Dickens the next day. When confronted, Dickens had his wife call the police, and the two men were arrested. The FBI then arrested Hockett on April 17, the scheduled day of the vote. The Suffolk City Council rejected the rezoning request 7-0 the next day. Hockett was arrested on seven charges that carry a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a $1.7 million fine. Tidewater Auto Auction had previously operated under the name of ABC Tidewater. After his arrest, Hockett severed his ties to Indianapolis-based Auction Broadcasting CO. and returned the auction to its original name. Hockett is the son of Mike Hockett Sr., founder and president of ABC Auctions.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials