VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A former Virginia lawmaker is now out of prison and looking to start a new life.
10 On Your Side has been covering Ron Villanueva’s story — and conviction — for a couple of years.
The former Virginia Beach city councilman and state delegate was sent to prison in 2019 after pleading guilty to defrauding the U.S. government. He served less than a year due to COVID-19 and is now released from prison.
10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox sat down and talked exclusively with Villanueva about the path forward. This is Villanueva’s only interview since he walked into the Norfolk federal courthouse to turn himself in.
For Villanueva, this is a story of redemption and rising from the ashes after the fall.
“I think this experience has made me humble and there is no ego,” he said.
“I took the hardest fall, having been at the top of my game in politics and in business, and now to start over again, and I guess I’m a new version of myself — Ron V. 2.0,” he said with a smile, sitting in the law office of Gary Byler, where he has found some steady work.
The federal government said Villanueva misled the Small Business Administration, that he won government contracts that were fraudulently awarded.
“They pinged us on the contracts we had won in the past, and that’s how we got into trouble,” he said.
“We had dozens of people employed in our business, the government never got defrauded, they got fair value, all their equipment and services. The government was never overcharged and never overbilled,” he said.
Due to COVID-19 concerns in Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg, Villanueva was released to home confinement nine months into a 30-month sentence.
“I guess you could say COVID-19 got me out of prison to be back with his family. I was fortunate, but I met every criteria the federal government put forth,” he said.
While in Petersburg, Villanueva was a model prisoner, and the “jailhouse lawyer” helping others get their GED.
The lowest point was separation from his family.
“I mean your family is celebrating Christmas, and you are in a prison cell with folks that are now your new family,” he said.
He now heads up the Coastal Virginia Chamber of Commerce and talks to anyone who will listen. He accepts responsibility.
“It’s accountability, where you went wrong, how you move forward, and better yourself,” he said.
His friend group called “the Village” has family friends including 40 to 50 children in it. They all know Villanueva’s story,
“Hey you can be as powerful and popular as you want, but if you are not paying attention, you can get yourself in trouble.”
This is what he says is important: “Looking other people in the eye, and saying ‘There is a better way. You need to pay more attention. You need to have more faith in God’… I see myself as the phoenix rising, because we know the comeback is better than the setback.”