Virginia Parole Board Whistleblower Sues over Alleged Retaliation; Northam Stands by Parole Board

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An Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) employee who helped investigate the Virginia Parole Board (VPB) is suing Inspector General Michael Westfall. Jennifer Moschetti’s lawsuit, filed on Monday, states that she was placed on pre-disciplinary leave on March 5, days after she approached the General Assembly as an anonymous whistleblower. On Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer said the lawsuit was motivated by politics and criticized the OSIG report.

Moschetti investigated seven parole cases. A six-page copy of the report was released to the media last fall; in late February a longer 14-page draft version of the report was leaked to the media. The reports detail alleged misconduct and cover-ups by VPB officials in granting parole, particularly in the case of Vincent Martin.

In a Tuesday press conference, Mercer said Northam stands by the decision to parole Martin.

“It is one of, if not the, most high-profile parole decisions in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was a great and bold decision by the parole board and one that we stand by strongly,” Mercer said.

Mercer criticized the report, saying that while it should have been focused on process violations, it instead commented on Martin himself.

“There’s substantial commentary on the kind of individual that Mr. Martin is that has nothing to do with the parole process that they were supposed to look at,” he said.

According to WTVR, the draft report alleged former VPB Chair Adrianne Bennett asked staff members to falsify records, and Bennett herself advocated in favor of Martin instead of acting impartially, according to the Virginia Mercury. The draft report also implicates current Chair Tracy Chapman who allegedly falsified or destroyed records, according to WTVR. The six-page finalized report also alleged that VPB violated other regulations, including victim notification requirements.

Moschetti’s court documents state that in the investigation she worked with Westfall, her supervisor. A ten-page version of the report was sent to the Office of the Attorney General, where it was redacted down to the final six-page version.

“State Inspector General Westfall further certified the findings of Petitioner for an additional offender (name redacted), VLM, with substantial violations of policy and law by members of the Virginia Parole Board in granting the parole of VLM which were detailed in a executive summarized 10-page report,” Moschetti’s Petition for Declaratory Judgement states. “That report was submitted by Westfall to the Office of the Attorney General where it was redacted and reduced to a six-page report.”

According to the court document, Westfall was afraid he would be fired as a result of the VPB investigation. Moschetti’s court document states that she never leaked the report to the media. After the leak of the 14-page report, Westfall declared that state police would investigate the leak.

Fearing that she would be scapegoated, on March 3 Moschetti anonymously approached the General Assembly as a whistleblower through her lawyer Tim Anderson. On March 5, OSIG staff went to Moschetti’s home, informing her that she was on pre-disciplinary leave for alleged misconduct. That day, Moschetti, through Anderson, unmasked herself as whistleblower and demanded that she be taken off leave.

Her lawsuit argues that being placed on leave was a retaliation for acting as a whistleblower, even though she followed legal restrictions by reporting the alleged misconduct to the General Assembly.

“Petitioner has, in good faith, reported alleged misconduct of the Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security and the Office of the Governor for failing to take actions to correct the wrongdoing of the Parole Board to an Appropriate Authority, namely the leadership of the Virginia General Assembly,” her court document states.

Moschetti is asking the court to declare her a protected whistleblower, order Westfall to reinstate her, and order Westfall to stop threatening and harassing her.

In the press conference, Mercer said the lawsuit was politically motivated, and cited Anderson’s extensive history filing political lawsuits as well as Anderson’s campaign for the 83rd House of Delegates seat.

Mercer said, “To retain an overtly political stakeholder is disappointing. We need serious people to look into this.”

Anderson replied on Facebook,Today, Governor Northam held a press conference and his Chief of Staff addressed the whistleblower lawsuit. The beginning of the public smear and disinformation campaign starts today. Clark Mercer uses the Governor’s platform to attack my character as a lawyer stating I am not a serious lawyer because I am also a candidate for office.

In the press conference, Mercer concluded, “We stand by our assertion that [the report] was biassed, it was not objective, and we need to get an independent group to come in and take a look at it.”

The ongoing release of new information around the parole board has led to calls for a new investigation. Several Republican gubernatorial candidates have issued statements on the parole board.

“It is clear that members of Virginia’s Parole Board failed to follow through on their responsibilities to the Commonwealth. Yet, Ralph Northam has failed to take action, eroding trust and confidence in what should be an impartial administrative board,” Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said in a press release last week.

He said, “When I’m Governor, I’ll clean house: Fire the entire Parole Board and restore integrity and accountability. Because we need a Governor who protects the Commonwealth, not the criminals.”

On Tuesday, Glenn Youngkin said in a press release, “The McAuliffe-Northam parole board scandal is rotten to the core.”

He added, “The politicians are all pointing their fingers and refusing to take responsibility. We need a federal investigation to get the facts and hold people accountable. It’s time to clean house in Democrat-run Richmond.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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