Independent investigators found probable bias in the Office of the State Inspector General’s investigation (OSIG) into the Vincent Martin parole case, according to a report released Monday. The report says that OSIG’s investigation was not thorough enough and says OSIG failed to identify likely bias in its Senior Investigator Jennifer Moschetti. It also says the OSIG investigation and findings were not influenced by Governor Ralph Northam.
“It is most likely that the objectivity of OSIG Senior Hotline Investigator Jennifer Moschetti (Investigator Moschetti) in the VPB [Virginia Parole Board] Martin matter was impaired by bias and that this bias likely had an impact on the OSIG Parole Board report,” the independent investigators wrote in their report.
A team from international law firm Nixon Peabody, LLP, performed the investigation after a year of political battles over the Virginia Parole Board.
The Nixon Peabody report found that then-VPB Chair Adrianne Bennett likely believed that Martin, convicted of killing a police officer, had received an unfair trial. In 2020 the board voted to parole Martin, although the report says the board was not pressured by Bennett, according to the report.
After complaints including violations of victim notifications procedures, OSIG decided to investigate the process of Martin’s parole, with Moschetti leading the investigation. The Nixon Peabody report states that Moschetti had advocated for the investigation, and that her communications suggest that she was biased.
“Early email communications from Investigator Moschetti indicate a high probability of bias against Mr. Martin being granted parole,” the report states.
The OSIG report went through a series of edits and approvals. A final version was also sent to Governor Ralph Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer, who did not make any changes, the Nixon Peabody team found.
“Chief of Staff Mercer occasionally communicated with Inspector General Westfall about the status of the investigation, but he does not appear to have received any feedback from OSIG, or provided any feedback to OSIG, about the substance of the investigation or OSIG’s findings,” the Nixon Peabody report states.
The OSIG report was sent to the General Assembly and was released publicly by Republicans. The OSIG report alleged that Bennet had violated Commonwealth of Virginia statutes and VPB policy when paroling Martin.
Other versions of the report were leaked, including a draft, leading Virginia Republicans to call for a further investigation into the VPB. The Nixon Peabody team say sections included in drafts but not in the final OSIG report were removed because they contained unsubstantiated statements. In March 2021, Moschetti was fired and Mercer discredited the OSIG report, saying it was more focused on Martin than on the parole process.
Northam eventually requested $250,000 for an investigation through a budget provision, but Republicans opposed the proposal since it was targeted at the OSIG investigation instead of the parole board and funded through the Office of the Attorney General. Still, the proposal passed the General Assembly, and Nixon Peabody was appointed as outside investigator.
Nixon Peabody Investigation Conclusions
“The most troubling aspect of our review was OSIG’s failure to identify apparent bias in the lead investigator, which likely impacted OSIG’s investigation and report,” the Nixon Peabody team states. “We will likely never know the extent to which the lead investigator’s likely bias impacted the OSIG Parole Board Report.”
The Nixon Peabody report also states that best practices were not followed by the OSIG.
“Although most internal policies and procedures were followed, OSIG fell short in the process and methods employed to conduct its investigation, which were not of the quality necessary to ensure a thorough review,” the report states.
The independent investigator recommends mandatory training on bias awareness and improvement to internal controls to ensure objectivity. It also recommends funding dedicated general counsel for OSIG, since having the Attorney General represent both OSIG and agencies that OSIG might investigate could lead to conflicts.
Reaction to the Report
OSIG spokesperson Kate Hourin said in a statement, “The Office of the State Inspector General appreciates the independent investigation into how OSIG conducted its investigation into complaints received by the State Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline regarding the parole of Vincent Martin.”
Hourin said that OSIG performed well in a 2019 review from the Association of Inspectors General.
“The Nixon Peabody investigation noted areas where OSIG can make improvements. OSIG appreciates those recommendations. OSIG will make updates and changes where necessary to continue its practices of efficiency and effectiveness and to follow its core values of integrity, trust and ethical behaviors,” Hourin said.
In a statement, Governor Ralph Northam said, “The report confirms what we have said all along: that the Governor’s office had no involvement in the Office of the State Inspector General’s investigation or its reports, nor did anyone in the Administration pressure OSIG to reach a different conclusion. This report clearly repudiates unsubstantiated allegations repeatedly made by some legislators.”
“For OSIG to operate as intended and maintain the public trust, it’s vital that investigators do their work in an impartial manner, without bias toward a conclusion, and that information presented in public reports is valid and verified. This report shows that clearly did not happen in this case, and I expect OSIG to address its procedures and its training so that we can all trust in the truth and quality of the work it produces,” Northam stated.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin tied the report to his opponent former Governor Terry McAuliffe. “If Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam had hoped they would be absolved by this $250,000 taxpayer-funded report, they were wrong,” he said in a press release.
Attorney General candidate Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) criticized other parole decisions from the VPB. In a press release, he said, “Only when the Inspector General made findings the Democrats didn’t like did they decide to hire a law firm to ‘investigate’ and bring them pre-determined results calculated to fool the public and the press.”
Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) said in a press release Monday, “With an assist from Attorney General Herring and General Assembly Democrats, the Northam Administration got what they wanted from Nixon Peabody: a report reinforcing their incredulous efforts to deflect attention from the Parole Board’s indefensible conduct. Expending $250,000 of taxpayer funds to dress up the Administration’s defensive and preposterous talking points does not strike me as a good value.”
Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) said in a Twitter statement that Senate Republicans didn’t accept Senate Democrats’ offer to participate in vetting independent investigation firms before the investigation.
“Any suggestion that @NixonPeabodyLLP – a 700 lawyer firm – would risk their intl reputation and their independent investigation practice for the sake of @GovernorVA is utterly preposterous,” Surovell tweeted.
What the report does confirm is that all of the leaks, innuendo and grandstanding about this situation was an attempt to stir up a scandal that doesn’t exist to distract from Virginia joining the mainstream of America on criminal justice,” he said.
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