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Inspector general fires investigator who found misconduct at the Virginia Parole Board

Inspector general fires investigator who found misconduct at the Virginia Parole Board

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House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, and Del. Don Scott, discuss the Parole Board.

The Office of the State Inspector General fired the investigator who found misconduct at the Virginia Parole Board and was still investigating this year.

Jennifer A. Moschetti, who was terminated Monday, was the lead investigator on at least nine reports last year that found violations of law and policy, including the parole board freeing convicted killers without first reaching out to victim’s families as required by law. Moschetti was investigating more allegations of wrongdoing at the parole board; the status of those investigations is unclear.

Inspector General Michael Westfall declined an interview request but offered a statement through a spokeswoman: “The Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) models integrity, trust and ethical behavior and demonstrates the highest standards of honesty, respect and accountability.”

No one publicly stated the reasons for the firing, but Moschetti had acknowledged she had provided OSIG records to lawmakers.

Moschetti’s attorney, Timothy Anderson, issued a statement to reporters saying she would no longer pursue a lawsuit she filed March 8 asking a judge to grant her whistleblower protection under state law.

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, said he was stunned that many Democrats have remained silent nearly a year after concerns were raised about parole board operations. If a whistleblower who wanted to expose wrongdoing under a Republican governor were fired, he said, “people’s heads would be exploding.”

“I think that it should be a matter of great concern for transparency and for integrity in government,” he said. “The only person to have been fired is the whistleblower and that’s pitiful.”

The parole board is entangled in scandal following 2020 decisions that generated complaints to the inspector general, which investigates waste, fraud and abuse in executive branch agencies. OSIG launched administrative investigations of the parole board.

The inspector general’s investigations — during which OSIG consulted with its legal counsel at the attorney general’s office — found a pattern of violations that center on releasing inmates without first giving proper notice to state prosecutors or victims’ family members, who are allowed to provide input on the impact a release may have on them or the community before inmates are granted parole.

The board, through a secret voting process exempt from Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, considers parole for people in prison who were convicted of felonies prior to 1995, before Virginia abolished parole.

The parole board decisions that generated complaints came toward the end of the tenure of Adrianne Bennett, the former chairwoman who became a juvenile judge in Virginia Beach in April 2020.

Bennett asked that notifications to a victim’s family member be turned off while the parole board reconsidered whether to release a convicted killer the family did not want released, according to records obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. An investigation by OSIG on how the parole board handled that case had not been finished.

In her lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court, Moschetti alleged that members of Gov. Ralph Northam’s staff tried to intimidate representatives from OSIG during a meeting last year following the public release of a report on Vincent Martin, who had been freed on parole following a life sentence he received in 1980 in the killing of a Richmond police officer.

Northam’s office denied that allegation. The lawsuit also alleged that the office of Attorney General Mark Herring sanitized OSIG’s findings in the Martin investigation; Herring’s office denied those allegations.

The final report in the Martin case was six pages. Last month, news media outlets obtained a longer, 13-page report that appeared to be a draft and contained more allegations and findings. They included allegations that Bennett and the board advocated for Martin’s release and violated their ethical obligation to promote fair and impartial justice.

Westfall called for a Virginia State Police criminal investigation of how that internal OSIG document became public. In her lawsuit, Moschetti outed herself as a whistleblower and acknowledged that she gave records to state lawmakers.

Northam and some lawmakers have discussed funding for an investigation of the entire situation. Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, has called the OSIG investigation of the board biased.

Obenshain said he felt those comments have a chilling effect on the inspector general’s prowess in investigating the parole board. The inspector general is appointed by the governor.

“This is the governor’s handpicked inspector general, who’s clearly reporting to him, who clearly consulted with the attorney general’s office to produce this report,” Obenshain said. “They may not like the result of the findings, but to call them biased, that’s ridiculous.”

Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, said the firing of a whistleblower is a serious decision that raises questions that need answering.

“The Inspector General feared for his job and now a decorated employee who wrote the reports has been fired for telling the truth about misdeeds of the Parole Board,” Newman said in an email.

Former House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican candidate for governor, said Northam’s administration “should be firing the people who actually broke the law — not the one who called them out on it.

“This sends a message to all state employees that if they speak out when they see a dereliction of duty, there will be consequences for them rather than for the perpetrators of wrongdoing.”

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