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Lee County prosecutor: Indictments not political

Walter LIttrell • Sep 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

JONESVILLE — Lee County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shawn Hines is disputing Treasurer Ikey Joe Chadwell’s contention that his prosecution of two part-time treasurer’s office employees for embezzlement is politically motivated, and is in turn questioning Chadwell’s timing in reporting the matter to state officials and to his office.

“The criminal justice system doesn’t work on a political time schedule,” Hines said Tuesday. “I do the job people elected me to do — prosecute crime — and in this case, there are two simple questions: Was there a crime committed? And in this case, yes there was. The second question is: Are you going to do something about it or are you not? And I’m not going to sweep anything under the rug for anybody.”

On Monday, Caressie Lynn Reasor, 19, Route 2, Box 281, Big Stone Gap, and Elizabeth Adriane Metcalfe, 22, Route 2, Box 35, Ewing, were indicted on charges of embezzling nearly $6,000 from the treasurer’s office while they were employed on a part-time basis. Neither is still employed in the office.

After the indictments became public on Monday, Chadwell said he learned of the irregularities around the first of the year, and as he is obligated to do as a constitutional officer, he reported his concerns to the state auditor, the Virginia State Police and the Lee County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

Chadwell then called into question the motivation of prosecutors in bringing the indictments just two months before an election, saying, “The money was added up and was then put back. The state was pleased, the State Police was pleased, but for some reason, right before election an indictment was obtained. ... They made it right, so why try to prosecute someone that made a mistake when they’ve made it right? ... The timing is suspicious. This was around the first of the year, so why is it coming up now?”

However, Virginia State Auditor of Public Accounts Walter J. Kucharski said he was not notified of the situation until early April, and only then after a call from another county treasurer who posed a hypothetical question about what is required when someone is aware of misappropriation of funds. The state auditor said he responded that law requires such matters to be reported to his office and to the Virginia State Police. Shortly thereafter, he said, Chadwell notified his office of the situation.

Kucharski stressed that the call may or may not be related to the Lee County situation and added that his office began its own investigation after the matter was brought to his attention.

Hines said shortly after Kucharski called to inform him of the suspected irregularities, Chadwell informed his office of the matter and provided details of the suspected criminal activity for his review. Because the matters involved possible criminal activity conducted from within a constitutional office, Hines requested that the Virginia State Police conduct the investigation. The investigation was finalized and findings reported to Hines during the last week of August, and the charges went before the next grand jury.

VSP officials said their office began an investigation once it was notified and turned the findings over to Hines at the conclusion.

On Tuesday, a VSP spokesman took issue with Chadwell’s contention that the agency was satisfied when it learned that the looted money had been repaid.

“We’re pleased when an investigation is over. The commonwealth’s attorney decides whether to pursue charges, but we’re not pleased nor displeased at the outcome,” the spokesman said.

Chadwell said Tuesday that he did not report the matter to state officials until April because he did not begin to suspect irregularities until mid-January when a taxpayer brought in a receipt and his computer showed the transaction had been voided. His employees then began a long process of reviewing daily records for a period of several months, and that took two to three weeks, he said.

Also, Chadwell said, while the internal investigation was being conducted, Reasor had already left her position and Metcalfe was out of town. When Metcalfe returned, Chadwell said he confronted her, she confessed and the money was repaid. It was determined that the two had been taking money from penalty and interest payments and cash paid for wheel tax decals, he said.

“There’s no money missing and no further problems,” Chadwell said, adding that all accounts were properly credited and are now in order in his office.

Chadwell said he next contacted Kucharski’s office, and personnel from that office conducted an audit “and everything turned out all right.”

Noting that he is seeking the circuit court clerk’s office in the November election, Deputy Treasurer Rita McCann is seeking his current position and Metcalfe’s father is running for school board, Chadwell questioned whether Hines’ seeking indictments is politically motivated — especially when he reported the matter in April.

Hines said as soon as he became aware of the situation he turned over the information he had to the State Police, who investigated and returned their report in late August.

“It is my understanding that this came to light in his office in January, and I wasn’t notified until the end of April. I did not do anything for political reasons. That is absurd. He seems to think I held the charges until now. I got my information at the end of August, and I went to the very next grand jury with it. I also dispute the fact that the public auditor and Virginia State Police were satisfied because the money had been paid back,” Hines said.

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