Ex-treasurer pleads guilty to misusing RCSSA funds

Photo of Amy Grigsby Dodson with the RCHS mascot from a public Facebook page.
Photo of Amy Grigsby Dodson with the RCHS mascot from a public Facebook page.

Thirty-four-year-old Amy Grigsby Dodson of Sperryville – former treasurer of the Rappahannock County Schools Sports Association (RCSSA) – pleaded guilty to seven felonies and one misdemeanor in circuit court Monday (March 12) related to the embezzlement of funds from a nonprofit organization.

Though the seven felony embezzlement charges each carry a penalty of one to 20 years in prison, if Judge Jeffrey W. Parker accepts the proposed plea agreement, Dodson will serve 60 days in jail for misdemeanor embezzlement, and will return $25,000 to the RCSSA. Dodson, who left the courthouse on a $5,000 bond, will be sentenced May 14 at 9 a.m.

When contacted by phone Tuesday (March 13), Dodson declined to comment on the guilty pleas, saying that she was advised by attorney Douglas Baumgardner not to speak with the press until after sentencing.

The charges stemmed from a Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office investigation that began Feb. 6, when former RCSSA president Amy Hitt called the Sheriff’s Office to report that money was missing from the nonprofit’s account at Union First Market Bank in Washington; their $15,000 credit line had also been maxed out.

According to a search warrant affidavit filed Feb. 8, unauthorized purchases charged to the RCSSA account went to: “Microsoft X-Box Live, Rappahannock Electric, Sprint Wireless, Verizon, Apple iTunes, Bill Turner Inc., Kings Dominion Web, Shaw’s Services, Wal-Mart, Sheetz, Shell Oil, McDonalds, Chipotle, Hillsdale, Newspaper Direct, Rose Hill Vet, Martin’s, Petco, Warrenton Florist, Los Portillos, Fandango, Rhapsody, Aarons online payment, Surfside Motel in Nags Head, N.C., Front Royal Co Op, Kmart, Bloom, Stubhub and Kubraezpayfee.”

Baumgardner announced in Monday’s court session that $21,000 of the $25,000 restitution defined in the plea agreement had been raised by Dodson and is being held in trust. He told Judge Parker that Dodson would produce more by the date of her sentencing.

After Dodson pleaded guilty to all eight counts of embezzlement in succession, Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff read the prosecution’s proffer of evidence. He said that in July 2011, Dodson became the treasurer of RCSSA, an organization formed with the intention of raising money for school sports. Goff then pointed out that there were RCSSA members present in the courtroom (including president Amy Burnett, who accepted that position in January). As treasurer, the prosecutor said Dodson had access to the RCSSA savings account and a line of credit. From July to December of 2011, Goff continued, Dodson wrote several checks to herself and paid personal bills using the RCSSA account, checks forged using the name Amy Hitt.

He then noted that Dodson had the authority to pay RCSSA bills and order supplies, but not to pay personal bills or make other transactions. When confronted by a former RCSSA member, Goff said Dodson confessed to Hitt about making several unauthorized purchases, during a phone conversation recorded by Sheriff’s Office investigators. Upon further questioning at the Sheriff’s Office, he said, Dodson confessed to several officers present, including Capt. J.C. Welch and Sheriff Connie C. Smith.

Goff next presented eight exhibits, including a $500 personal bill to Bill Turner Inc., an online bank payment for $415 to Aaron’s [furniture rentals], and five forged checks payable to herself (with the signature of Amy Hitt) for amounts of $980 to 1,338 – and a misdemeanor purchase of $80 at Wal-Mart in Culpeper.

If the plea agreement is accepted by Parker, Dodson will serve 60 days in jail for the Wal-Mart purchase, and the other two- and three-year felony prison sentences will be suspended in their entirety.

Judge Parker asked that a pre-sentencing report be delivered by the May 14 sentencing hearing, at which time he’ll announce if he accepts the agreement. (If Parker rejects it, Dodson can ask that her case be retried in another court and with another judge.)

“The plan from the start was to make RCSSA as whole as they could be,” Goff said, noting that the length of jail sentence outlined in the plea deal related to the fact that Dodson provided $21,000 of the restitution on that day. “The legitimate goal of the prosecution is to try to put the funds that were stolen back into the hands of the victim – and that’s what the victims wanted in this case, the RCSSA board.”

RCSSA president Amy Burnett, who took over the nonprofit a month after the last unauthorized purchases were made, sat in the courtroom beside her husband and another board member to watch Dodson plead guilty to eight of what she said were about 80 unauthorized purchases made through RCSSA.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it – how someone could steal from our children or this community,” Burnett said after the hearing. “I’m glad that she admitted her guilt and that there is some level of restitution. As far as anything else, I guess we’ll have to wait and see until sentencing. Whatever the outcome, it doesn’t change the fact that a trusted member of our group did this. She’s a parent. She was a substitute teacher. She was a coach. And she’s just let so many people down . . .

“And I’d also like to say that as an organization, we’ve definitely learned some lessons, and we’re looking forward to putting this behind us and moving forward,” Burnett continued. “We’re committed to being stronger than ever, and hope that the community will continue to support our cause, which is the kids and the athletics in this county . . .  

“We’ve been told that organizations that have been victims of embezzlement are very lucky to get anything back at all. So $25,000, while it’s not everything that she took, I’m thankful that it’s at least that much and it makes it possible for us to pay down the debt that she incurred in RCSSA’s name. But I’m also worried, I’m just worried. On May 14, I just hope everything goes through.”

Also in circuit court March 12

Antonio De La Cruz, 18:

After pleading guilty in December to five felony breaking and entering and grand larceny charges related to the theft of property from the Grand View Road home of William Rowland (which was allegedly burned down by four teenagers on Aug. 20) and from the Rappahannock Elementary School last summer, 18-year-old Antonio De La Cruz of Boston was sentenced in Circuit Court Monday to a total of 13 years in prison – with all but the seven months of time already served in Rappahannock Jail suspended. If De La Cruz were a U.S. citizen, he would’ve walked free that day. However, as an illegal alien, he will be handed over to federal immigration authorities upon his release and deported.  

Goff told the court that there is no restitution in the case – because all of the stolen items were recovered.

“Unfortunately, this is another example of a young man brought to this country by his family as a young boy and an illegal alien, and will be deported once he is released from incarceration – otherwise I’d be arguing for supervised probation,” De La Cruz’s attorney, Jud Fischel, told circuit court Judge Parker. “These charges are the result of a series of events foolishly committed by the young man, with a group of other young men.”

Travis Edward Hilley, 21:

Travis Edward Hilley of Washington pleaded guilty Monday (March 12) to an amended charge of aggravated sexual battery by force or physical helplessness, resulting from a late-night Sept. 30 sexual encounter Hilley had with an 18-year-old female in his Gid Brown Hollow Road home. Hilley had been facing a more serious count of rape of a helpless victim – and an unrelated child pornography charge resulting from the Oct. 2 discovery of a 19-second video clip showing an nine- to 10-year-old girl engaged in oral sex with an adult male – but a series of uncertainties in both cases led Judge Parker to allow the amended charge, and to pass on the child porn charge. He will be sentenced on the sex charge June 26.

Parker found there to be sufficient evidence for a guilty finding of aggravated sexual battery – a charge that carries a one- to 20-year prison sentence – but said there was not enough evidence for a finding of guilt in the possession of child pornography, since the computer where the video clip was found was accessible by several others. He noted that the charge could be further argued in another court, if the prosecution were willing. Goff noted that the victim was present at the hearing and was agreeable to the proposed disposition.

According to Goff: On Sept 30, the adult female victim was a guest at Hilley’s home. While there she ate Ramen noodles made by him and smoked marijuana, Goff said, adding that there were multiple other people there at the residence, also smoking marijuana.

After the others went to sleep or left, the victim said she became dizzy and partially paralyzed, “unable to move her limbs and unable to talk,” Goff said. Hilley then undressed the victim partially on the couch in the living room and had sexual intercourse against her will, Goff said, adding that when the victim regained consciousness after some time, she was able to leave the property.

The victim went to Fauquier Hospital for a rape exam, Goff said, but was told that there weren’t the proper facilities there, referring her to the State Police. He said an exam recovered Hilley’s DNA. The victim then placed a phone call to Hilley, recorded by the State Police. Hilley acknowledged that they knew each other and expressed remorse for having sex with her, Goff said, but didn’t admit to rape. There were no date rape substances found in the victim’s blood – other than THC – though the blood sample would have needed to have been gathered within four to six hours of the sexual encounter, he added.

Anthony Robert Ahrens, 26:

The grand jury also voted Monday to indict Anthony Robert Ahrens, 26, on a charge of maiming, injuring or torturing a companion animal, resulting in its death. Ahrens, formerly of Battle Mountain Lane, will next appear before the Circuit Court April 24 at 9 a.m.

The former Inn at Little Washington sous chef and ex-Cafe Indigo executive chef is accused of throwing his brown tabby cat into a dog kennel that housed his two Alaskan malamute dogs on Christmas Eve – because, he told the court in a March 6 preliminary hearing, the cat had bitten his finger.