Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie C. Smith was the subject of an investigation last fall by the FBI, the sheriff confirmed this week.
Though the FBI would not comment — “The FBI cannot confirm or deny any of our investigations,” as supervisory agent Bob Hilland in Fredericksburg put it on Monday — Smith said she was cleared of any wrongdoing by the federal investigators, whom she said closed their inquiry the first week of last November.
According to sources who would speak only on the condition they remained anonymous, the investigation was prompted by a member of “an outside law enforcement agency,” who contacted someone other than the sheriff at the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) with allegations that Smith had “tipped off” a suspect who lived in Rappahannock County and was thought to be involved in a drugstore robbery nearby. Smith said she had tried to contact the suspect at the request of a Prince William County investigator, in an effort to get him to cooperate, and did nothing wrong.
That suspect was sentenced in Rappahannock County this week to four years in jail on drug and gun charges.
“I can’t tell you what it felt like being the subject of an investigation,” Smith said Monday. “I would never tip off any drug dealer, or help any criminal to escape from justice. You ask any of our former sheriffs who know me, or anyone who knows me.”
No one, including Smith, would name the RCSO officer who reportedly brought the matter to the attention of Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff.
Goff — who, sources said, subsequently turned the matter over to the FBI in September — would not comment other than to say: “I am not aware of any problems whatsoever with the sheriff or her department. We work closely with them every day, and she and her deputies all do a wonderful job.”
Shortly after the FBI closed its investigation, in the second week of last November, RCSO chief investigator J.C. Welch left the sheriff’s office, and was replaced by Shawn Walters. The personnel change was not noted in any public announcement by the sheriff’s office.
Welch did not respond to repeated phone messages and emails requesting his comment.
Welch, along with then-RCSO Chief Deputy Chris Williams, had run unsuccessfully against Smith in 2007, when she won her first election to the post, after having served for nearly 20 years as a dispatcher, jailer, patrol deputy and eventually chief investigator for the department.
Shortly after she took office in 2008, she hired Welch as the RCSO’s chief investigator, a post he retained until last November. In 2011, she was reelected to a second term, defeating Culpeper Police Sgt. Andy Berry, a lifelong Sperryville resident.
Asked if the investigation was politically motivated, a source familiar with the case said: “I don’t think this started as anything political.”
Asked if she plans to run again in 2015, Smith said: “I will. There’s never been any question in my mind.”