State Police deliver report of possible ‘embezzlement’

Commonwealth’s Attorney Goff weighs any evidence of wrongdoing

After a six-month investigation into charges of misappropriation of funds by Rappahannock county officials, Virginia State Police Special Agent W.W. Talbert has delivered his report to Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff.

In a phone call last Friday, Talbert declined to provide details about the investigation.

“I can’t give out information on an open investigation,” he said. “It won’t be closed until there’s either a denial to prosecute or charges dropped.”

When asked to clarify if that statement meant he had discovered criminal activity, Talbert replied: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I actually found a criminal offense.”

He indicated that a finding of criminality would be up to Goff.

In a written statement in May, VSP spokesperson Corinne Geller said, “[Releasing the report] would be left up to the commonwealth’s attorney to decide — if he/she wants to release a statement or investigative summary.”

Goff confirmed in an email Tuesday that he has received the State Police findings. He had no further comment for the record.

The investigation was touched off by a letter from Rappahannock County Treasurer Debbie Knick to the county’s Board of Supervisors in February of this year. In the letter, Knick accused her own county government of mismanagement, including failure to follow proper expense and payroll procedures, and lack of oversight of budgeting and spending.

In particular, Knick sharply criticized then-Rappahannock County Administrator Debbie Keyser, who had been in her post almost eight months, for the “amount of mistakes and the apparent lack of oversight and miscommunication” when conducting official business.

She also cited cases of “overpayment” of county funds, including an instance involving former Rappahannock County Commonwealth’s Attorney Peter Luke and his successor Art Goff.

In addition, Knick called out what might best be described as sloppy oversight by the administrator’s office of county credit card purchases by employees.

The investigation began this past March and examined spending and procurement activities beginning in 2016. Everyone connected with the investigation declined to name names of possible employees being targeted.

In a phone call in August, Sgt. David Ostwinkle of the State Police Bureau of Legal Affairs described the general activity reported as “a misappropriation of public funds” and characterized potential damages or injuries as “currency embezzlement.”

Clarification:

In last week’s Rappahannock News article about a Virginia State Police investigation of the Rappahannock County government for alleged misappropriation of funds, a statement could be misinterpreted surrounding former Commonwealth’s Attorney Peter Luke and his successor Art Goff in an instance of overpayment of county funds.

A letter in February from county treasurer Debbie Knick to the Board of Supervisors addressed an allegation that Luke and Goff had been overpaid. In fact, Luke had noticed a second payment and brought it to Knick’s attention. She processed the overpayment. Knick also discovered that Goff had not been overpaid, but in fact had not yet been paid for several hours of work.

As a constitutional officer, Knick was obligated under state law to report her allegations to state authorities, who then determine the need for a deeper investigation.

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About Patty Hardee 163 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.

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