‘One question leads to another’ in ongoing criminal probe of county government

Special prosecutor hopes to wrap up investigation by early summer

In the words of one source, “one question leads to another” in the ongoing criminal investigation surrounding Rappahannock County government procurement practices.

Speaking this week on condition of anonymity, the source told the Rappahannock News that the probe, which was launched by the Virginia State Police in February 2017 and is now in the lap of Culpeper County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Walther, remains an ongoing “criminal investigation.”

“It is ongoing, one question leads to another,” said the source, referring to Walther’s investigation as “criminal” in nature.

Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker signed a written order on Nov. 13, 2017 naming Walther as special prosecutor in the case. The appointment came after Rappahannock County Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff recused himself from the probe, telling the Circuit Court “that he is so situated with respect to the accused in this matter that it would be improper for him to act as Attorney for the Commonwealth in this case, and requested that a special prosecutor be appointed.”

Referring to Walther’s subsequent investigation, the source declined to say whether charges are likely in the case.

“If there is an indictment” it would be handed down by a regular grand jury, the source stated.

Walther, the source continued, hopes to wrap up the investigative phase of the case “within a month or two” and then present his findings.

Acting as a full-time prosecutor, a commonwealth’s attorney — similar to a “district attorney” in other states — represents the citizens of Virginia in prosecuting criminal matters. Often a commonwealth’s attorney will appoint one or more assistants to handle cases under his or her supervision.

The “mandatory” state police probe was launched in February of last year in the wake of a letter that same month from Rappahannock County Treasurer Debbie Knick to the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors. Any such investigation is automatically triggered if there is suspicion of wrongdoing, intentional or not.

In the correspondence, the county treasurer cited instances where one or more employees failed to follow proper expense and payroll procedures, or else did not conduct sufficient oversight of budgeting and spending.

The investigation, state authorities said, examined spending and procurement activities beginning in 2016, with an eye toward possible misappropriation of funds by one or more Rappahannock County employees.

Virginia State Police Special Agent W.W. Talbert delivered the state’s findings to Goff in early September 2017. At that time, Talbert said the case would remain “open” until the commonwealth’s attorney decides to either prosecute or drop the charges.

Goff earlier this year also declined to answer whether appointing a special prosecutor, in this case Walther, meant that criminal charges are pending as a result of the Virginia State Police investigation.

“That’s up to the special prosecutor to determine,” Goff said.

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

Those connected with the case have declined to identify anybody who either might be targeted or are simply under scrutiny for carelessness.

— Patty Hardee contributed to this report

About John McCaslin 274 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.