Va. Parole board scandal: $11 million suit alleges retaliation by senior state officials

Politics

Virginia Parole Board (Photo: 8News)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A former state investigator has filed a lawsuit alleging that senior officials in Governor Ralph Northam’s administration fired her after she blew the whistle on illegal conduct by the State Parole Board.

Jennifer Moschetti filed the suit on Jan. 14 in Richmond’s Federal District Court, detailing her claim that state officials retaliated against her after she blew the whistle on improper conduct by the state parole board and political interference by senior administration officials in the Office of the State Inspector General’s (OSIG) internal investigation.

According to Moschetti, that retaliation included defamation, violation of due process and her first amendment rights, culminating in her firing on March 22, 2021.

Now, Moschetti is seeking $11.3 million dollars from four senior officials and the OSIG. The named defendants include Northam’s Chief of Staff, Clark Mercer, and Brian Moran, Northam’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, as well as Moschetti’s former boss at the OSIG.

Something Rotten in the Parole Board?

The OSIG is an agency tasked with acting as a watchdog over other state agencies, enforcing regulations and investigating allegations of illegal or unethical behavior.

The OSIG was called to investigate the State Parole Board in 2020, and found that they had violated their own rules and procedures when they granted parole to a man convicted of killing a Richmond police officer in 1979.

Their investigation found that the board repeatedly failed to notify family members of the deceased of the parole hearings, revelations which led to calls for the board to resign or be fired by Northam.

But those findings were only the tip of the iceberg. A previously unpublished draft report, leaked in February of 2021, detailed more allegations that were apparently redacted from the initial public report.

The draft report – later revealed to have been authored by Moschetti with approval from her boss, State Inspector General Michael Westfall – alleged that the State Parole Board chair had directed staff to falsify documents and that her successor had destroyed evidence related to the parole hearings.

Alleged Retaliation

Moschetti claims in her lawsuit that while she did release the draft report to members of the General Assembly – an action permitted to whistleblowers under state law – she was not the one who leaked the draft report to media outlets.

The lawsuit alleges that after the draft report was leaked, Westfall, who had previously supported and approved of Moschetti’s investigation, came under pressure from senior Northam administration officials, including Chief of Staff Clark Mercer and Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran.

Moschetti claims she and Westfall were summoned to the Governor’s Office in 2020, where they were “hostilely cross-examined about the findings contained” in the official report.

On March 3, 2021, Moschetti handed her file over to the General Assembly. Two days later, on March 5, she allegedly received a home visit from internal investigators, who seized her work laptop and placed her on administrative leave.

Less than a month later, on March 22, she was fired.

Now, Moschetti’s $11 million suit has been filed in the Federal District Court of Eastern Virginia, where it will await a response from the defendants.

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