Northam’s office didn’t interfere with inspector general’s probe into high-profile parole case, law firm’s report concludes

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam’s office did not interfere with the state inspector general’s report that substantiated allegations of wrongdoing in how the Virginia Parole Board approached a high-profile case last year but the lead investigator in the probe did show signs of bias, an outside law firm concluded a report released Monday.

Accusations of intimidation were hurled at Northam’s administration in a whistleblower lawsuit from former state investigator Jennifer Moschetti and after audio of a tense meeting between members of Northam’s office and the Office of the State Inspector General was leaked in April.

Moschetti, who was eventually fired after filing her lawsuit, led OSIG’s investigation into complaints that the parole board failed to follow protocol in the parole process of Vincent Martin, who was convicted of killing Richmond patrolman Michael P. Connors in 1979.

Virginia Secretary of Public Safety And Homeland Security Brian Moran, Northam’s chief of staff Clark Mercer and others in the governor’s office met with Inspector General Michael Westfall and at least two OSIG investigators on Aug. 14, 2020, after Republicans released the unreacted version of OSIG’s six-page report to the public.

Outrage swelled after a 13-page OSIG report with far more damaging allegations against the state’s parole board members was shared with the media in February, leading Northam to ask the General Assembly to set aside $250,000 to hire a law firm to investigate the OSIG report into Martin’s parole.

The law firm selected by the attorney general’s office, Nixon Peabody, determined the longer report into the parole board was a draft that OSIG decided not to publish due to its “unsubstantiated allegations.”

“Reports subsequently disseminated through the media containing unsubstantiated allegations were simply drafts,” the 65-page report asserts. “There was an extensive internal editing and review process, through which OSIG determined that certain allegations proposed in earlier drafts were not supported by the evidence and should be deleted.”

The firm’s report, which described Moschetti as “most likely biased” in the parole board probe, disputed claims in her whistleblower lawsuit that Northam’s staff had tried to intimidate investigators.

“OSIG’s investigation and findings were not improperly influenced by any third parties, including the Office of the Governor and the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security,” the law firm concluded.

Nixon Peabody also found the investigation from the inspector general’s office “should have been more thorough” and recommended additional training for its investigators. The firm also suggested that instead of having the attorney general’s office represent OSIG, funding should go towards its own general counsel “to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and potential conflicts.” 

Following the report’s release Monday, Northam shared his appreciation to the state legislature for funding the outside investigation and reiterated his views on the importance of parole.

“The report confirms what we have said all along: the Governor’s office had no involvement in the Office of the State Inspector General’s investigation or its reports, nor did anyone in the Administration pressure OSIG to reach a different conclusion,” Northam said in a statement. “This report clearly repudiates unsubstantiated allegations repeatedly made by some legislators.”

In his own statement, Virginia House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) blasted the report as a “campaign document” that aimed to attack Moschetti’s character and not delve into all of the allegations against the parole board.

“The results were entirely predictable: a report from a partisan Democratic law firm hired by the Democratic Attorney General that claims a report showing Democrats in a bad light is biased. Their continued assault on a whistleblower is evident in this report.”

Every Republican in the state legislature voted against the budget amendment to fund the outside review due to decision to limit the scope of the investigation to only the OSIG report on Martin’s case. GOP leaders in each chamber raised concerns over the influence Northam’s office possibly had on its release and demanded for a deep dive into all the allegations and the entire parole board. 

Democrats argued the third-party investigators would be allowed to interview all parties involved and additional investigations could be warranted.

Republicans in the Virginia Senate also issued a response Monday denouncing the outside review as a “whitewash” and an attempt to use the inspector general’s office as a scapegoat.

“Make no mistake, this is not a political issue. Capriciously granting early release to violent felons neither increases public safety nor the public’s confidence in our system of justice,” Sen. Mark Obsenshain (R-Rockingham) said in a statement.

“Virginians will be dealing with the real and frightening consequences of this scandal for years to come.”

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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