State investigator accuses Northam’s staff of intimidation in whistleblower lawsuit over Va. Parole Board reports

Virginia News

Northam's chief of staff said claims are "unsubstantiated" as governor says discussions of an independent investigation are underway.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — An investigator with the Office of the State Inspector General claims she was suspended two days after seeking whistleblower protections and sending documents detailing alleged wrongdoing by the Virginia Parole Board to state lawmakers.

The OSIG employee, identified as Jennifer Moschetti in a lawsuit filed Monday in Richmond Circuit Court, claims Michael Westfall, the state inspector general, put her on “pre-disciplinary leave” on March 5 after she reported misconduct claims against him, the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office.

Moschetti was tasked with reviewing multiple complaints involving the parole board. The lawsuit against Westfall disclosed she was the investigator behind the previously unseen draft report into the parole of Vincent Martin, who was convicted of killing a Richmond police officer in 1979, that drew heavy criticism after it was leaked in February.

Moschetti denies sharing any of her work on the investigation with the media or lawmakers last month, but the suit claims fears of being “used as a scapegoat” compelled her to seek protections under the Virginia Whistle Blower Act.

On March 3, Moschetti anonymously provided a partial copy of her work to the leadership in the Virginia General Assembly. The lawsuit states Moschetti worked with federal authorities investigating complaints against the parole board and reported alleged misconduct by Westfall for failing to publish the additional violations in the draft report to lawmakers.

Two days later, two OSIG employees visited Moschetti at home to give her a letter informing her she was being put on paid leave pending an investigation, the suit alleges.

This photo shows a report provided by the Virginia Office of the State Inspector General to The Associated Press on Thursday, July 30, 2020, in response to an open records request. The report, which details the findings of an investigation into the Virginia Parole Board, was almost entirely redacted by inspector general’s office. (AP Photo/Aaron Jackson)

The lawsuit claims OSIG also seized Moschetti’s work laptop and employee access card. Moschetti sent a letter to Westfall that day through her attorney, Tim Anderson, identifying herself as a whistleblower and demanding she be taken off leave.

“The state inspector who is the champion of people being whistleblowers is now suspending my client for being a whistleblower,” Anderson told 8News Tuesday.

Anderson, a Virginia Beach lawyer running for a House of Delegates seat as a Republican, represented state Sen. Amanda Chase in her failed effort to force the GOP to hold a statewide primary.

Moschetti alleges an investigation from Virginia State Police into how the draft was leaked is a tactic to harass her and a violation of her whistleblower protections. Corrine Geller, a state police spokeswoman, confirmed OSIG requested an investigation last week.

Moschetti is suing Westfall, who she claims put her on leave “in an effort to insulate his own position as State Inspector General,” in order to be reinstated.

Virginia code states, “No employer may discharge, threaten, or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against a whistle blower whether acting on his own or through a person acting on his behalf or under his direction.”

The Office of the State Inspector General declined to comment on Tuesday.

Moschetti also claims she and Westfall were “interrogated” by members of Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration after a redacted report into the parole board’s handling of Vincent Martin’s case was leaked.

The lawsuit asserts the meeting with Clark Mercer, Northam’s chief of staff, and Brian Moran, Virginia’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, was meant to “intimidate” the inspector general and investigators for the state’s watchdog agency.

A spokeswoman for the governor said members of the administration regularly meet with OSIG staff to go over the agency’s findings and reports, but emphatically denied allegations of intimidation.

“I want to be clear — no one in the Governor’s Office has ever intimidated or attempted to intimidate anyone in the Office of the State Inspector General,” Alena Yarmosky, a Northam spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Moschetti said “a more comprehensive report” on Martin’s case existed during the meeting but Westfall refused to release it to the governor’s office, the lawsuit claims. The lawsuit alleges the attorney general’s office played the key role in redacting the draft report but does not go into any further detail about the claims.

“OAG did not shorten the report,” Charlotte Gomer, a spokesperson from the AG’s office, said in a statement. “Any decisions about what would be addressed in the report, including whether criminal allegations were proper in an administrative report, were made by OSIG and we would be happy for the client agency to be fully transparent about its process, including clarifying any input it had received from this office.”

Clark Mercer, the governor’s chief of staff, addresses allegations of intimidation in the whistleblower lawsuit with Gov. Northam behind him. (Screenshot from March 9, 2021 press conference/via feed from VPM)

Northam (D) reiterated previous statements in support of parole during a press conference Tuesday on the state’s COVID-19 response, adding discussions of an independent investigation were already underway.

Mercer, who also addressed the claims during the presser, alleged a political ploy to hurt the Northam administration and other state leaders. He added state officials and the parole board believed OSIG investigators were biased and called for a meeting to discuss the six-page report that was redacted.

“We went into that meeting thinking there was bias and lack of objectivity,” Mercer said as he recalled the meeting. “We left that meeting knowing that there was bias and lack of objectivity in that report.”

Westfall signed an affidavit under oath at the governor’s request, asserting the Office of the State Inspector General initially only provided Northam with a final six-page report into an investigation of the Virginia Parole Board’s handling of Vincent Martin’s case. 

The affidavit, provided to 8News, stated Northam played no role in editing a previously unseen 13-page draft report that was leaked to the media and prompted a bipartisan call for a General Assembly investigation last week. 

Ralph Northam, Eileen Filler-Corn, Brian Moran
FILE – In this March 12, 2020 file photo, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, front, gesturers during a news conference as House speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, right, and Secretary of Public safety Brian Moran, left, look on at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

The final report, shared with Northam on July 23, 2020, found the board and its former chairwoman, Adrianne Bennett, violated state law and its own procedures before Martin was paroled in June 2020. The draft report suggested additional misconduct claims by the board in Martin’s case that may have been withheld in the final report.

The longer version includes claims that Bennett directed employees to falsify a report and violate their own ethics. “On March 30, 2020, Former Chair Bennett requesting that a Hearing Examiner falsify a report as their own within Martin’s file,” the report said. The draft report also alleges that Bennett failed to fulfill her duty to remain impartial, violating the state constitution. 

Westfall said claims in the draft report were not included in last year’s final report because they “were not supported” after additional review.

Two Virginia lawmakers, state Sens. John Bell (D-Loudoun) and Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania), cited “serious” and “damaging allegations” of misconduct surrounding the release Martin, who was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty in the killing of Richmond patrolman Michael P. Connors in 1979, after the draft report was made public.

An unredacted version of the final six-page report, shared by Republican lawmakers in August 2020, specifically said the board failed to reach out to Connors’ family or the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney as required. GOP legislators called on the entire Parole Board to resign in the aftermath but they did not and Northam’s administration deflected pressure to replace them.

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