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Posted January 21, 2012 | comments 1 Comment

Criminal follow-up investigation triggered in Agency on Aging case

Aging commissioner says case has been sent to state police

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The head of the state's Department for the Aging said Friday that an investigation by his agency into the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging has triggered a follow-up criminal investigation by the state police.

James A. Rothrock, commissioner of the Department for the Aging, said his agency turned over results of an investigation it conducted into the SAAA in August to state police. Rothrock said he was following a Virginia law that requires state agency heads to report cases of suspected fraud to the superintendent of state police and the auditor of public accounts.

"That was the trigger," Rothrock said. "It would make logical sense. The whole thing emanated from my responsibilities to report to the auditor or the state police."

Sgt. F.L. Tyler, a spokesman for the state police, confirmed that an investigation into SAAA is continuing but would not elaborate. Rothrock also had no comment on details of the state police probe.

The state police investigation is one of two the agency is facing. The SAAA board of directors also has hired the Winchester auditing firm of Yount Hyde & Barbour to investigate financial management practices at the agency and the possibility that crimes were committed.

The state law under which Rothrock acted calls for agency heads to report "a reasonable possibility that fraud has occurred" among agencies or government officials they supervise.

In another issue linked to the SAAA's troubled finances, agency officials announced the winner Friday of a raffle of a 2011 Ford Escape SUV that was once used as an official agency vehicle by former Executive Director Helen Cockrell. She has been accused of fraud and embezzlement in a suit filed against her by the agency. She also has filed a lawsuit demanding that she receive accrued annual leave and sick leave, plus interest, totaling $20,000 since her dismissal Sept. 9.

The winner of the SUV was Bruce Arnold of Shenandoah, who served as the agency's board chairman in 2005. The drawing was conducted under the supervision of a BB&T bank officer in Winchester.

"I'm glad to have this project finished," said Roberta Lauder, director of resource development for SAAA.

The successful raffle will free the agency from $640 in monthly payments for the vehicle, which carried a book value that agency officials estimated to be at least $26,000. Agency officials sold all 300 available raffle tickets at a price of $100, which allowed them to earn $2,400 over the remaining $27,600 in debt paid off on the vehicle, according to a news release.

The SUV was advertised as having 21,500 miles, not all of them used for work-related purposes, according to the lawsuit the agency filed against Cockrell.

Cockrell used the SUV "as her personal car when it was to be used only for business-related purposes," the agency says in its claim against her.

Cockrell, through her attorney, has denied the accusation and other allegations of fraud and embezzlement in her court filings.

1 Comment | Leave a comment

    I am encouraged that the State Police are looking into the possibility of criminal charges. If the agency is ever to regain the public's trust, there must be assurances that those responsbile are held accountable, especially if crimes have occurred.

    The whole situation indicates that a good hard look at how the agency functions is necessary.

    How much of the revenues collected actually go directly to providing client services? How much of the revenues go toward staffing salaries for employees not directly related to providing services to the clients?

    Of course, there has to be a level of admininstration in an agency this large, but are there a few too many "assistants" at the administrative level? services? Are the salaries for the upper level management people comparable to similar human service agencies in the area, or are they out of line with what other management positions at other local human services receive? Ms. Cockrell was certainly well compensated--some may think overcompensated.

    A general salary review of all agency positions seems to be indicated.

    There seem to be many questions that need to be answered if SAAA is to move forward and regain the public trust.

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