By Joe Beck -- email@example.com
The Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging has upped the amount of damages it is seeking from its former executive director as a result of an outside accounting firm's investigation into the agency's troubled finances.
In an amended complaint filed against Helen Cockrell in February, the agency's lawyers identified newly uncovered information as their reason for raising the amount of damages sought from $70,000 to a total of $110,000. The agency is represented by William E. Shmidheiser III and Andrew S. Baugher of Lenhart Obenshain in Harrisonburg.
The latest complaint links the damage award to losses "sustained as a result of the Plaintiff's embezzlement/conversion and fraud in the amount of $60,000" and punitive damages of $50,000 for attorney's fees, costs and prejudgment interest."
Cockrell has also filed suit against the agency and is asking for $20,000 in sick leave and accrued annual leave that she says went unpaid after she was dismissed in early September amid discoveries of financial irregularities at the agency.
A trial has been set for May 22.
The amended complaint filed by the agency contains new accusations of misconduct against Cockrell. It states she "improperly obtained funds from SAAA in the approximate amount of $15,000 for personal expenses and expenses that were not related to the legitimate business of SAAA."
Specifically, the complaint alleges Cockrell used agency credit cards and lines of credit to pay for travel, meals and other expenses that were unrelated to agency business. It also cites a vehicle owned by SAAA that she used "as her personal car when it was to be used only for business-related purposes."
The complaint also accuses Cockrell of obtaining two checks from the agency and using them to pay balances at a business identified as RLS Associates, "when no money was due RLS Associates from SAAA.
Instead, the amended complaint states, the checks, totaling almost $8,000, were deposited in an account identified as REALLA LLC at BB&T. The amended complaint identifies the account as "an entity owned by Cockrell and/or her husband."
The amended complaint also sheds light on costs of the investigation into SAAA finances by Yount, Hyde & Barbour, a Winchester accounting firm hired by the agency.
The accountants' work, now completed, cost the agency about $45,000, according to the amended complaint.
The costs of the audit and attorneys' fees associated with the Cockrell lawsuit have deepened SAAA's financial troubles this year.
The agency has tried to contain its cash flow crisis by imposing pay cuts of 10 percent to 20 percent on managers and 5 percent on office staff.
Agency officials continue to await the results of an investigation by the Virginia State Police into possible criminal wrongdoing in the management of SAAA finances.