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SAAA seeks more in damages from former executive

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.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.


The polite politically correct term used in the article is "financial irregularities". Investigations have allegedly uncovered diversions of SAAA funds for personal use. The alleged beneficiary identified to date is Helen Cockrell. The investigation by the Virginia State Police is continuing. Federal investigative agencies may develop an interest to claim some authority in the alleged financial irregularities because SAAA has received Federal funds.

Based on information and belief, Helen Cockrell also is serving or has served on the Boards of many other community service agencies that are recipients of state, local, and/or Federal funding. It is my understanding some SAAA federal funds, with approval by HUD, have been transferred from SAAA to other local agencies where Cockrell is also a Board member. If these allegations are true, the current investigation is the tip of the iceberg. Is it possible Cockrell may not have acted alone in the creation of "financial irregularities".

The current interm-president knew what was going on, over half of the current directors knew what was going on (one stated that she was afraid to say anything). The Board did not do they job they were supposed to do (oversite). It is time the entire upper management and over half of the board get replaced. If I was a BOS member for the County I would not give them a dime until these people were removed. Tess, you are totally correct, more people then just Helen knew what was going on. Can't wait until Helen agrees to some form of a deal and tells all..................................

Fred,I would love to shake your hand!I have always thought that Helen could not have done what she is accused of doing without employees close to her not knowing what was happening.I have to believe that someone in that office took calls when vendors called asking for bill payment How many calls would it take to raise suspicion,and to get answers? If they did not know what was going on than they are certainly too dumb to be running this agency.You are correct that upper management should be gone.Should have been dismissed when this whole mess came to light.I also hope that none of the jurisdictions give them a cent,until these changes are implemented.Helen is not going to go quietly.She will do her best to take someone with her.I believe that whoever "found" the unmailed checks,knew exactly what was going on,and planned to get Helen so she could not implicate them.They were scared,and should be.When Helen spills the beans,then maybe ???????????????

I agree that there were more than the 3 that knew of what was going on in the "henhouse" Some of the board members had to have known what was going on, even tho they have denied it. But we can't throw out the "baby, with the bath water". If we recieve no donations, the ones that really need the services will not recieve them. We, at Luray, are just now able to pick up new people for home bound meals and to add new ones at our center. We have been on lock down for months. I think the State Police need to look into the rest of the group, including the "old board" and see who looked the other way.

I believe the board is guilty of being lazy and careless.Along with Ms. Cockrell(if guilty) I blame her "little gophers",for looking the other way,and being too afraid of losing their jobs to blow the whistle.They should also be dismissed,and replaced
with competant people.When employees are so focused on their own welfare they are afraid to stand for others,they are not needed in a program that helps our seniors.BE GONE!!!!!!!

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