By Joe Beck
A Warren County grand jury Monday indicted former Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging director Helen M. Cockrell on four counts of embezzlement.
The indictment followed a lengthy state police investigation into accusations that Cockrell engaged in fraudulent and deceptive money management for personal gain while heading the SAAA.
The SAAA Board of Directors fired Cockrell in September 2011 after staff members discovered what they believed to be irregularities with how money was being handled at the agency.
The disclosure rocked SAAA's cash flow, forced staff reductions and pay cuts and cast doubt on the agency's future that lingers to date. The indictments list the dates of the alleged offenses as July 8, 2010; Aug. 24, 2010; May 20, 2011 through June 14, 2011 and June 22, 2011 through June 25, 2011.
Cockrell, who is listed as a Rileyille resident in court records, did not appear in court Monday. Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Madden said she was under no obligation to do so, but a warrant for her arrest would be issued within the next few days. If law enforcement officers locate her, she will brought before a judicial magistrate, Madden said.
Madden said he contacted an attorney a few days ago and asked the attorney to inform Cockrell that she faced the possibility of a grand jury indictment. He said he did not hear back from her.
The scandal spawned lawsuits and investigations into SAAA's finances from which the agency, an important provider of social services for elderly residents in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, is still struggling to recover.
The state's Department for the Aging conducted an initial investigation in late summer 2011 and turned over the results to the state police, who launched their own investigation. In the meantime, SAAA also hired the Winchester auditing firm of Yount Hyde & Barbour to sort out financial management practices at the agency under Cockrell.
Court documents filed by the agency's attorneys said the Board of Directors fired Cockrell after learning "she had embezzled from and defrauded (the agency) and had concealed pertinent information from the SAAA board of directors."
The accusations are contained in a counterclaim SAAA filed in response to a lawsuit Cockrell launched in challenging the reasons given for her dismissal as executive director. The agency also fired Ann McIntyre, its director of development at the time, and finance director Jim Shaffer.
Cockrell and the agency have since ended their lawsuits under a settlement in which no money changed hands.
SAAA attorney William E. "Bill" Shmidheiser III said at the time of the settlement that it called for any money the agency owed to Cockrell to be offset against whatever sum she is suspected of misappropriating.
The settlement came hours before Cockrell filed for bankruptcy with her husband. Supporting documents in the federal court filing list the couple with combined assets and liabilities of $500,001 to $1 million.