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Posted April 2, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

SAAA: Cockrell indictments are vindication

By Joe Beck

The Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging distanced itself Tuesday from indictments handed up by a Warren County grand jury that charge its former executive director with embezzlement.

A news release issued by the agency called the indictments "vindication in the eyes of the public that the agency as a whole and its board members were not involved in any criminal or wrongful activity."

Helen Cockrell, the former executive director, faces four counts of embezzlement of more than $200 each after an investigation by the Virginia State Police, one of several stemming from disclosures of questionable financial management practices at the agency in late summer 2011.

"SAAA would like to remind the community that these events occurred well in the past and that, as an agency, we have moved on and moved forward in serving the area's seniors, as we have for decades," the statement said. "Despite past challenges, we feel the future viability of SAAA is intact."

Cockrell did not appear in court on Monday when the indictments were issued and was not required to do so. Nevertheless, the clerk of courts office issued an arrest warrant Tuesday that law enforcement will attempt to serve on her.

Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Madden said he was given reason to believe that Cockrell would make an initial court appearance on Tuesday, the next scheduled day of activity for the Warren County Circuit Court. Madden said he learned of her intentions through an email Tuesday from an attorney who has been serving as an intermediary between his office and Cockrell.

"I've been contacted by the attorney, and she plans on coming to court to turn herself in," Madden said.

Calls to SAAA board chairman John Hudson were not returned.

The SAAA's statement thanked the commonwealth's attorney's office and state patrol for the investigation, adding, "we are happy to see the judicial process move forward."

The indictments contain no details on the amounts of money involved in the case, but court records filed by SAAA as part of a counterclaim targeting Cockrell's own lawsuit against the agency list several examples of alleged impropriety. The agency's countersuit accused Cockrell of fraud and embezzlement, citing fake bills paid from two checks drawn on a $200,000 line of agency bank credit to support its claim against her.

The agency counterclaim also accused Cockrell of using an agency SUV as "her personal car when it was only to be used for business-related purposes."

The vehicle was raffled off last year.

Cockrell, Ann T. McIntyre, the agency's director of development and Jim Shaffer, the finance director, were all fired in early September 2010 after the board learned that tens of thousands of dollars of checks dating back several months had gone unmailed to designated recipients.

The agency endured many months of cash flow crisis in the aftermath of the discovery. Staff reductions and pay cuts followed.

But the statement issued on Tuesday sounded a more hopeful note: "The community can trust SAAA as a reliable, stable non-profit organization operating in a transparent and accountable manner that will be serving the region for years to come."

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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