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Sentencing postponed again for former SAAA chief

By Joe Beck

The sentencing of Helen Cockrell, former chief executive officer of the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, on three felony counts of embezzlement has been postponed for the fourth time.

Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp rescheduled the sentencing from July 11 to Aug. 8, which will be almost a year after Cockrell entered Alford pleas to two of the embezzlement counts and a simple guilty plea, also to embezzlement.

Hupp rescheduled the sentencing last week after Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Madden asked for a new date.

"I contacted my witnesses and one of my witnesses was unavailable on that day, so it was pushed off to August," Madden said in an interview Monday, adding, "I'm not happy, but that's the way it is."

Two previous sentencing hearings scheduled for Jan. 10 and March 18 were postponed over a scheduling conflict involving defense attorney Todd Gilbert and the legislative calendar in Richmond, where Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked over the state budget and expansion of Medicaid.

Nancie Kie has represented Cockrell in her court appearances but has asked to have Gilbert, who is a member of the same law firm, to be available at the sentencing hearings.

"I've not been in court with her ever," Gilbert said of Cockrell. "But I think they want me around just in case."

Gilbert, R-Woodstock, is the deputy majority leader in the House of Delegates. State law contains a provision requiring that cases be postponed when an attorney who also serves in the legislature has a scheduling conflict that prevents him from attending a hearing. The provision encompasses legislative sessions and periods 30 days before and after sessions.

"We're in special session right now," Gilbert said. "If we didn't have that provision, it would prevent anyone from practicing law and serving in the legislature."

The first sentencing hearing in the case scheduled for Dec. 10 fell away as a result of heavy snow that day.

The plea agreement Cockrell entered on Sept. 24 calls for two of the felony embezzlement counts to be reduced to misdemeanors after a year if she performs 200 hours of community service, pays SAAA $10,674 in restitution and is deemed to have been on good behavior. A suspended jail sentence would accompany the downgrading of the felony charges.

Cockrell is also facing sentencing on the fourth felony count.

Authorities say the offenses are linked to Cockrell's use of a line of bank credit reserved for agency purposes and an invalid invoice that was used to move money to her personal bank account.

Another offense involved use of an agency credit card that was used to pay for a personal trip to New York City, according to Madden.

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

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