STEPHENS CITY – Former town police officer Ronald Allen Fox Jr. has avoided imprisonment for stealing $600 from the police evidence room.

As part of a plea bargain Thursday in Frederick County Circuit Court, Fox received a 12-month suspended sentence. An embezzlement charge is punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment in Virginia, but Fox’s attorney Chris Collins said in an interview Friday that the sentencing guidelines for a $600 embezzlement case call for probation. Collins said sentencing guidelines were not sought in the case because he and prosecutors were able to negotiate without them.

The embezzlement occurred on Sept. 25, 2013, and Fox was arrested on July 9, 2017, according to court documents. Ross Spicer, Frederick County Commonwealth’s Attorney, said in an interview that the money was seized by police from a drug case suspect and placed in the evidence room that Fox had access to.

“At some point, he took the money without permission and used it for his own purposes,” Spicer said, adding that the money would have eventually been sent to the state treasury. “The money didn’t have any evidentiary value. It was just sitting in their evidence room.”

Investigators learned of the embezzlement from a friend of Fox’s who was applying for a job with the Police Department. He told police during the interview that Fox had asked him for a $600 loan so he could replace the stolen money.

Reached by phone Friday, Fox wouldn’t say why he stole the money. Spicer said he didn’t know what Fox’s motive was.

The case was investigated by state police rather than local police to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Spicer said a “thorough examination” was done and there was no evidence that anything else was stolen from the evidence room.

As part of the agreement, Fox agreed to a lifetime ban on being a police officer. Fox, who is on three years of unsupervised probation, must also pay $1,000 in fines within a year and do 100 hours of community service for a nonprofit organization.

Fox, 43, was hired in 2007 and was popular in the three-officer department. He often served as an unofficial spokesman for the department and helped organize the town’s annual Newtown Heritage Festival.

Spicer said the case was difficult to prosecute. He said Fox, who had worked with the commonwealth’s attorney’s office in the past, had performed “admirably” as an officer in past years.

“His conduct, certainly in my experience, was very much out of character,” he said. “We received a substantial outpouring from the community in support of him because of his professional tenure in Stephens City as well as the philanthropic things that he had done independent of his association with the police.”

Because Fox had worked with his office, Spicer said he considered recusing his office from the investigation and requesting a special prosecutor from an outside county. He said recusal decisions are decided on a case-by-case basis.

“The severity of the crime has nothing to do with the decision,” Spicer said. “It’s whether the case can be prosecuted without bias.”

Stephens City Police Chief Charles Bockey and Town Manager Mike Majher didn’t return calls on whether additional security procedures had been put in place at the evidence room since the theft. Reached by phone in South Carolina, Mayor Mike Grim said he was on vacation and wouldn’t comment.

Mugshots of criminal suspects are typically available at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center, but Fox’s wasn’t. Jail Superintendent Jim Whitley said that’s because Fox was never booked at the jail.

Spicer said he was surprised a mugshot wasn’t available.

“I thought everyone got booked at the outset,” Spicer said. “I don’t know why that’s the case, but I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of those procedures.”