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New Report: OSIG investigation into Virginia Parole Board not influenced by outsiders

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 6:35 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - An investigation into an investigation at the state level has wrapped up, with Republican lawmakers lambasting the process and the Governor’s Office calling for changes to the way Virginia audits itself.

This issue in particular has been fairly high profile for the last year.

This started with the controversial parole last year of Vincent Martin, a man convicted of killing a Richmond police officer in the late 1970s.

Outcry from his release from prison last year led to an investigation by the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) to determine whether the Virginia Parole Board followed protocol and policies in the way it handled the case.

The Inspector General found faults with the way the Board did its job.

Then earlier this year, draft documents of the Inspector General’s report were leaked, calling into question the way OSIG did its job.

The governor initiated a third party investigation, a $250,000 expense approved by the General Assembly.

That review conducted by Nixon Peabody LLP was released Monday.

It finds OSIG’s investigation was not influenced by outside actors but that it *should have been more thorough, calling the lead investigator impaired by personal bias.

It recommends more training for the office AND a separate general counsel.

In response: Governor Northam said in a written statement:

“I called for this independent third-party investigation, and I thank the General Assembly for supporting and funding that request. The report confirms what we have said all along: the Governor’s office had no involvement in the Office of the State Inspector General’s investigation or its reports, nor did anyone in the Administration pressure OSIG to reach a different conclusion. This report clearly repudiates unsubstantiated allegations repeatedly made by some legislators. I have consistently said we need to get to the bottom of why and how draft OSIG documents, differing from the final report received by the Governor’s office and containing unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing, were made public. For OSIG to operate as intended and maintain the public trust, it’s vital that investigators do their work in an impartial manner, without bias toward a conclusion, and that information presented in public reports is valid and verified. This report shows that clearly did not happen in this case, and I expect OSIG to address its procedures and its training so that we can all trust in the truth and quality of the work it produces. Every issue deserves that—but especially parole, as it is a life-changing decision that offers hope to those who are incarcerated. We will continue to ensure that the Parole Board’s decisions are made with the best information and greatest transparency possible.”

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers like Senators Steve Newman, Mark Obenshain and Delegate Todd Gilbert are calling the review a “campaign document.”

Gilbert said in a statement Monday:

“House Democrats needed a way to discredit the plethora of damning Office of State Inspector General reports into the Parole Board, but they couldn’t risk turning over too many stones to do it. That’s why today’s report doesn’t reflect a critical look at the Parole Board, but rather scrutiny of OSIG’s investigation into the potentially illegal activity at the Parole Board. Today’s report is merely campaign document. The results were entirely predictable: a report from a partisan Democratic law firm hired by the Democratic Attorney General that claims a report showing Democrats in a bad light is biased. Their continued assault on a whistleblower is evident in this report. Governor Northam and Speaker Filler-Corn should release this report to the public immediately so Virginians can see what $250,000 worth of damage control looks like.”

They argue the review was too narrow, with Obenshain writing:

“With an assist from Attorney General Herring and General Assembly Democrats, the Northam Administration got what they wanted from Nixon Peabody: a report reinforcing their incredulous efforts to deflect attention from the Parole Board’s indefensible conduct. Expending $250,000 of taxpayer funds to dress up the Administration’s defensive and preposterous talking points does not strike me as a good value. Even this whitewash could not entirely conceal the egregious behavior by the Parole Board and its then-Chair, Adrienne Bennett. A McAuliffe appointee, Judge Bennett’s refusal to cooperate – even after being permitted to respond to written questions – and her cancellation of an interview with Nixon Peabody is especially telling. This report used 153 pages to attempt to make the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) the scapegoat in the continuing Parole Board scandal. Rife with gratuitous and inconsequential observations, the report even fails in that mission. It doesn’t even attempt to claim that any of OSIG’s conclusions or findings in its investigation of the Parole Board were inaccurate or wrong. There is good reason for this: regarding the conduct of the Parole Board, the OSIG got it right. The Parole Board systematically ignored the law and its own policies. What has been wrong throughout this fiasco has been the Northam Administration’s bungled attempts to downplay its complicity, both in the conduct of the Parole Board and with its attempts to bully the State Inspector General. There are critical public policy issues that this report does not even begin to examine or touch upon. True to form, its focus is limited to defending the Northam Administration’s conduct and long-ago tarnished legacy. Make no mistake, this is not a political issue. Capriciously granting early release to violent felons neither increases public safety nor the public’s confidence in our system of justice. Last week came news of the early release of David Allen Simpkins, who, having committed 56 prior felonies, was arrested for yet another attempted armed robbery. Virginians will be dealing with the real and frightening consequences of this scandal for years to come.”

In addition to hearing from lawmakers and the Governor, we also reached out to the Parole Board and OSIG.

Steve Newman released the following:

“As suspected, the final ‘independent investigation’ report released today includes no true investigation of the Virginia Parole Board (Board). It doesn’t answer the important questions of why scores of violent offenders were released by the Board in 2020; why scores of victims, their families and Commonwealth’s Attorneys weren’t notified within the legal timeframe of their release; and why Parole Officers weren’t consulted when the Chairman of the Parole Board was waving her magic wand of power to release hundreds of offenders from community supervision.

Once again, the whistleblower from OSIG is blamed. Which is ironic considering this Administration claims to be pro-worker and pro-whistleblower protection. This sham of a report tries to derive the OSIG investigator’s intent without actually speaking to her. And the current Judge, former Board Chair, Adrianne Bennett couldn’t be bothered to be interviewed by the investigators or participate substantively in the report.

There is nothing contained in this $250,000 report that can be told to the families of victims who’ve endured the effects of this Board’s actions. There is nothing in this report about the “drunk with power” mentality at the Board surrounding the release of individuals from community supervision. There is nothing in this report about the numerous other parole cases that have come to light in the past six months and what is being done to prevent similar cases in the future. There is nothing here but a waste of taxpayer funds to protect this Administration.

This is nothing more than a whitewashed report that is so predictable I could’ve written it myself months ago. The entire process was conceived to fail from the beginning by having a group of Democrat elected officials hand-selecting a Democrat law firm to write a report to protect a Democrat Administration.

Last week, Senator Mark Obenshain and I released a series of questions that needed to be answered by this ‘investigation.’ None of those questions were answered.

The real losers in this exercise are the people of Virginia because $250,000 of taxpayer funds were wasted for a partisan coverup, while their public safety wasn’t protected at all.”

In a written statement, a representative from OSIG said:

“The Office of the State Inspector General appreciates the independent investigation into how OSIG conducted its investigation into complaints received by the State Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline regarding the parole of Vincent Martin. The policies and procedures outlined in Code of Virginia § 2.2-309, Executive Order 52 (2012) and the Hotline Policies and Procedures manual that guide OSIG investigations are of the same high standards the Commonwealth of Virginia has used for more than 25 years and has served the citizens of the Commonwealth well.

In November 2019, the Association of Inspectors General (AIG) conducted a peer review, to include OSIG’s Investigations Unit, the unit responsible for Hotline investigations. The Peer Review Team noted that OSIG complied with all major standards, which include quality control, planning, data collection and analysis, evidence, timeliness, reporting, confidentiality and follow-up. This is consistent with OSIG’s mission to perform investigations in a timely, accurate and relevant manner so that stakeholders can make informed decisions, take appropriate actions and improve programs.

The Nixon Peabody investigation noted areas where OSIG can make improvements. OSIG appreciates those recommendations. OSIG will make updates and changes where necessary to continue its practices of efficiency and effectiveness and to follow its core values of integrity, trust and ethical behaviors.

But that OSIG is appreciative of the review’s recommendations- promising to make updates and changes where necessary.”

Virginia Parole Board Chairwoman Tonya Chapman wrote:

“The Parole Board continues to stand by its assertion that the OSIG relied on faulty assumptions, a misunderstanding of certain procedures, and misinterpretation of the Virginia State Code. The Nixon Peabody (NP) report confirms what we had said all along--that OSIG’s investigation surrounding the Vincent Martin case was inadequate. The report supports the concerns that the Board expressed of the obvious bias and deficiencies contained in the July 2020 report. Furthermore, the NP report validates that the additional information in the draft 13-page report was excluded because there was no evidence to support those allegations. We rely on OSIG to be professional, unbiased and impartial. The Board hopes that the OSIG will take the report’s recommendations seriously to build trust among state agencies and the public. The Board looks forward to moving beyond this so that it can do its important work.”

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