(VM) – A senior investigator in Virginia’s watchdog agency has filed a lawsuit claiming she was wrongfully suspended from her job last week after giving General Assembly leaders documents dealing with her investigation into wrongdoing by the Virginia Parole Board.
Jennifer Moschetti, an employee of the Office of the State Inspector General, filed the suit Monday in Richmond, claiming she had been subjected to “retaliatory actions” for conduct protected under the state’s whistleblower law.
The lawsuit is the latest explosive development in a controversy over how the Parole Board handled several high-profile cases last year and whether other state officials sought to conceal the extent of OSIG’s findings detailing numerous violations of Parole Board policies and state law.
Moschetti’s suit says she was visited at home last Friday by other OSIG officials who seized her work laptop and told her she was being put on “pre-disciplinary leave with pay.”
Through a lawyer, Timothy Anderson of Virginia Beach, Moschetti demanded Inspector General Michael Westfall reverse course and said she was claiming whistleblower status.
The suit says Moschetti “did not release any of her work product or documents to the media at any time.”
Moschetti is asking the court to order Westfall to reinstate her as an employee and “cease and desist” any threats of retaliation.
Asked about potential disciplinary action last week, an OSIG spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on personnel matters.
Moschetti’s suit also claims she was contacted by “federal law enforcement” concerning an investigation “involving the circumstances of the Virginia Parole Board,” an inquiry with which she fully cooperated.
She also said a 10-page version of her report on policy and legal violations by Parole Board members surrounding the parole of Vincent Martin, who was convicted of killing a Richmond Police officer in 1979, was submitted by Westfall to the Office of the Attorney General “where it was redacted and reduced to a six-page report.” That report was released to leaders of the General Assembly last summer, who made it public.
Shortly after that happened, Moschetti says she was “summonsed to the Office of the Governor where she was interrogated by various members of the administration regarding her reports, investigations and findings.” Present at the meeting, she says, among others, were Clark Mercer, chief of staff for Gov. Ralph Northam; Brian Moran, secretary of public safety and homeland security, and Westfall.
Members of the administration “interrogated” the investigators for more than an hour over the findings in the six-page report, the suit claims. Then Moschetti told them a more comprehensive report on Martin’s case existed, though Westfall “refused to release his approved report to the administration.”
Moschetti says the meeting was “intended to intimidate the state inspector general and the investigators tasked with making fact findings related to members of the Parole Board.”
After the meeting, Westfall told her he “may lose his job for the work product” regarding the Martin investigation, which put Moschetti “in substantial fear of losing her job as the primary investigator on the Parole Board matter,” the lawsuit claims.
Moschetti also filed other reports to Westfall dealing with potential Parole Board misconduct, the suit says, but they haven’t been released to the Northam administration.
In response to the lawsuit Monday, a Northam spokeswoman said the governor’s office “meets regularly with OSIG to go over results and findings of inspector general reports.”
“I want to be clear — no one in the governor’s office has ever intimidated or attempted to intimidate anyone in the Office of the State Inspector General,” sad Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky.
The suit identifies a 14-page draft report on the Martin case that was recently leaked to the media as “an earlier draft” of Moschetti’s work.
“The report contained substantial facts and findings of serious wrongdoing by members of the Parole Board previously omitted at the direction of the Office of the Attorney General,” the suit says.
Attorney General Mark Herring’s office has repeatedly sought to minimize its role in the controversy, declining to discuss any legal advice it gave in the matter and saying OSIG had ultimate authority over its own reports.
“OAG did not shorten the report,” said Herring spokeswoman Charlotte Gomer. “Any decisions about what would be addressed in the report, including whether criminal allegations were proper in an administrative report, were made by OSIG and we would be happy for the client agency to be fully transparent about its process, including clarifying any input it had received from this office.”
After the draft report surfaced, OSIG released a statement saying it was searching for the “the person(s) responsible for improperly disclosing such information.” The agency declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday.
Anderson, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on Moschetti’s behalf, is a Republican who has recently represented Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, in legal battles connected to her run for governor. Anderson is also running for a Virginia Beach-area House of Delegates seat this year.
Virginia’s whistleblower protection law states that no employer can “discharge, threaten or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against a whistle blower” who reveals information about suspected wrongdoing in “good faith and upon a reasonable belief that the information is accurate.”
The law does not protect disclosures of information that is “false, confidential by law, or malicious.”