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Northam’s chief of staff says OSIG's parole board investigation was biased

Posted at 11:28 PM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 09:54:49-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- A whistleblower and the governor's right-hand man tell two different stories about a meeting they had after an investigation of the Virginia Parole Board.

Controversy continues to swirl around the Office of the State Inspector General's (OSIG) handling of several Parole Board investigations -- probes that the chief investigator turned whistleblower said found that former Parole Board Chair Adrianne Bennett and current Parole Board Chair Tonya Chapman violated the Virginia Constitution, state law and board policies.

"I have said, and I will continue to support, an independent investigation," Governor Ralph Northam said Monday

"Somebody up there is in charge of all this, that's tampering [sic] this stuff down,” said State Senator Bryce Reeves, a Republican. “We can't have that kind of filter. We need transparency."

One thing lawmakers on both sides of the aisle now agree on, is that an independent investigation is needed to figure out how and why several pages worth of scathing allegations were removed from the OSIG report concerning the release of Vincent Lamont Martin -- who was serving life in prison for the murder of a Richmond Police officer before the board set him free last year.

"The topic of the parole decision of Vincent Martin is one that warrants discussion, because it is one of, if not the, most high-profile parole decisions in the history of the Commonwealth," said Clark Mercer, Northam’s Chief of Staff during a press conference on Tuesday.

The OSIG investigation found that the Parole Board kept the victim's family and Richmond's prosecutor in the dark for too long regarding Martin's release. And a longer, unreleased version of the report accused Bennett of not being impartial, and that she asked two colleagues to falsify a report.

The inspector general reports to Mercer.

During a news conference Tuesday, Mercer said that he thought the official OSIG report on the Martin case was biased, which is why he says Inspector General Michael Westfall and other members of that agency were called to the governor's office last year to discuss it.

"We went into that meeting thinking that there was bias and there was lack of objectivity,” Mercer said. “We left that meeting knowing that there was bias and a lack of objectivity in that report. It has gone unreported on since last year, or at least with very minimal reporting, but the Parole Board itself came out with a point-by-point rebuttal to that six-page report. It pointed out chapter and verse why they had concerns with the findings, why they did not think those were accurate."

The whistleblower, identified as Senior OSIG Investigator Jennifer Moschetti, said that meeting was more like a hostile interrogation. She said she has submitted evidence to the House and Senate leadership that proves her findings were factual and unbiased.

A former Parole Board chairman is weighing in on the scandal.

"We voted to release them on parole, then they were notified and we did that with a certificate or order for release,” said Bill Muse, who led the Parole Board during the McDonnell administration.

He told CBS 6 he does not want it to come across as Monday-morning quarterbacking, but said the board made serious mistakes.

"We would frequently be contacted by lawyers that represented the inmate, who would claim their client didn't get due process or there was a defect in the trial,” said Muse. “Our general response was, ‘we don't retry cases.’ All we are looking at is how the inmate has done since being locked up, how long was the sentence and what kind of citizen would they be if we let him go or would they pose a threat to the community."

Mercer also mentioned Moschetti's lawyer, Tim Anderson, during the news conference Tuesday, saying he suspects the lawsuit is politically motivated.

Anderson retorted that Mercer's comments mean he’s doing something right.