Suspended state investigator got bonus, received praise for work on Parole Board cases

By: - March 15, 2021 3:49 pm

The offices of the Virginia Parole Board in Richmond. (Virginia Mercury)

A state employee who was suspended from her job after sharing details of her investigation of the Virginia Parole Board was given a $2,000 bonus and plaudits from her supervisors for her work on the case, according to new documents filed as part of her lawsuit seeking whistleblower status.

Jennifer Moschetti, an investigator in the Office of the Inspector General, who was put on paid leave earlier this month amid an investigation into the Parole Board leaks, also received a positive performance evaluation from her agency in October. That review, which noted Moschetti was a fairly recent hire who had been with the agency for less than a year, praised her “comprehensive and exhaustive reports.”

“Jennifer was tasked with several parole board cases this year, requiring significant investigation and reporting. Jennifer meticulously reviewed and re-reviewed evidence and other documentation to ensure final reports were of the highest quality. Jennifer supported her work by meeting with staff within the governor’s office to review and reinforce her findings,” the performance review says.

The positive feedback from her own agency is at odds with the portrayal of Moschetti’s work by Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration. 

At a news conference last week, Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer blasted the watchdog report — which found the Parole Board violated state law and its own policies — as biased and partly inaccurate.

“We went into that meeting thinking that there was bias and a lack of objectivity,” Mercer said, describing a meeting he and other Northam officials had with Moschetti and her boss, Inspector General Michael Westfall, last summer. “We left that meeting knowing that there was bias and a lack of objectivity in that report.”

Moschetti was a key player in the watchdog agency’s controversial Parole Board probe last year, reviewing how the board handled the parole process of Vincent Martin, released after serving 40 years for the murder of a Richmond police officer, and several other former inmates paroled just as the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Several reports by the inspector general’s office found the Parole Board didn’t follow proper procedures and state law regarding notifications for prosecutors and relatives of crime victims. Those reports were heavily redacted before being released, but unredacted versions of both final and draft reports recently surfaced in the media, prompting the inspector general’s office to ask for a Virginia State Police investigation into the unauthorized disclosures.

Redactions to watchdog report on Va. Parole Board came after governor’s office got notice of FOIA requests

Fearing she would be a target in that probe, Moschetti filed a lawsuit against her employer in Richmond seeking whistleblower protection after acknowledging she provided some of her records to members of the General Assembly.

She and her attorney, Tim Anderson of Virginia Beach, filed the personnel records in court Monday with a motion seeking to speed up the review of her case. That motion also accuses Mercer of trying to “publicly discredit” Moschetti and her work as she faces a potential firing for activity she argues is protected under the state’s whistleblower law allowing workers to report wrongdoing without fear of retaliation.

Last week, Mercer also faulted Moschetti for her choice of lawyer, noting that Anderson is a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates involved in numerous politically charged lawsuits against Democratic officials.

“Of all of the thousands and thousands of lawyers one might retain on this very, very serious issue, to retain an overtly political stakeholder is disappointing,” Mercer said. “We need serious people to look into this.”

Northam has called for an independent investigation into how the Parole Board was investigated last year and how the watchdog reports were handled. The details on what form that investigation might take remain unclear.

More revelations on Va. Parole Board wrongdoing prompt call for new investigation

Moschetti’s lawsuit, filed against Westfall, has not yet been heard by a judge, and Westfall’s representatives had not filed a response as of Monday afternoon.

Moschetti’s personnel records show Westfall signed off on her $2,000 bonus granted in January. The paperwork for that bonus specifically mentioned her work on the Parole Board cases.

“These cases have required much research, editing and discussion, in addition to lengthy calls with the Office of the Attorney General,” reads a note on the form authorizing the extra pay. “As a result, we would like to award a $2,000 bonus.”

The inspector general’s office said it would not comment on personnel matters.

Northam’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the filing.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.