Another Issue Hitting Virginia Statewide Races: Disturbing Parole Board Corruption

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Posted: Jun 20, 2021 10:45 PM

There are, perhaps, few more disturbing finds of the current Northam administration in Virginia, and the previous McAuliffe administration, than the corruption and lawbreaking to do with the parole board.

An AP explainer from Sarah Rankin put it this way:

In March 2020, amid a push to get eligible inmates out of crowded prisons as the coronavirus pandemic began to grip the U.S., the Virginia Parole Board granted release to 95 inmates, just over half the number approved in all of 2019.

Among those 95 were at least 35 people convicted in killings, some of them high-profile, brutal cases. As news of the parole grant decisions made their way around the state, news reports began to bubble up about concerns from prosecutors and victims’ families.

In many cases, they complained they had not been properly notified of the decision or, in the case of victims’ families, given the chance to weigh in as required by law.

As Townhall columnist Gabriella Hoffman explained in April, there was not only rampant corruption, but the whistleblowers who sounded the alarm were the ones punished:

The Inspector General’s findings implicate former Virginia Parole Board chair Adrianne Bennett and other board members for wrongdoing.

Bennett was appointed to the board in January 2017 by former Governor Terry McAuliffe (who’s currently seeking a second term). She resigned from the board last April. The former chair now serves as a judge on the Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court

...

Jennifer A. Moschetti, former senior investigator in the Office of the State Inspector, was revealed to be the lead person behind the “unseen draft report into the parole of Vincent Martin”—blowing a lid on the Parole Board’s misconduct.  

After a brief suspension, Moschetti was later fired by her boss, state Inspector General Michael Westfall, on March 22nd. Why? She filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging misconduct in the investigation into the Parole Board. 

In a March 9th report, Moschetti claimed members of Governor Northam’s administration intimidated her and Inspector General Westfall[.]

A particularly high-profile case, which first brought criticism upon the agency, involved Vincent Martin, who in 1979 killed Richmond Patrolman Michael Connors, execution-style. He served only 40 years of his life sentence. Martin was paroled without the board first alerting state prosecutors or victims' families.

Glenn Youngkin, who was selected as the Republican nominee for governor in a convention last month, recently held a press conference with former Richmond police officer Cheryl Nici. 

Youngkin's remarks in part mentioned:

The most fundamental obligation of government is to keep citizens safe, but when Terry McAuliffe was governor, he failed and he caused chaos. Under Terry McAuliffe Virginia’s murder rate increased 43 percent. Under Terry McAuliffe the rape rate went up every year he was governor, and this is a guy who says he stands up for woman. Terry doesn’t stand up for women. His parole board and his policies cost lives and put more women in danger. What we’ve seen of Terry McAuliffe's lawless parole board is absolute chaos. Instead of standing with victims, they dismissed their concerns and ignored them, and kept them in the dark in violation of Virginia law.

Instead of taking careful, thoughtful approach to granting parole, Terry McAuliffe's parole board has pursued a scandalous, a scandalous agenda of setting the most violent criminals free. 

By 2017, the last year of Terry's term, all five members of the parole board had been appointed by him. Terry’s appointees were a majority of the board until just last year, and until last month, half of the board were picked by Terry. Terry’s handpicked chair, Adrianne Bennett, is now disappeared from her job as a judge because of what we now know, that when she headed the parole board she told her staff to, ‘wave the wand of power.’ ‘Let’s cut them loose,’ Bennett wrote. Her assistant was gleeful, writing that she felt drunk with power. Last year they released cop killer Vincent Martin, who murdered Richmond police officer Michael Connors in cold blood and an inspector general found that they broke the law in the process of granting him his parole. Bennett also released eight other convicted murderers. 

The gubernatorial candidate also promised that he will "replace the entire parole board, will support law enforcement, and we will restore respect for victims in the parole board process," while warning that McAuliffe has said he would end qualified immunity.

The Roanoke Times released an editorial on Thursday, "Parole board report shows why Virginia needs a full investigation," describing it as one which "amounts to an 'investigation of an investigation.'"

The editors were less than thrilled with the report, and the lack of complete answers it provided. "Ultimately, this Democratic-backed inquiry underscores a Republican point: It reveals just enough questionable behavior to merit a full investigation," the editorial closed with.

Jason Miyrares, the Republican candidate for attorney general in Virginia, is a former prosecutor who has been making this a campaign issue even before he won the nomination.

During a debate between Miyares and incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring on Tuesday, Miyares highlighted the parole board scandals, reminding voters that Herring is "the parole board's lawyer." Miyares has since continued to remind voters that Herring had a duty to keep the parole board from violating the law.

At one point of the debate, Miyares charged:

The Washington Post famously says democracy dies in the darkness. You know what else dies in the darkness, any sense of accountability by this parole board because they have not been investigated by this Attorney General. What he did is he paid six figures for a Democrat law firm to come out with some report that did not even investigate the parole board. It investigated whistleblower had the bravery of notifying the victims. 

See the law in Virginia is clear. If you're the victim of a violent crime, you should be notified and give input to parole board before they might out your rapist or the family member of a murdered loved ones back on the streets. That has never been investigated. They broke the law to do it. The law says you have to also notify the prosecuting attorney, they were never notified to do it. 

And the leaked emails from the Inspector General's report show the Attorney General knew about what was going on. He did nothing to stop it. He's yet to this day done nothing to investigate it. So literally, accountability has died in the darkness. And I applaud the reporters like the Richmond Times Dispatch and others that have exposed what the most shameful instances and cover ups that we've seen in Virginia history. And the question is, why did Mark Herring know, when did he know what, and why did he do nothing to stop some of the worst people from getting back out on the streets again in Virginia?

Miyares has also highlighted a contrast between himself and Herring, referring to his opponent as one who has a "criminal first/victim last mentality."