An employee at the Virginia Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging “she was suspended two days after seeking whistleblower protections and sending documents detailing alleged wrongdoing by the Virginia Parole Board to state lawmakers,” according to a March 9 WFXR article.
Jennifer Moschetti filed the lawsuit on March 8 in the Richmond Circuit Court. Moschetti alleges that the state Inspector General Michael Westfall “put her on ‘pre-disciplinary leave’ on March 5 after she reported misconduct claims against him, the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office,” the article states.
Her responsibilities at the OSIG included “reviewing multiple complaints involving the parole board,” and the lawsuit states that Moschetti “was the investigator behind the previously unseen draft report into the parole of Vincent Martin, who was convicted of killing a Richmond police officer in 1979.” This June 2020 parole was steeped in controversy, and the report on the Martin case was leaked in February of 2021. According to the lawsuit, Moschetti was afraid “of being ‘used as a scapegoat,’” which prompted her to “seek protections under the Virginia Whistle Blower Act,” the WFXR article states.
The lawsuit states that Moschetti “provided a partial copy of her work to the leadership in the Virginia General Assembly” on March 3 and “reported alleged misconduct by Westfall for failing to publish the additional violations in the draft report to lawmakers.” On March 5, “two OSIG employees visited Moschetti at home to give her a letter informing her she was being put on paid leave pending an investigation.” In the visit to Moschetti’s home, the lawsuit claims the two employees seized her work laptop and employee access card, WFXR states.
That same day, Moschetti contacted her attorney Tim Anderson, “identifying herself as a whistleblower and demanding she be taken off leave.” Anderson stated to 8News: “The state inspector who is a champion of people being whistleblowers is now suspending my client for being a whistleblower.”
According to a spokesman from the state police, OSIG ordered an investigation into how the report was leaked. Moschetti’s lawsuit alleges that the investigation “is a tactic to harass her and a violation of her whistleblower protections.” Moschetti is also suing Westfall and alleging that he put her on leave “in an effort to insulate his own position as State Inspector General.” She is seeking reinstatement. The Office of the State Inspector General did not provide a comment for WFXR’s March 9 story.
Moschetti’s lawsuit also alleges “she and Westfall were ‘interrogated’ by members of Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration after a redacted report into the parole board’s handling of Vincent Martin’s case was leaked.” She claims a meeting with Gov. Northam’s Chief of Staff and the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security aimed to “‘intimidate” Westfall and the agency’s investigators. However, a spokeswoman for the Governor “emphatically denies allegations of intimidation.” Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam, said in a statement that “no one in the Governor’s Office has ever intimidated or attempted to intimidate anyone in the Office of the State Inspector General.”
Moschetti claims in the lawsuit that there was “a more comprehensive report” on the Vincent Martin case in the aforementioned meeting “but Westfall refused to release it to the Governor’s office.” Moschetti “alleges the attorney general’s office played the key role in redacting the draft report.” However, Charlotte Gomer, a spokesperson from the attorney general’s office, asserts that “OAG did not shorten the report.” Gomer states that “[a]ny decisions about what would be addressed in the report…were made by OSIG.”
On March 15, Moschetti’s attorney Anderson filed a “Motion to Expedite Hearing,” which urged the court “to Declare the Petitioner a Whistle Blower as defined by the Code of Virginia.” The motion notes that in October 2020, Moschetti received a very positive performance review and in February 2021 she received a “$2000 bonus for her work on the parole board cases.” The motion then argues that “there is significant retaliatory actions taken…in suspending [Moschetti] from employment just two days after she turned over information in good-faith to a defined Appropriate Authority having just received a glowing evaluation months before and a bonus one month prior to the suspension for her work on the parole investigation.”
“We are hopeful the Court will grant protected Whistle Blower status to my client as soon as practically possible,” Anderson said in a WTVR CBS 6 article. “The Governor’s office is on notice that if further disparaging and false comments regarding Ms. Moschetti are made by any member of the Administration will trigger further litigation against those making such statements for defamation and slander.”
Reactions from the Northam Administration
According to the WXFR article, Gov. Northam said at a press conference on March 9 that “discussions of an independent investigation were already underway.” At the same press conference, Gov. Northam’s chief of staff Clark Mercer alleged that the whistleblower claims were “a political ploy to hurt the Northam administration and other state leaders.” During the press conference, Mercer also said that “state officials and the parole board believed OSIG investigators were biased and called for a meeting to discuss the six-page report that was redacted.” Mercer asserts that the meeting showed him that there was bias: “We left that meeting knowing that there was bias and lack of objectivity in that report.”
An affidavit signed by Westfall “stated Northam played no role in editing a previously unseen 13-page draft report that was leaked to the media and prompted a bipartisan call for a General Assembly Investigation,” according to WFXR. The shorter, 6-page final report given to Gov. Northam in July 2020 “found the board and its former chairwoman, Adrianne Bennett, violated state law and its own procedures” before Martin’s pardoning. The 13-page draft report expands on those findings, including claims that Bennett “directed employees to falsify a report and violate their own ethics.” According to the article, Westfall states that the claims in the draft report were omitted “because they ‘were not supported’ after additional review.”
The Martin pardoning case and report garnered statewide attention, with state Sens. John Bell (D-Loudoun) and Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) calling attention to the “serious” and “damaging allegations” of misconduct surrounding Martin’s parole.