After years of being called on the carpet for bookkeeping and record-keeping issues, the Albemarle County Circuit Court Clerk’s office is under investigation by state police, and while local officials are mum on the details, the state’s top auditor has indicated a prosecutor from out of town is already involved.
State police have said little about the investigation other than indicating that it involves an employee in the court clerk’s office, and that no arrests have been made or charges placed.
Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts Martha Mavredes confirmed that her office, which oversees public funds in the Commonwealth, has been assisting police. “My staff have been up there doing some work,” she said, adding that David Stock, a Henrico County prosecutor, is involved in the case.
According to employees in the Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, Stock is currently on vacation and unreachable for comment.
Albemarle County Circuit Court Clerk Debbie Shipp did not return a call for comment, but told CBS19 earlier this week that the investigation is “a personnel matter” and that she was unable to say more.
Shipp, a Democrat who was elected to an eight-year term as the court’s financial and records officer in 2007, has faced criticism from state auditors for years. Since 2009, audits of her office have found hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of errors: fines left unpaid to the state, copy fees not disbursed to the county, and unprocessed checks sitting for months on shelves.
In 2012, the then-head of state public accounts, Walter J. Kucharski, found errors and problems had persisted, prompting concerns about the potential for fraud. Kucharski said at the time he’d seen such errors “maybe once every 10 years” during his 28 years as an auditor.
Shipp has blamed the problems on a lack of staff and the turmoil that followed the death of her sister and fellow long-time clerk’s office employee Pam Melampy in January 2012.
But a political opponent has already seized on the office’s troubles. John Zug, a prosecutor in the Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, has announced he will run against Shipp for the clerk’s seat in the next election. Zug, also a Democrat, said in a campaign announcement event last month that Shipp’s mismanagement has even led to mistrials when she’s failed to subpoena enough jurors.
According to state police, it’s Zug’s boss, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford, who has jurisdiction over the court clerk’s office investigation. Lunsford declined to comment.