City registrar, former election official face felony charges in cell phone scandal

Former electoral board member Stephanie Commander and Charlottesville Registrar Sheri Iachetta were charged with a combined 10 felony counts on Wednesday, September 17. Photos: Charlottesville City Police Former electoral board member Stephanie Commander and Charlottesville Registrar Sheri Iachetta were charged with a combined 10 felony counts on Wednesday, September 17. Photos: Charlottesville City Police

Charlottesville Registrar Sherri Iachetta and former Electoral Board member and local defense attorney Stephanie Commander have been arrested and charged with felony misuse of public funds and embezzlement following a public scandal over taxpayer-funded cell phone accounts.

Iachetta and Commander turned themselves in Wednesday, September 17, police said in a press release. Iachetta was charged with six felony counts related to misuse of funds, and Commander with four counts related to embezzlement. Both were released on their own recognizance.

The Daily Progress’ K. Burnell Evans broke the cell phone story this summer, and since then, Iachetta and Commander have repaid the city more than $7,000. Iachetta had been approving payments for a phone for Commander ever since she left office in 2011, as well as for her husband, Pat Owen, since 2009. A special prosecutor was appointed to the case in late August.

“It was wrong, and I know it was wrong,” Iachetta is quoted as saying in a September 12 story in the Progress. “I’m sorry it happened.”

Deputy Registrar Dianne Gilliland has said she first raised concerns about the cell phone payments to Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones in March. Jones did not seek a police investigation until four months later.

Jones has released the following statement in response to the arrests:

“The City of Charlottesville has always been, and continues to be committed to ensuring that taxpayer dollars are properly managed. We take this responsibility very seriously. It is for that reason I requested a criminal investigation into allegations of inappropriate use of funds in the Voter Registrar’s Office. Today we have learned the results of the hard work of the Charlottesville Police Department and the special prosecutor in this case.

The failure of internal controls in the Voter Registrar’s Office has disappointed us all. It is now incumbent upon us to implement a third layer of control to keep this from happening again.  We are in the process of conducting an audit of all cell phones in our organization to ensure that only appropriate staff have them. As part of our annual budget process we will ask each department to submit a list of necessary cell phones and provide justification for each.

All public servants are held to a high ethical standard.  I’m proud to say that the vast majority of our employees live up to those expectations every day and perform their jobs with distinction. This situation reminds us all of the importance to remain diligent in our efforts to not only serve the people of Charlottesville well, but to remain unwavering in our commitment to providing those services with the integrity our residents expect from us.”

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