Former police officer guilty

Published 11:37 am Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Stole funds entrusted to him

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Former Smithfield Police Lieutenant of Investigations Patrick Valdez was found guilty of two counts of embezzling money from the department that he served.

The convictions followed a lengthy trial Jan. 31 in Isle of Wight County Circuit Court, and were related to two instances in which discrepancies were found in the amount of money Valdez had requested for a criminal fund he was responsible for and the amount that he deposited into the fund.

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His sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 23. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

A disbursement of $1,500 from the town of Smithfield to Valdez for the fund on Feb. 10, 2015 was documented by Valdez in the fund’s ledger as only $1,000. A disbursement on May 7, 2014 for $1,500 was not documented by Valdez for the fund’s ledger at all. That left a total of $2,000 unaccounted for.

The discrepancies were discovered in the summer of 2016, while Valdez was under suspension for an unrelated incident allegedly involving drunken and aggressive conduct while he was off duty.

As lieutenant of investigations, Valdez had sole oversight over the criminal fund, which is used by the department to pay off drug informants and make undercover narcotics purchases.

Valdez’s defense has said from the beginning of the investigation that he simply does not know what happened to the missing money.

Called as his only witness by his attorney, Anne Glenn, Valdez said that the documentation for the fund’s ledger, which he developed while employed by the department, was often somewhat disorganized, and that quarterly reviews of the fund for accreditation were at times scrambled together at the eleventh hour.

“All of this you’ve testified to sums up that you’re a bad bookkeeper?” said Southampton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke, special prosecutor for the case, as he pressed Valdez on the whereabouts of the $2,000.

Valdez said that the money “must have” been paid out to drug informants.

“If those were just put in there wrong, they were just put in there wrong,” Valdez said of the discrepancies in the ledger he kept.

Cooke said that the money he had supposedly paid out to informants would have had to equal “precisely” the $2,000 that was unaccounted for.

“It makes no sense,” said Cooke.

Glenn argued that Valdez had no financial motive, her client making upwards of $60,000 a year in his position on the force and his wife, who works at Newport News Shipbuilding, was making about $110,000 a year, according to Valdez’s testimony.

Valdez had also made no attempts to hide the 2015 letter requesting the $1,500 (of which he only documented $1,000 in the ledger), according to Glenn.

“His story never changed from day one,” said Glenn, the story being that he did not know the fate of the missing cash.

But one question from Chief Circuit Court Judge Carl Eason persisted during the trial: “Where is the money?”

“You could never explain what happened to that money,” said Eason before his ruling. “I don’t accept your testimony. I think you know exactly what happened to that money.”

Eason also said that based on testimony, the criminal fund was replenished when it got low, down to about $40 at one point. However, when Valdez made the request for $1,500 in May of 2014, the total of which was never accounted for, the fund still had $950 in it.

“You got the money and then it disappeared,” Eason said to Valdez.

The trial began around 11 a.m. and stretched on into the evening hours, featuring testimony from Police Chief Alonzo Howell, retired chief Steve Bowman, Police Office and Accreditation Manager Kristi Jenkins, Town Treasurer Ellen Minga and Lt. Chris Meier, all of whom worked with Valdez during his time at the department.

Meier, who worked closely with Valdez in the investigations unit, was the first to notice the issues with the ledger while making a withdrawal for a narcotics buy in July 2016 while Valdez was suspended. Only Meier and Valdez had access to the safe where the funds were kept (Howell, then the deputy chief with the department, had a key in case of emergencies).

Much of the trial was spent attempting to get a clear understanding of exactly how the criminal fund was managed, and testimony from police personnel shed insight on rather lax procedures in the department’s handling of the money, a significant amount autonomy given to Valdez. Bowman, who is now on the Smithfield Town Council, testified that he did not know who else had access to the safe aside from Valdez. Bowman also said that the procedures with the fund were promptly changed following the incident and a third party is now involved in withdrawals.

“It’s a tragic case where someone in a position of trust is taking advantage,” said Cooke in his closing arguments.

After the verdict, Cooke also argued that Valdez’s bail be revoked, stating that any time a public official fails to uphold the office as much as Valdez had, incarceration is appropriate.

Glenn argued that Valdez should not be punished simply for standing trial.

Eason allowed Valdez to remain in his new home in Chesapeake.

Valdez was hired by the Smithfield Police Department as an officer in 2004, promoted to lieutenant by Bowman in 2012. He resigned during his suspension in the summer of 2016. {/mprestriction}