Commissioners, county attorney spar over access to jail probe
BRENTWOOD — County commissioners say they are frustrated about not being given full access to a criminal investigation in the wake of a county jail employee being charged with giving her husband $12,000 in overtime and other pay for shifts he never worked.
On Tuesday, the Rockingham County Attorney’s office delivered a report to county commissioners providing some details from their investigation into Ann Marie Nelson, 55, of Chester, who is charged with overpaying her husband, Keith, who worked as a corrections officer at the Rockingham County jail.
County Commissioner Kevin Coyle said that the commission sent a letter to the county attorney’s office a week ago, requesting the records to the investigation as part of an effort to determine if any new measures need to be taken to shore up accounting practices.
“I think we are hamstrung by not having the investigation, and by not knowing all we need to know,” Coyle said on Tuesday.
The sheriff’s department and county attorney’s office are in the process of a wider audit, delving into years’ worth of payroll records of current and former employees.
County Attorney James Reams said prior to the report, his office has provided some information to county commissioners. The report was delivered to Commissioner Chairwoman Katharin Pratt on Tuesday, Reams said.
He said that he is prohibited from sharing all the facts of the case with commissioners at this stage due to the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which bars lawyers from making comments about a person under investigation.
“One of our broader concerns is to make sure (Nelson) gets a fair trial,” Reams said.
Nelson remains free on bail, and faces up to 7 ½ to 15 years in state prison if she is convicted.
Nelson’s husband, Keith, has not been charged in the case.
Reams said his office has not yet determined whether anyone else will face criminal charges.
He said that so far the investigation has showed that policies at the jail regarding overtime were not followed.
“We know now that safeguards were ignored,” Reams said.
Indictments say Nelson funneled money from last July until about May 15.
“We are going backwards from there to see when it all went off the rails,” Reams said.
Coyle said he disagreed with Reams’ assessment about safeguards being ignored.
“Unfortunately, what they would do is they would go to any supervisor to sign off (on overtime),” Coyle said. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.”
Jail employees were supposed to be using the supervisor who approved the overtime to sign off on it, said Coyle.
He said that commissioners have since spoken to jail staff to ensure policies about overtime are being followed closely.
Coyle also noted that the investigation was prompted by a jail administrator flagging questionable paperwork in May.
“She got caught because of the checks and balances,” Coyle said, referring to Nelson.
Reams said that his office hopes to complete the probe against Nelson within the next 60 days, but that a broader audit encompassing all payroll records that are available will continue.