Ex-SAAA Chief Cockrell Pleads Guilty to 1 Embezzlement Charge; Alford Pleas to 2 Others

Posted: September 24, 2013

The Winchester Star

FRONT ROYAL -- The former head of the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging (SAAA) entered a guilty plea to one felony count of embezzlement in Warren County Circuit Court on Tuesday and admitted that there could be enough evidence to find her guilty of two other felony embezzlement charges.

But Helen M. Cockrell, 58, of Rileyville, could have the two charges for which she entered Alford pleas reduced to misdemeanors in 12 months if she complies with terms of the agreement, including repaying the SAAA $10,674. She then would receive a suspended sentence on those counts.

With an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt but declares that there could be enough evidence to be convicted.

The former president and CEO of the SAAA appeared in court to answer four felony embezzlement charges. Warren County Commonweath's Attorney Brian Madden agreed not to prosecute her on the fourth charge under the agreement.

No sentencing agreements were made on the charge to which Cockrell pleaded guilty. Judge Dennis L. Hupp will determine her sentence following a hearing scheduled for Dec. 10.
She faced 20 years in prison on each of the four charges. She’ll still face 20 years on the felony embezzlement.

Cockrell, who was terminated as the SAAA's leader in September 2011, left the courtroom quickly after the hearing and ducked into a witness room to meet with a probation officer. When she left the room she headed straight for the stairs and did not answer questions.

The count to which she pleaded guilty involved charges she made on an agency credit card.

Madden told the court that the evidence would have shown that Cockrell used the card in May 2011 to charge arrangements for a trip to New York, including tickets to a Broadway show, and made the trip the following month. She claimed she was attending a Mid-Atlantic Geriatric Manager's conference to justify the expenses, but that organization was not holding a conference at that time.

The total bill for that trip was slightly more than $1,300, Madden said.

Defense attorney Nancy Kie told the court that Cockrell did not disagree with Madden's assertions about the New York trip.

Cockrell's firing followed an investigation of agency finances by the Virginia Department for the Aging.

The probe was prompted by the discovery of 81 unmailed checks totaling nearly $265,000 in a safe at the SAAA's headquarters here. The agency did not have enough money in the bank to cover those checks.

The amount of restitution Cockrell has agreed to pay is the total the prosecution would have alleged was stolen by her in the four incidents for which she was charged, Madden said.