Sentencing hearing for ex-SAAA chief delayed

Posted: March 18, 2014

The Winchester Star

Helen Cockrell

FRONT ROYAL — A sentencing hearing scheduled today for the former leader of the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging (SAAA) will be delayed.

Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden wrote in an email Monday that the defense will request today that the hearing to sentence Helen Cockrell for embezzlement be continued.

Cockrell is being represented by Front Royal attorneys Nancy Kie and Todd Gilbert. Madden indicated that the continuance is being requested because Gilbert has a scheduling conflict.

Today’s hearing date in Warren County Circuit Court was scheduled in January. The proceedings could be scheduled no sooner than mid-March because Gilbert was committed to spend two months representing the 15th District in the Virginia House of Delegates.

A new hearing date is expected to be set today.

Cockrell, 58, of Rileyville, is the SAAA’s former president and CEO.

She has pleaded guilty to a felony count of embezzlement and entered Alford pleas to two others. With an Alford plea, a defendant agrees that the evidence might be sufficient for a conviction but does not admit guilt.

Based on the terms of a plea agreement, a fourth felony embezzlement charge against her will not be prosecuted.

Cockrell remains free on bond.

The SAAA’s board of directors fired her in September 2011 following an investigation into the agency’s finances by the Virginia Department for the Aging.

It was launched after 81 unmailed checks totaling nearly $265,000 were found in a safe at the agency’s Front Royal headquarters. The nonprofit organization did not have enough money in the bank to cover those checks.

The plea agreement includes a requirement that she repay $10,674 to the organization — the amount she was alleged to have stolen from all four incidents — within the next 12 months. She also must perform 100 hours of community service for each charge to which she entered an Alford plea.

The restitution total is a fraction of the amount SAAA officials say was stolen or mismanaged while Cockrell led the organization. Its debt eventually was determined to be $668,000.

Felony embezzlement is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Judge Dennis L. Hupp will determine her sentence following the hearing.

The SAAA provides services to senior citizens in six Northern Shenandoah Valley jurisdictions, including Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com