The News & Record
South Boston News & Record
and Mecklenburg Sun
Home   •   News   •   Sports   •   Classifieds   •   Community   •   Health   •   Entertainment   •   Obituaries   •   Opinions   •   Weather
Advertising | Contact | Register
Advanced Search
News

Harsh words, upheld vote

Halifax County supervisors affirm Pannell as board chairman after acrimonious exchanges

MEC wins funding for county fiber broadband

EMPOWER to use $710K grant on Halifax expansion

Messages of love and uplift at MLK breakfast


Sports

Comets drop two straight games

Fall to GW Friday and Appomattox on Wednesday

Community


Opinion


A&E

News

Cash on hand: not just Noblin


SoVaNow.com / November 03, 2011
With an election less than a week away and a Virginia State Police investigation hanging over his head, Halifax County Sheriff Stanley Noblin has yet to respond to the substance of allegations that he may have embezzled public funds collected from the sale of seized drug assets.

Agents with the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations have begun questioning officials in Halifax, but chances are slim the probe will provide fresh guidance for voters as they head to the polls next Tuesday to choose between Noblin and challenger Fred Clark.

In the meantime, though, new details have emerged about how public funds have been used to conduct drug investigations — now and in the past.

Financial records show that Noblin isn’t the first sheriff to withdraw large sums of cash, purportedly to pay for investigation expenses, on the unquestioned authority of his office.

Before Noblin, there was Sheriff Jeff Oakes — whose personal pursuit of record-keeping documents and correspondence involving the Sheriff’s Office spurred the BCI probe of Noblin, the man whom ousted Oakes from office four years ago.

As sheriff, Oakes, too, took out substantial sums of money by cashing personal checks made out to him by the county treasurer, records show. Over a period from September 2005 to April 2007, Oakes cashed checks totaling $41,127, all written in his name off line-item accounts funded by the Halifax County Board of Supervisors for crime investigation and drug enforcement purposes.

Like Noblin, Oakes submitted written requests to county officials each time he sought the checks.

Unlike Noblin, Oakes restricted his requests to locally appropriated funds.

Noblin has tapped this same local pot of money, but he also made additional drawdowns of asset forfeiture funds, distributed by the state to localities following the sale of assets seized from drug traffickers. The Department of Criminal Justice Services in Richmond, which administers the funds, requires agencies to spend the money to combat the spread of drugs; cash for active investigations — so-called “confidential funds” for undercover drug buys and informant tips and testimony, among other things — tops the list of permissible uses.

All told during his near-four year tenure, Noblin has taken out $83,000 in state and local confidential funds; of this sum, $48,500 came from the state asset forfeiture fund, a pot of money which his predecessors mostly left alone.

Regardless of the source, however, the procedure for these cash withdrawals has been the same across administrations: The sheriff forwards a note to the county administrator’s office or treasurer asking to get a check. Does it matter from which account the money was drawn?

Procedure in the Oakes years

Contacted this week, Oakes argued that it does: State asset forfeiture funds come with special criteria governing their use, he said. A key requirement is timely reporting each year to DCJS of the money flowing in and out of the fund. This requirement has posed a challenge for Noblin; the Sheriff’s Office is now two years behind filing its annual certification reports, although Oakes also was tardy with the report in his last year in office.

Oakes also suggested that Noblin has not adequately accounted for the use of cash funds from either the local or state account.

“Show me a receipt where he gave that money to Mark Campbell [the State Police coordinator of the local drug task force] and who used that money out in the field to pay informants or buy drugs,” said Oakes.

Noblin, reached this weekend, reiterated his intention to address the allegations against him in the week left before the election, though he has yet to do so. (He was unavailable for comment yesterday.) But Noblin latched on to the prior cash withdrawals by Oakes to suggest that the actions for which he is now under investigation are hardly unprecedented.

“That’s how we knew how we [were supposed to get] funds,” said Noblin. “I came in blind on this sort of thing.

“There is absolutely no difference in the way it was done. This is just a different account.”

The issue is complicated by the fact that the Sheriff has broad authority to access large sums of cash needed to conduct operations against the drug underworld. What outside authorization that is required is up to the county administrator’s office — and as an official with no standing in the often-secretive world of law enforcement, the county administrator would have no way of knowing how the money ultimately might be spent.

State “best practices” guidelines strongly suggest that a prosecutor or a partnering law enforcement official should co-authorize withdrawals of cash for investigation purposes. Halifax County has not adhered to these guidelines, although officials indicate a change in policy to do so is in the works.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White, who first reviewed the evidence collected by Oakes against his successor, said she has never been asked by either sheriff to sign off on the use of either state or local confidential funds.

However, White said there is a qualitative difference between the withdrawals made by Noblin and those made in the past by Oakes. In the Oakes administration, the Sheriff’s Office would have had no access to cash from the Virginia State Police, which typically furnishes confidential funds for drug investigations. That’s because in Oakes’s last term in office, the Sheriff’s Office withdrew from the regional task force and struck out on its own with a local task force.

By comparison, soon after taking office, Noblin rejoined the regional drug task force, with the Virginia State Police and South Boston Police as members. State Police Special Agent Mark Campbell serves as the coordinator and provider of confidential funds.

“The primary and overwhelming difference [is] our task force is now funded with state police money,” said White, while Oakes’ department had no such access to state cash during the time he was withdrawing the local funds.

White said she was unaware of Oakes’ drawdowns at the time — her first term in office overlapped with his last — but she learned of the practice in the course of reviewing Oakes’ allegations against Noblin.

“That is one of the inquiries I made before turning [the case] over to Eric Cooke,” she said, referring to the Southampton County commonwealth’s attorney who has been designated the special prosecutor in the Noblin probe.

White added the “vast majority” of the evidence that she forwarded to Cooke originated with Oakes, but “I did some follow-up and questioning of key individuals” and reviewed documents from both administrations before going forward with the inquiry. On the basis of what she saw, White said, she sought the appointment of Cooke as special prosecutor, recusing herself from the case due to her day-to-day dealings with the sheriff.

White said she did her own fact-finding “given that I knew the highly political nature of how the documents ended up in my lap” — a reference to Oakes’ often caustic criticisms of Noblin (frequently posted on-line) and the timing of the investigation, just weeks before the election.

Drug work, then and now

The distinction that White draws — between the Noblin Sheriff’s Office that has access to State Police carry-around money, and the Oakes Department that relied on local sources for cash — has echoes in a campaign dispute four years ago, when then-Sheriff Oakes was en route to a crushing election loss to Noblin, a veteran of the Virginia State Police.

The crux of the debate: Noblin was critical of Oakes’ decision, taken around 2003, to pull the Sheriff’s Office out of the Halifax-South Boston Regional Drug Task Force, which at the time counted the State Police and South Boston Police Department as members. Noblin’s argument, in a nutshell, was that local drug enforcement would be stronger with more partners in the mix.

By contrast, the local task force created during Oakes’ last term of office was an agency of one: the Sheriff’s Office, with the Board of Supervisors providing the operating and investigation funds. The coordinator was Richard Pulliam, Oakes’ number two. (Pulliam also served as coordinator for the previous regional task force, but the cash for drug buys and informant payments came from a State Police special agent assigned to the unit.)

Four years ago, Oakes argued for compacting the task force around the Sheriff’s Office, arguing in an on-line post for HalifaxTalk.com that “’Too many cooks spoil the broth.’ That applies to drug enforcement as well.” He continues to believe that it was the right thing to do to separate the Sheriff’s Office from the other agencies.

“The logistics were just a nightmare,” he said this week. In particular, the previous task force was hampered by having a State Police special agent out of Bedford as its financier. “What you were getting out of the State Police was mostly the financial side [buy and informant money] and the paperwork headaches. The agent wasn’t at your disposal all that often,” he said.

In August 2005, with Pulliam leading a team of Sheriff’s drug task force investigators, Oakes e-mailed then-County Administrator Bryan Foster with his first request for local funds, “just to give you the ‘heads-up’”: $7,500, broken up into two checks, would be needed to pay drug case informants and carry out stings against county drug dealers, he wrote.

“Due to the bank’s reluctance to cash checks made out to the sheriff’s office, please have the two checks made payable to me. Thanks,” added Oakes in a follow-up letter to Foster, the county administrator.

Subsequent withdrawals in November 2005, the summer months of 2006 and April 2007 ranged in size from $2,500 to $11,485; the latter amount drew a mild complaint from Oakes, who noted that checks cashed for more than $10,000 attract the scrutiny of the IRS: “Should I return the check or suffer the consequences?” he wrote to Foster.

Speaking this week about the practice of drawing out cash, the former sheriff said he did everything he was required to do in terms of allowing oversight by the county administrator.

Also, the local funds were appropriated by the Board of Supervisors for the expressed purpose of supporting crime investigations — and he used the money accordingly.

“The county money is already in my budget, just like the money is there to pay the telephone bill,” he said.

Asked why the Sheriff’s Office didn’t follow best practices guidelines and seek co-authorization of the funds with the Commonwealth’s Attorney — the advice comes from the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts — Oakes replied: “The Commonwealth’s Attorney is the logical person to be involved in any of these disbursements. But it doesn’t say they have to be. It’s a ‘good idea’ sort of thing — a suggestion.”

Task Force practices

Noblin hasn’t adopted the practice, either. Campbell, the drug task force coordinator, said he could not comment on the ongoing investigation of Noblin, but if the Sheriff were channeling money to the task force it would be up to the partner agencies’ command board to determine how it would be used.

By the standard procedure, the State Police is providing the confidential funds needed for task force operations, and as coordinator Campbell says he must strictly account for all expenditures. (One of his responsibilities is filing monthly reports to the district office in Appomattox.) Since he took over as coordinator in 2007, the task force has not undertaken the type of operations that would require large sums of cash beyond what the State Police is willing to provide.

“We’ve had some large investigations but nothing that would require tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.

Campbell’s superior officer in Appomattox, Lt. Ira Matney, said all sources of money to the task force would be managed by the command group, and “nobody operates on their own as far as spending that money.” However, Matney said law enforcement agencies — including those that are partners in task forces — often conduct their own drug investigations outside the structure of the task force. He said the Halifax task force has been “very effective” but didn’t rule out the possibility that the Sheriff’s Office could be striking out on its own.

“Just because you’ve got a task force doesn’t mean all your efforts are in that task force,” he said. “You can have other investigations going on.”

Whether this is true in Noblin’s case will be up to State Police investigators to decide.

Tell-a-Friend | Submit a Comment

3975

Comments

Intresting. So if this money was used as Noblin's letters to the treasurer indicates for drug buys and investigations than the that money that Noblin got would have been disbursed and supervised by the command group of the task force, correct?

If so.....accounting for the $ 83,000 should be extremely easy and verifiable by the state police task force coordinator (Campbell ) and the leaders of the partnering agencies (Binner, and others)......SO WHERE IS IT!?

Comments

Vote for Fred Clark because Noblin had his chance, and he blew it.With all of the allegations going around about Noblin and finger pointing at Oakes for being vindictive, I want to discuss some factual things about Noblin's inept leadership and lack of accomplishments as the Sheriff of Halifax County. In October 2007, Noblin was asked by the Gazette Virginian: G-V: What do you see as the main challenge to law enforcement in Halifax County?Noblin: “The increasing amount of drug related and property crimes presents the greatest challenge to law enforcement in Halifax County.”

Comments

G-V: Define your plan for fighting illegal drugs in Halifax County. Noblin: “My plan for fighting illegal drugs in Halifax County is as follows. As I have stated throughout the campaign, I plan to reform the Regional Drug Task Force to include all local agencies and the Virginia State Police. By doing so, we will be able to put more officers on the street working together, sharing information, resources and funding. By working collectively with the Virginia State Police, our investigators will once again be afforded jurisdiction outside of Halifax County, with an opportunity to stop drug distribution before it even gets to Halifax County. Lastly, it’s simple mathematics, as this plan would create a more cost-effective system to operate under a regional setting. The sheriff’s narcotics investigation budget has increased significantly since the disbanding of the task force in 2004.

Comments

Even though we do not have to share asset forfeiture proceeds with other agencies, we are spending more than we are getting in return. The money we budget annually to cover the costs of operating a solo narcotics team within the Halifax County Sheriff’s Department has consistently superseded the money returned to Halifax County through asset forfeiture. The end result…a regional drug task force would give us the opportunity to be more efficient as well as serve the taxpayers of Halifax County.”Noblin reiterated this theme throughout his campaign.

Recently in Halifax County Circuit Court, a local man was convicted of 10 marijuana distribution related charges. The court convicted him of six felony charges for distribution of more than one-half ounce but less than five ounces of marijuana, and it convicted him of two felony charges for conspiring to distribute more than one-half ounce but less than five ounces of marijuana.

Comments

The court also convicted him of two misdemeanor charges for distribution of less than one-half ounce of marijuana. The court sentenced him to 10 years in prison for each of the eight felonies and 12 months in jail for each of the two misdemeanors, with all suspended but 12 months in jail. The court ordered the suspended portions of the sentence be conditioned on his good behavior for 80 years, and it ordered him placed on probation for two years following his release. The court ordered the defendant to perform 200 hours of community service, pay a $2,000 fine and pay $340 restitution to the Virginia State Police. This was not a well thought out investigation. When you factor in the man hours, the danger to the officers, the danger to the citizens (who are unaware) nearby during these marijuana buy operations, it's just not worth the risk.

Comments

I guarantee you this was done because the informant told them that’s what he could do (to get out of his trouble), and they did the buys just for a quota. Who would knowingly endanger themselves and citizens as well as waste man hours for 12 months of jail time? Trust me, they know full well the man hours that will be involved and that’s all the jail time someone will get beforehand as there are sentencing guidelines. So instead of targeting significant targets (large scale drug dealers), they went after low level marijuana sales. Unbelievable and typical. Anyone who lives in Halifax County knows there have been few arrests in the drug culture in the past FOUR years. The few arrested were low level drug users selling to support their habit.

Comments

Prior to Noblin's FOUR dreadful years and failed venture to reform the Regional Task Force, there were tons of drug arrests. There were many kilo level drug dealers arrested and prosecuted from Halifax County as well as every surrounding county by the Halifax County Sheriff's Office. There were kingpin level drug dealers convicted in Halifax County. There were life sentences handed down. The Halifax County Sheriff's Office had many, many cases in Federal Court. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were seized and forfeited based on the investigations of the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office. I would bet that the Sheriff's auctions and sales prior to Noblin raised more money than Noblin's taskforce seizures for his entire FOUR years. Prior to Noblin, the Halifax County Sheriff's Office solved many crimes such as murders and breaking and enterings through their drug investigations.

Comments

This can be verified through court records, archives of the local newspapers or ask former Commonwealth Attorney John Greenbacker or Commonwealth Attorney Kim White. FOUR years ago, Stanley Noblin made many promises to the citizens of this county. To date, and in my opinion, he has failed miserably in his efforts to complete most of those tasks! You should vote for Fred Clark because you want a better and safer community. Vote with your head and common sense and not because you like Noblin or hate Oakes. Vote for Fred Clark because you truly want a safer life for your children. Set aside personal feelings, and vote for the better candidate. Don't waste your vote. Vote for Fred Clark to save Halifax County. Vote for Fred Clark to improve Halifax County. Vote for Fred Clark because Noblin had his chance, and he blew it!!

Comments

Don't let Jeff Oakes "win" this election. He has held a grudge for the last four years against Stanley Noblin. Noblin has done a good job for Halifax County. Don't let negative campaign tactics make you waste your vote. If you want Jeff Oakes back in office then vote for Fred Clark

Comments

What's obvious is that Jeff Oaks is a bitter loser and the accusations made against Stanley Noblin are nothing but political. Oaks applied the exact same procedure for distribution of funds...he just didn't have access to the State funds because the chose to "lone wolf" it and withdraw from the Regional Task Force. Stanley has done an outstanding job his last four years and will continue to do so. Again, no offense to Fred but he is hardly qualified having been out of the field so long. Vote for Stanley Noblin on Nov 8th. You'll be glad you did!


Advertising Flyer

Find out how you can reach more customers by advertising with The News & Record and The Mecklenburg Sun -- in print and online.