Virginia State Police are investigating allegations arising from the tenure of E. Lee Stoffregen III, the two-term Prince William County sheriff who lost his bid for reelection last year, the special prosecutor said yesterday.
King George County Commonwealth's Attorney Matt Britton, who was appointed in March to oversee the probe, said the investigation is continuing. He declined to comment further for "the protection of the person being investigated as well as for the protection of the commonwealth's case."
Sources with knowledge of the probe said the allegations include the misuse of county funds. State police also are trying to determine whether the former sheriff accepted political donations from residents in exchange for appointing them volunteer deputies, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
This is the fourth criminal investigation into Stoffregen's tenure as Prince William sheriff -- and the second that remains active. He was cleared of wrongdoing in the first two probes. A special prosecutor in Chesterfield County is investigating contributions to Stoffregen's campaign and a complaint that he did not honor a state Freedom of Information Act request. Kenneth E. Nickels, assistant commonwealth's attorney for Chesterfield, said he did not know when his probe will be concluded.
"I would have thought it would be over now, but it's not for various reasons," Nickels said, declining further comment.
Stoffregen, 53, and now a Remax real estate broker, became known as Prince William's sheriff for his large campaign war chests and efforts to expand the sheriff department's reach beyond the traditional duties of protecting the courthouse, serving subpoenas and transporting inmates. He angered the county police force, which believed that his initiatives, including setting up speed traps, duplicated police services and possibly endangered residents.
Stoffregen said yesterday that he was not aware of the latest investigation. He defended his record and campaign finances, calling them "appropriate" and the investigation "just part of the ongoing saga."
"This doesn't surprise me. As usual, I would be glad to cooperate," Stoffregen said.
"I am completely confident that we've done everything appropriate. Everything that was done was done within the law. . . . We were vindicated."
A county source with knowledge of the latest investigation said Stoffregen allegedly was "selling badges" during his tenure and taking county money for his personal use. Another source said the latest investigation is more thorough because "people are more willing to talk about what happened . . . because he's no longer sheriff."
In February 2000, Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney William W. Davenport, appointed as a special prosecutor, cleared Stoffregen of criminal wrongdoing after political opponents complained that he received thousands of dollars in political donations in exchange for appointing some county residents as reserve deputies. A reserve deputy wears a uniform and a badge and has enforcement powers.
Records showed that during his 1999 campaign, about half of the 180 current and former volunteer deputies or their relatives donated nearly $120,000 to his campaign.
In June 2003, he was cleared of wrongdoing after his campaign was accused of commissioning a poll during the primaries that did not identify who was behind it; Davenport, appointed as the special prosecutor, said that even though the poll violated state law, it was the responsibility of those conducting it, not Stoffregen, to inform participants.
Special prosecutors are often appointed from other jurisdictions to avoid a conflict of interest or the appearance of one; Paul B. Ebert, the commonwealth's attorney of Prince William, declined to comment.