The former Loudoun County sheriff’s deputy charged with stealing more than $200,000 from the office’s asset-forfeiture program has an unusual reason federal prosecutors might not be able to put him on trial.
He says he has more than a decade-long gap in his memory.
A federal judge on Friday ordered that 44-year-old Frank Pearson undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is competent to understand the legal proceedings in the case and help his defense. The reason his attorneys sought it: “Mr. Pearson has no memory of events that occurred after 2001.”
It is not just his alleged crimes that Pearson says he cannot recall, though prosecutors say those occurred between 2010 and October 2013, well inside the period of purported amnesia. Defense attorneys said that after Pearson’s wife found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor of the family’s home in October 2013 and had him taken to a hospital, Pearson said the year was 2001 and that he did not recognize friends whom he had met after that year.
Prosecutors said that Pearson professed “not to recognize either of his now grown children” and that they had “deep skepticism” about his claim. Defense attorneys wrote that there was “probable cause to believe that Mr. Pearson is suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him unable to properly assist in his defense.”
In court Friday, Pearson, dressed in a suit, bid the judge good morning but said nothing else. Daniel Lopez, his attorney, said Pearson is physically and intellectually fine and able to retain short-term memories but cannot help prepare his defense because he cannot remember any of the time period in which his alleged misconduct occurred.
When they review documents, for example, Lopez said Pearson claims he cannot recognize them. “He might as well not even be there,” Lopez said. He declined to comment beyond what he said in court and what was in his written filings.
Pearson, of Winchester, Va., was charged in July with four counts of theft from programs receiving federal benefits. In an indictment, federal prosecutors alleged that Pearson embezzled money that was supposed to be deposited into an escrow account from the asset-forfeiture program.
Pearson had access to the money, seized vehicles and other assets because he had been overseeing the program since 2006, prosecutors said. The indictment marked the culmination of a years-long investigation that became a hot-button issue in Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman’s reelection campaign.
A spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office said Friday that prosecutors had to drop three alleged drug-dealing cases in which Pearson would have been a material witness.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman said that was not just because of the memory loss. When the allegations against Pearson first arose, he said, prosecutors reviewed the cases on which he worked to see whether they could still be brought because Pearson’s credibility was in question.
“A thief with a good memory is a bad witness,” Plowman said.
Plowman said Pearson would have been a material witness in relatively few cases, and in many instances, other witnesses could simply replace him. He said Pearson never returned to work after claiming that his memories had disappeared.
Though Pearson said that the memory loss took effect before he was charged, prosecutors suggested that the timing of it was suspicious. It emerged, they said, only after authorities began asking questions of Pearson.
“Notably,” prosecutors wrote, “this alleged amnesia arose one day after the defendant’s supervisor learned that approximately $34,000 that had been entrusted to the defendant could not be found, approximately twelve hours after one of the defendant’s coworkers witnessed the defendant removing boxes of money from his office in the dead of night, and on the same day that the defendant was scheduled to travel to a bank with his supervisor to clear up any questions about the missing $34,000.”
Prosecutors said the $34,000 had been seized during a narcotics investigation and that Pearson was supposed to have deposited it in an escrow account. They said Pearson claimed he had done so but never took the trip to the bank to determine what happened to it. Instead, the night before, he said he was feeling ill on the scene of another search warrant and drove back to the sheriff’s office, where he was spotted by another deputy carrying boxes of coins to his vehicle, prosecutors alleged. He was hospitalized soon after.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle said in court Friday that prosecutors supported a psychiatric evaluation, but only in an “abundance of caution.” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III seemed skeptical but noted there was a low threshold Pearson had to meet to get one.
Ellis mused aloud that “no defendant can remember everything that his lawyer would like him to remember” and asked, if he has memory loss, “Does that mean he escapes criminal liability for acts?”
Prosecutors argued that it did not and that Pearson could still stand trial even if his memory was gone. They wrote in court documents that Pearson’s memory could be refreshed by documents, including Pearson’s e-mails, handwritten logs and financial records that show “the deposit of tens of thousands of dollars in cash into the defendant’s personal bank accounts during the embezzlement scheme, notwithstanding that neither he nor his wife had any source of income that would have generated these cash deposits.”