CHARLESTON – A Huntington woman currently serving time for embezzling thousands from a former employer has asked a Kanawha County judge to order the West Virginia Parole Board to turn over a recording of her parole hearing, along with other requested documents.
Plaintiff Leigh Ann Zappin filed a complaint in Kanawha Circuit Court seeking the recording and documents, after she was denied parole by the board in May.
Zappin argues that the board, including its chairwoman, Benita Murphy, is “deliberately, maliciously and vexatiously” withholding information sought in a Freedom of Information Act request in order to conceal “widespread corruption, fraud and misconduct.”
Zappin filed the FOIA request June 8, seeking all public documents considered by the parole board and any transcripts or conversations between its members regarding her parole.
The plaintiff in May 2014 plead guilty to one count of embezzlement for taking between $23,000 and $32,000 from a previous employer.
In October 2014, she was sentenced to the maximum punishment under state statute -- one to 10 years in prison.
In April, after serving about nine months behind bars, Zappin became eligible for parole under the board’s Early Parole Program.
On May 12, she was granted a parole hearing before the state board. However, her parole was denied and will not be reconsidered for another year.
“This despite the ‘low risk crime’ she committed, her minimal criminal history and the fairly nominal amount of money she embezzled -- which was paid back entirely,” her attorney, Anthony Zappin of New York, wrote in her nine-page complaint.
The plaintiff noted in her complaint that board member Michael J. McCarthy has a “close personal and financial connection” with current Barboursville Mayor Christopher Tatum, who, Leigh Ann Zappin argues, participated with her in the embezzlement scheme but did not face prosecution because of his “connections” with the Cabell County Prosecutor’s Office.
Murphy and the parole board -- represented by the state Attorney General’s Office -- argued in an answer filed in Kanawha Circuit Court July 24 that the plaintiff has, indeed, been provided with a copy of her parole hearing recording.
They noted it was not provided to her until July 17 -- more than a month after her FOIA request -- due to an “extremely high volume of cases” pending before the parole board.
They deny Zappin has been prejudiced by the delay.
Murphy and the board also deny they are under any legal obligation to disclose so-called “sentiment letters.”
In addition, the defendants contend they have provided the plaintiff’s pre-sentence report to her -- albeit redacted and, again, not until July 17.
Murphy and the board also argue that Judge Carrie Webster -- who has been assigned the case -- should ignore all arguments in Zappin’s complaint that claim the board acted unfairly.
“The plaintiff will have to address these issues through alternate proceedings,” Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Freeman wrote.
The defendants also have filed a motion to dismiss, claiming the Kanawha Circuit Court lacks jurisdiction because Zappin failed to provide the board with 30-day pre-suit notification.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 15-C-1365