8News Investigates: Crime victims owed, victimized again

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News has uncovered some victims are not getting the money they’re owed. 8News Investigative Reporter Kerri O’Brien found that money paid by criminals for victim restitution often never leaves the hands of the government.

That was the case for military member Gertha Cleveland. Cleveland opened her home to someone in need, that person took advantage of her and made off with her jewelry and other valuables. Her case ended up in Chesterfield Circuit Court.

“No one ever contacted to me as to what ended up happening, what was the end result,” says Cleveland.

That was until now. Cleveland recently got a Facebook message from 8News.

“I’m shocked,” says Cleveland about what 8News found.

As it turns out, Cleveland’s crook paid her court-ordered restitution — more than $1,500 — but no one ever told the army soldier until we stepped in.

8News found Cleveland by reviewing a list of court cases where restitution had been collected, but the Chesterfield County Clerk listed the money as “unclaimed,” because the court couldn’t locate her. Except 8News found her in roughly two minutes: Just a simple Facebook search and there she was.

“And I have gotten a couple speeding tickets since then, so they knew how to get in contact with me,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland said she moved out of Chesterfield County, but still lives in the state and she kept the same phone number.

“In my opinion, they put forth no effort at all,” Cleveland said.

She’s not the only one. Unclaimed restitution records obtained by 8News show that over the past three years in Chesterfield County, there are more than 150 victims owed more than $36,000 dollars.

Victims like Urlonda Tinsley, who 8News tracked down using that highly investigative search engine– Google.

She didn’t want to go on camera with us, but in a Facebook message wrote:

“I really do appreciate you reaching out to me with the information. Complete ignorance if you had never told me.”

Some on the list the court claims it couldn’t locate, which really left 8News Investigative Reporter Kerri O’Brien baffled. Like department store Macy’s and — one of the biggest pharmacy chains in the country — Walgreens. And this one really had her shaking her head: Virginia State Police.

Chesterfield Circuit Court Clerk, Wendy Hughes, wouldn’t go on camera, but in a statement told 8News:

In response your voice mail and email question below, our office follows Virginia Code Section 55-210.12 in relation to unclaimed property matters.  We, unfortunately, do not have sufficient personnel resources to go beyond the statutory requirements. Further, as a court of record, social media sites are not information sources upon which we would rely nor would we correspond via social media.  As always, we are happy to assist individuals who believe they may have a claim.”

We shared our findings with state Senator Ryan McDougle, who sits on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

“That’s a real concern,” says McDougle.

The Senator was surprised to see victims not getting the cash they deserve. He told 8News lawmakers have been working on restitution legislation that he believes could help.

Starting July 1st, court clerks will have to share restitution records with probation and commonwealth’s attorneys.

“From the state side, what we have done this year is put this extra set of eyes every three months looking at the records from the clerk’s office, seeing who has been paid who hasn’t been paid,” McDougle explained.

The senator also admits in this day and age, relying on snail mail may not be enough, and Virginia code may need updating.

“Technology has changed and it is something we probably need to look at to see if we need to make some statutory changes,” McDougle said.

Meanwhile, Cleveland stopped by the Chesterfield Circuit Court Clerk’s office. The money is still available; it’s sitting in an account with the state’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund (CICF). The transfer of funds is now underway.

“She had already handed it to a gentleman who was processing it to send up to state and said that it would take a little while,” Cleveland said.

8News has been told by CICF Cleveland will finally get her $1,500.

“I thank you so much, because I had no clue it was out there at all,” she said.

8News checked in Richmond and found no one was owed money there. We’re still waiting for records from Henrico County.

If you think you maybe owed money in Chesterfield, click here to review the list of those who are owed restitution.

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