8News Investigates: Lawmaker working on bill to get victims their restitution money

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Last week 8News uncovered the State keeping crime victims’ money locked up in a fund that most victims know nothing about.

Statewide, 8News found more than $1 million in court-ordered restitution that has been paid by the criminal, but the Commonwealth failed to pass onto victims.

After our report, Delegate Rob Bell from Virginia’s 58th District told 8News he is working on a bill to get victims their cash.

“Obviously it is atrocious,” Del. Bell said. “These are people who have an unpaid bill. Restitution is not for pain and suffering.”

Bell, who is also the Chair of Virginia’s Crime Commission, was disturbed to learn thousands of crime victims aren’t getting the money they are owed.

However, he was not completely surprised.

Last year, the Crime Commission started studying the state’s restitution problems, finding the system was “fragmented” and “lacked order.” Yet, their main focus then was on trouble collecting restitution from the criminals, not distributing it to the victims.

“Arguably, this is easier to fix because the money is sitting there, the money has been paid. We just need to make sure it gets to the right person,” Bell said.

While circuit court clerks told us they could not locate the victims, 8News found several people just by searching on Google and Facebook.

The clerks told us often they don’t have the time or resources to search for people, and often they lack good contact information. Victim forms only include a last known address and sometimes a phone number. Clerks suggested an email address would be helpful. 8News shared that with Delegate Bell and he said that is something that can be added.

8News also found each court seems to handle unclaimed restitution differently. In fact, we found some don’t handle it at all. Bell believes there needs to be a standardized process in place and a person dedicated to locating the victims.

“We got to find somebody who says this is my job, this is my priority,” Del. Bell said.

This issue is now on the Crime Commission’s agenda for its Monday meeting. 8news will be there to bring you the latest.

Never miss another Facebook post from 8News

Find 8News on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to iReport8@wric.com.