Vines investigation continues despite recall failure

Published 3:11 pm Thursday, April 7, 2022

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comments by Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips.

The Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office appears to be continuing its investigation of Isle of Wight County School Board member Michael Vines, despite a judge’s dismissal of the recall petition that had sought to oust him from his seat.

The petition, which county resident Lewis Edmonds filed in March, had sought Vines’ “immediate suspension,” accusing him of having made “wildly inappropriate” remarks at recent meetings, and of “malfeasance” for having left his employment status and salary blank on the required statement of economic interests school board members must file.

Circuit Court Judge Carl Eason dismissed the petition on March 29 after finding that none of the more than 200 county residents who signed it had attested to having done so under penalty of perjury as required under state law.

The court had named Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Nerendra Pleas as a special prosecutor for the recall after Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips recused herself and her office, citing an unspecified conflict. Pleas then tasked Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Lily Wilder with arguing in favor of the petition at the March 29 hearing.

A day later, on March 30, the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office served Isle of Wight County Schools with a search warrant for an unredacted version of Vines’ statement of economic interests.

According to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, state law requires copies of school board members’ statements of economic interests to have each board member’s addresses and signatures redacted.

“We told the assistant CA that we would work with them but we were bound by law,” Briggs said.

The search warrant, which The Smithfield Times obtained from the Isle of Wight County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, accuses Vines of “stating that he does not make over $5,000 at his place of employment” by virtue of having left the employment status and salary blank on the statement of economic interests form, but having stated at a Feb. 8 town hall meeting that he was “an IT manager” who makes “over $100,000 a year.” Edmonds had made the same accusation in his dismissed petition.

An accompanying affidavit characterizes Vines’ omission as “forging public records,” a Class 4 felony under Virginia law. The affidavit is signed by Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kris Coughlin, who attests to having “personal knowledge of the facts set forth” in it.

Capt. Tommy Potter, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, declined to comment on the investigation and deferred to Pleas, who also declined to comment.

Phillips also declined to comment on what she referred to as an “ongoing investigation.”

Steven M. Oser, the attorney who represented Vines at the recall hearing, declined to comment on the search warrant and affidavit. Vines himself has not return a request for comments.