Former Charlottesville Clerk of Council Paige Rice has been indicted on a felony embezzlement charge, city police announced Thursday.
A grand jury on June 7 indicted Rice, 37, of Albemarle County, on one felony count of embezzlement. The indictment alleges that Rice embezzled an Apple Watch and Apple iPhone X, both valued at more than $500, she received as an employee of the city, according to a news release.
The city issued the release after the Charlottesville Circuit Clerk’s Office had closed Thursday, meaning further details could not be obtained from the full indictment by press time.
Authorities say Rice did not return the devices to the city after she resigned Sept. 21, though she used her remaining time off before officially leaving Oct. 5.
In September, Rice joined the Focused Ultrasound Foundation as chief of staff, according to the group's website.
Rice did not respond to a request for comment.
Rice joined the city as clerk of council in 2010 and was paid $72,842 a year in 2017. In July 2018, her salary was raised to $98,328 when she became chief of staff.
The expanded role came after then-City Manager Maurice Jones’ contract was not renewed amid ongoing discussions on council about the city’s form of governance.
“It is the result of work that happened with the last council thinking through this form of government. We’re now going to have real staff. We’ll have a chief of staff and three people under them,” Councilor Mike Signer said in 2018, referring to the new title for the clerk of council, an upgraded assistant clerk role and two new positions.
“It will enable us to create a parallel government to the city manager,” Signer said. “And that’s really important because we’re the political and policymaking arm of the government.”
City spokesman Brian Wheeler was named interim clerk of council after Rice’s resignation. He said his responsibilities with the new role were primarily limited to taking minutes at council meetings.
Commonwealth's Attorney Joe Platania, Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilors Wes Bellamy and Heather Hill declined to comment on the indictment. Councilors Signer and Kathy Galvin did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Wheeler or Joe Rice, Paige Rice’s husband and the city’s deputy director of communications.
Attorney Scott Goodman, who offered insight into embezzlement cases, said there was still a lot of missing information that would likely be spelled out in the indictment and ensuing hearing. A status hearing for Rice has been set for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 19.
Goodman said it was “inconceivable” to him that the city would not have made some effort to obtain the devices. However, he said, Rice could possibly argue that due to a miscommunication she may have been under the impression she was allowed to keep the devices.
Goodman said he would not be surprised to see the charge reduced.
“It would not be uncommon for a case like this to be resolved as a misdemeanor if the amount is not much more than $500,” he said.
At first glance, this case appears similar to that of former Charlottesville Registrar Sheri Iachetta and former Electoral Board member Stephanie Commander, Goodman said, who in 2013 were indicted on multiple charges of embezzlement and misusing public funds.
Iachetta and Commander used city tax money to cover more than $7,000 in bills for city-issued cellphones for Iachetta’s husband, Pat Owen, and Commander, neither of whom held positions with the city at the time the charges accumulated, police said.
Both accepted plea agreements and received 90-day suspended sentences but were required to perform 200 hours of community service.
Embezzlement is a significant charge, Goodman said, one that carries up to 20 years in prison.
“It’s considered an abuse of trust; steps beyond theft,” he said.