Paige Rice

Paige Rice (far right) seen during a City Council meeting in 2017. JACOB CHANG-RASCLE FOR THE DAILY PROGRESS

Bills for former Charlottesville Clerk of Council Paige Rice’s iPhone, Apple Watch and up to two iPads were paid through her last day on the payroll, according to city documents.

By December, her devices were no longer on the city’s wireless bill, but prosecutors allege that she kept the iPhone X and Apple Watch after her last day on Oct. 5.

City police announced Thursday evening that Rice, 37, of Albemarle County, was indicted June 7 on a felony embezzlement charge.

The indictment says Rice “feloniously, wrongfully, and fraudulently use[d], conceal[ed] or convert[ed] an Apple Watch and Apple iPhone X” valued at more than $500. The charge could carry up to 20 years in prison, according to the documents.

Human Services Director Galloway Beck didn’t comment specifically on Rice’s case, but he said that if an employee is provided with any sort of equipment, it is city property. He said the equipment should be turned in when the employee leaves.

“If it is city equipment that has been issued to me, then I would turn that in,” he said. “In general, unless there’s been some specific arrangement made, you would turn that in.”

Beck added that he didn’t know if the city has a process to allow employees to keep or purchase their city-issued equipment when they depart. He said it’s “not normal” to have any such agreement.

A capias for Rice’s arrest was issued on Monday. Law enforcement officials say she turned herself in to the court on Thursday. She was arrested by a sheriff’s deputy before posting $2,500 bond and being released, records show.

Later on Thursday, she appeared before a Charlottesville Circuit Court judge for an update on attorney arrangements, online court records show. It’s unclear if she has hired or was appointed an attorney.

A status hearing has been set for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 19.

According to a Thursday news release, the phone and watch were part of Rice’s employment and weren’t returned after her final day.

According to credit card statements and cellphone bills provided under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, Rice’s phone, watch and two iPads were on a wireless bill for Sept. 11 to Oct. 10. The bill was paid through a city-issued credit card.

The bill also includes cellphones for Mayor Nikuyah Walker; Councilors Kathy Galvin, Mike Signer and Wes Bellamy; community outreach coordinator Matt Murphy; an unassigned city phone; and iPads for Signer and Bellamy.

A handwritten note on the statement by former Assistant Clerk of Council Sarah Brazelton indicates that any charges reflect Rice’s five days on the payroll and that Brazelton had “confirmed that her charges are $0 for the next cycle.”

The Oct. 11 to Nov. 10 bill had only the two iPads. Both were on unlimited usage plans and reflected no charges, but they did show usage during the billing cycle.

By the next billing statement, none of Rice’s devices was on the wireless bill.

Statements for Rice’s city-issued credit card between June 29, 2017, and Oct. 3, 2018, do not appear to reflect the purchase of a cellphone or watch.

In March 2018, Rice signed a credit card use policy acknowledging that misuse could lead to embezzlement charges under the same section of Virginia law that her current charge is filed.

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.

Rice tendered her resignation on Sept. 12. Her last working day was Sept. 21 because she used her remaining time off before officially leaving on Oct. 5. At the time, no reason for her departure was given.

In September, Rice joined the Focused Ultrasound Foundation as chief of staff, according to the group’s website.

City spokesman Brian Wheeler served as interim clerk of council, primarily to take minutes at council meetings, until Kyna Thomas was hired earlier this year.

Former Councilor Bob Fenwick, who served from 2013 to 2017, was “really surprised” by the indictment.

“She was an excellent clerk,” he said. “She was right at the top of management and personal qualities. It really did surprise me.”

Fenwick had a city-issued laptop and cellphone that he returned when his council term expired.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania declined to comment on the case. Wheeler said the city had no comment.

City code dictates that the city manager is in charge of the “general supervision and control of all real and tangible personal property belonging to the city government.” The city manager can delegate that responsibility to department heads. However, the Clerk of Council office is supervised by City Council, not the city manager.

When Rice resigned, Assistant City Manager Mike Murphy was serving as interim city manager. Murphy didn’t return a call for comment.

Calls to the phone number associated with Rice’s city-issued phone went straight to voicemail and were not returned.

Rice’s husband, Joe, is the city’s deputy director of communications. He did not return a call for comment on Friday.

Rice isn’t the first city official to be indicted on embezzlement charges.

In 2013, former Charlottesville Registrar Sheri Iachetta and former Electoral Board member Stephanie Commander 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.

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City hall reporter

Nolan Stout is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, nstout@dailyprogress.com, or @nstoutDP on Twitter and Facebook.

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