- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

RICHMOND | A judge dismissed embezzlement charges against the former director of the state’s wildlife agency Thursday, ruling that prosecutors failed to demonstrate that William L. Woodfin Jr. knowingly misused public funds.

Richmond Circuit Judge Richard D. Taylor tossed out the case without hearing defense witnesses, making the state 0-for-3 in prosecutions stemming from its investigation of a two-week African safari. Charges previously were dismissed or dropped against two high-ranking former game wardens who accompanied Mr. Woodfin on the 2004 trip.

“The shame of it is you have 30-year public servants that the footnote of their distinguished service was a felony indictment,” Mr. Woodfin’s attorney, W. Joseph Owen III, said after the trial. “It’s very, very sad - almost tragic.”

Mr. Woodfin, 60, declined to answer reporters’ questions.

The state attorney general’s office, which prosecuted the case, had no immediate comment on the judge’s decision.

Mr. Woodfin and his former Department of Game and Inland Fisheries colleagues, Terry Bradbery and Michael Caison, were accused of improperly running up thousands of dollars in charges on their state-issued credit cards to equip the safari. The trip was arranged by former game department board Chairman Daniel Hoffler, a wealthy Virginia Beach developer who eventually reimbursed the state for all of the disputed expenditures.

Mr. Owen said Mr. Hoffler thought learning about game-management practices in Africa would help the state officials.

The charges against Mr. Woodfin involved about $500 in clothing purchases as well as about 60 personal calls made on a satellite phone the state provided so he could keep in touch with his office.

State Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor, who was deputy secretary of natural resources at the time of the safari, testified that he approved the trip only if it was done at no expense to the state. He also authorized the satellite phone “for business use” during the trip.

“We didn’t have any discussions about personal use,” Mr. Paylor said, adding he later told Mr. Woodfin he would have to reimburse the state for any personal calls. The state was repaid.

State Police Special Agent William C. Palicia testified that Mr. Woodfin told him of needing to call home periodically to check on his wife, who was having health problems.

“His understanding was there were not any restrictions placed on the calls,” he said.

Only 10 of the 70 calls made from the satellite phone were to the game department, Special Agent Palicia testified. Calls also were made to other Woodfin and Caison family members. The total bill for the calls was about $1,350.

Patrick Dorgan of the attorney general’s office said Mr. Woodfin knew the phone was for business use but made personal calls and allowed others to do the same.

“That was clearly outside the scope of the permission he was given,” Mr. Dorgan said.

The prosecutor also argued that Mr. Woodfin, in his executive position, had no legitimate need to buy the boots and khaki pants that are part of the uniform worn by game wardens.

But Ray Davis, the department’s director of administration and chief financial officer, testified that top agency officials often wear those uniforms while working in the field. Mr. Woodfin was a sworn law-enforcement officer who often conducted training and participated in covert operations, Mr. Davis testified.

Mr. Davis approved the purchases after the fact, which was in keeping with department policy at the time, he said. Mr. Davis said the department’s purchasing policies have since been substantially tightened.

In announcing his decision to dismiss the case, Judge Taylor rebuked the department for its past business practices.

“The court is not saying you had a set of procedures in place here that served the taxpayers well,” the judge said. “It was far from that.”

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