- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2012

A Virginia Department of Corrections employee paid a prolific criminal with whom he had a homosexual relationship nearly $80,000 in public funds to perform work for the state that was never done, a recent report concludes.

Craig Hawthorne Sotherden, as Western Region food operations director, paid Anthony David Ryan $77,209.63 to repair food service equipment for the state, according to an investigation by the Department of Corrections‘ inspector general.

“It is now clear that equipment repairs invoiced to the Commonwealth of Virginia for payment were never completed,” wrote June W. Jennings, inspector general for the department, in an a May 8 letter to State Internal Auditor John A. Spooner. “Government business was awarded to Anthony David Ryan on the sole recommendation of Craig Hawthorne Sotherden who had established a homosexual relationship with Anthony Ryan.”

While former offenders routinely are hired to perform work for the state and many services are contracted out to private businesses, the report says the two men skirted Virginia’s procurement practices in hatching the plan.

“Payments were structured to avoid further scrutiny of the program, and to eliminate the competitive bid process,” Ms. Jennings wrote.

Mr. Sotherden’s employment with the state ended Oct. 1, but a Department of Corrections official did not say whether he was fired.

Management apparently failed to perform even a basic background check on Ryan - who has been in and out of the state’s court system since at least 2004 - before Mr. Sotherden began submitting invoices for payment.

State officials did not review Ryan’s criminal record, references or business license before handing him the government work, according to the investigation.

The Department of Corrections provided a list of 76 sentences for Ryan for crimes committed from October 2004 to March 2012.

A Web-based background check turned up 135 cases. Courts did not pursue charges in many of those cases, but crimes for which he has been convicted include forgery, identity theft, breaking and entering, grand larceny, credit card theft and shoplifting.

Ryan, 31, entered the Montgomery County Jail in February 2005. He was transferred to state custody at the Bland Correctional Center on Sept. 1, 2005, and then transferred to the Botetourt Correctional Center on April 4, 2007. He was released to community supervision through a probation and parole program on July 6, 2009.

The report indicates that Ryan was in a probationary program when the fraud occurred but does not explicitly say when the men hatched the scheme or for how long it was carried out.

“While we understand the Department’s position to hire former offenders, management should carefully consider the prior criminal history of the offender in relation to the position for which they are being brought into the department,” Ms. Jennings wrote.

Management also did not review every transaction that took place between the two men. The investigation began after the inspector general received a complaint that Mr. Sotherden was paying Ryan $5,000 per month.

In addition to the money paid to Ryan, it cost the state more than $12,000 to check out the allegations.

Ryan is now in custody at the New River Valley Regional Jail in southwestern Virginia. Neither Ryan nor Mr. Sotherden could be reached for comment.

The case has been referred to the Pulaski County commonwealth’s attorney’s office for potential prosecution and recovery of state funds.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Fleenor said in an email that the office is evaluating the allegations to determine whether or not the conduct constituted a crime. If so, the office will present indictments to a grand jury in July or September.

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