Trial involving former finance director delayed due to poor health of ‘material witness’

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By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Sept. 6 — Judge Clarke A. Ritchie delayed the jury trial of a former Page County finance director on Tuesday morning due to the poor health of a “material witness” for the commonwealth.

“We want to get this done today,” Judge Ritchie stated, “but we do not want to put people in a situation to get sick.”

The circuit court judge called Christina Taylor during Tuesday morning’s proceedings to confirm her illness. At the time of the call, Taylor was across the street in the Page County Government Center, where she works in the finance department. She had come into the office in anticipation of still potentially being called to testify in the felony case charging Dennis Lee Click Jr. with obtaining money by false pretenses.

Sarah Endres, assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Rockingham County, said that Taylor was a “material witness” for the prosecution and “worked directly” with the defendant. Endres was assigned to serve as special prosecutor in the case due to the fact that the charges were placed against a high-ranking official in Page County government.

In early April a Page County grand jury issued a direct indictment — surpassing the general district court — stating that: “On, about, or between the 21st day of June, 2017, and the 28th day of May, 2020, in the County of Page, Virginia, Dennis Lee Click Jr. did unlawfully and feloniously obtain, by false pretense or token, with the intent to defraud, currency belonging to Page County and valued at $1,000 or more.”

The county’s former finance director allegedly took more than $13,000 without authorization to pay for classes he was taking to further his education. Although discrepancies were discovered in the county’s monthly financial statements in May of 2020, according to several sources, Click’s employment as the county’s finance director continued through July 27, 2020. Click had reportedly been put on leave from July 22-25, 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns and possible exposure to the virus. For a period of about seven weeks prior to that, the county continued to work with Click to resolve the issue internally.

“Employer has a well-established policy that any certification, credits, educational courses which an Employee desires to take must be pre-approved by the Employer in order for the course to be paid for by the Employer,” reads a Reimbursement Agreement drawn up by then-County Attorney Nathan Miller between Click and the County. “Employee entered into an educational program with Chardon State College to obtain an advanced degree. In violation of Employer’s policy, the expenses of those courses, materials and fees for the referenced educational program were billed to the Employer without Employer’s knowledge or pre-approval.”

“Employee agrees to reimburse Employer,” the agreement continues, “for all expenses, fees and costs in the amount of [$13,268.61] which were billed to the Employer on behalf of the Employee in violation of Employer’s policies.”

During the judge’s phone call to Taylor on Tuesday morning — which was on speaker phone in the courtroom — Taylor reported that her COVID test taken that morning came back negative. However, she still suffered from a headache and a fever exceeding 100 degrees.

Judge Ritchie noted that “over the counter” COVID tests were not always reliable and while the witness was “actively symptomatic” it would “not be a good idea [for her] to testify in a courtroom full of people.”

While the prosecution agreed to potentially call Taylor back and take her testimony over the phone, defense attorney Aaron Cook stated that he had “a number of documents I intended to present to her.”

“While my client is eager to get this behind him,” Cook said, “it would be difficult if it was not in person.”

The judge then decided to reschedule Click’s jury trial for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4 and empathized with the defendant.

“I know you wanted a finding…as does the commonwealth,” he said, “but it is what it is.”

Judge Ritchie also asked County Administrator Amity Moler and Page County Treasurer Penny Gray — witnesses in the case who were in the courtroom on Tuesday — to return to court on Oct. 4 as well.

After previously residing in Elkton, Click now lives in Stuarts Draft. He worked for Page County as director of finance from 2017 until he was terminated on Monday, July 27, 2020 following the launch of the state police investigation. He was hired as a controller in Albemarle County’s Department of Finance and Budget on Dec. 6, 2021, where he is currently still employed.

A number of issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have delayed the two-year investigation by VSP Special Agent E.D. Deel, who serves as a primary witness in the case.

Since the repayment agreement began in July 2020, Click has consistently made his monthly payments of $339.02, according to the county treasurer. The agreement calls for the debt to be paid off at 4-percent interest in 42 monthly installments with the amortization schedule attached to the agreement showing the final payment to be made on Dec. 1, 2023.



Former finance director indicted for taking money from county coffers

Page County’s former finance director being investigated for embezzling thousands from county coffers

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