Roanoke prosecutor: Police, not Jeffrey, erased the computer | Crime News
A police statement last year falsely implied that Roanoke City Councilman Robert Jeffrey Jr. remotely wiped his government-issued computer after investigators seized it, prosecutors say, who now claim that the police caused the erasure.
Jeffrey pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of financial impropriety. Ahead of the hearing, defense attorney Jonathan Kurtin said: “If they could screw it all up, that is, state the speculation as if it were fact – he’s the only one who can. erase it when it’s obviously not a fact – what else do they say as a fact or a conclusion that is not based on reality?”
According to Commonwealth attorney Don Caldwell, Roanoke Police Department fraud investigators seized Jeffrey’s iPad tablet with court approval, repeatedly attempted to open it without the password and activated a security feature that automatically erased the data.
Police statements at the time could have left the impression that investigators suspected Jeffrey of trying to hide evidence. In hindsight, it appears police weren’t sufficiently aware of how the iPad worked, Caldwell said.
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“A lot of people to this day, myself included, are woefully technologically deficient and don’t understand all of the security features built into an electronic device,” he said.
Neither police nor Caldwell have raised concerns with the public that the investigator’s statement seven months ago was misleading, but Caldwell corrected the record when asked earlier this week. He said authorities have more evidence on which to proceed to trial later this month. The case was first reported on February 23 by The Roanoke Rambler, a local news site.
Police declined to comment, citing the ongoing case.
The councilman’s embezzlement trial is due to begin on March 14 before Circuit Judge David Carson.
Jeffrey, 52, pleaded not guilty Thursday to two counts of embezzlement and two counts of obtaining money by false pretences brought by Roanoke prosecutors last year. He has maintained his innocence since being accused.
If Jeffrey is convicted and exhausts all avenues of appeal, he would be forced out of elected office. He served 14 months of a four-year term on the board.
Jeffrey was arrested for embezzlement in July 2021, while police continued to search for evidence of cases they suspected were on Jeffrey’s electronic devices, including his city-issued iPad.
In August 2021, Detective JS Moore swore a warrant to compel Apple to release records associated with a gmail account that police said they determined Jeffrey used. Moore wrote that a city “tech support specialist” told officers that Jeffrey was the sole administrator of the iPad and “the only person with the ability to erase it.”
Blocked from accessing the computer, Moore said officers needed Apple’s help. A magistrate judge approved the request and police later said they received unspecified “records”.
The warrant “definitely implied” that Jeffrey must have done it, Caldwell said.
That claim was “inaccurate as far as I know,” Caldwell said.
City information technology officials later found that Jeffrey lacked the ability to erase the device while in police custody, Caldwell said.
Caldwell said police handling of the iPad is not an impediment going forward.
“It has no effect on the prosecution. Our prosecution is based on physical records, bank statements, that sort of thing and electronic devices are just another avenue you explore in your investigation. There are plenty of evidence to move forward with the case.
Jeffrey was named in four indictments before a grand jury.
The first two accused him of embezzling funds from the Northwest Neighborhood Environmental Organization in Roanoke while he held a property management position for the nonprofit. In October 2021, two other people accused him of obtaining pandemic relief money for his media and property management businesses under false pretences, in particular through requests containing what authorities called it false information.