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Magistrate indicted for false reports

April 15, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Morgan County magistrate will be on the other side of the bench Monday morning when she appears before a Circuit judge to face allegations she lied about being assaulted as part of a workers' compensation scheme.

A Morgan County grand jury this week indicted Magistrate Bonnie Riffle in two felony charges of workers' compensation fraud.

Riffle also faces two misdemeanor charges of filing a false incident report and three misdemeanor charges of giving false information to a state trooper.

Riffle is expected to be formally charged Monday in a Morgan County Circuit Court hearing, at which a judge will also set bond, said her attorney, Paul Lane.

"I'm perplexed on why these things are being alleged. I don't know what their motive is," Lane said.

West Virginia State Police turned their attention to Riffle during their investigation of her allegations that she was attacked on Feb. 16 while she was working late in her office at the Morgan County Courthouse, said Morgan County Prosecutor David Savasten.

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Riffle told police two men grabbed her from behind and put a belt or strap around her neck. One of the men demanded money and used a knife to cut her on her left cheek, she told police.

She said she did not see the attackers, who fled when she pushed a panic button that rings down to the sheriff's office in the courthouse.

Riffle also told police that a woman she knew had followed and physically threatened her on March 25.

"Our evidence indicates it was a fabrication," Morgan County Prosecutor David Savasten said of both incidents, which he said were not related.

There is no plan to charge the woman Riffle accused of stalking her, Savasten said.

Savasten said he believes Riffle's report of being attacked is linked to her filing of a workers' compensation claim.

Riffle's attorney, however, said anyone who had seen Riffle in the days following Feb. 16 would not say she had inflicted her wounds on herself.

Riffle suffered facial cuts, a burn-type wound to her neck and bruising on her arm, back and legs, said Lane.

"Mrs. Riffle and her husband were in complete shock when they heard about these charges. They are utterly devastated," Lane said.

Lane said Riffle asserts her innocence and said the grand jury indictment only takes into account the prosecution's side of the story.

"That's the problem with the grand jury system. They only hear one side," Lane said.

The Supreme Court is reviewing the indictment and has not taken any disciplinary action against Riffle, said spokeswoman Michelle Mensore.

Conviction on a felony charge of workers' compensation fraud carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $5,000 fine, Savasten said.

Riffle, one of two Morgan County magistrates, was elected in 1992.

After Riffle reported the attack, Savasten asked the County Commission to put an armed security guard on duty in the courthouse through the night and had asked the state to provide a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the attackers.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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