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Morgan Co. Magistrate pleads not guilty

April 19, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - A suspended Morgan County magistrate on Monday morning pleaded not guilty to a seven-count grand jury indictment that includes charges she lied to police in an attempt to collect workers' compensation.

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Sitting silently next to her attorney, Bonnie Riffle listened as Morgan County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Wilkes set a $1,000 personal recognizance bond for Riffle pending her Aug. 3 trial date.

Riffle was ordered not to have any contact with a woman against whom police allege Riffle filed a false report.

A Morgan County grand jury last week indicted Riffle on charges she faked an attack in her office in February and filed a false workers' compensation claim.

"It's sort of like adding insult to injury. I'm highly upset," Riffle said after Monday's hearing.

At an impromptu press conference behind the Morgan County Courthouse, Riffle's attorney questioned why police would allege she fabricated her attack.

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"The only victim in this case is Magistrate Riffle," said Martinsburg attorney Paul Lane.

Lane said Riffle understood the rationale behind her suspension from the bench pending the outcome of her trial but said he will ask the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision to suspend her without pay.

With Riffle's close ties to the Morgan County legal community, Lane said he is considering a request to have the trial moved to another county.

Lane said he plans an "enthusiastic" defense but refused to divulge specifics of his strategy.

The charges against Riffle stem from a West Virginia State Police investigation into her claim she was attacked by two men on Feb. 16 while she was working late in her office at the Morgan County Courthouse.

Riffle told police the men grabbed her from behind demanding money. One of the men used a knife to cut her on the left side of her cheek, she told police.

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

During the course of their investigation, police turned their focus to Riffle and contended she fabricated the story as well as unrelated allegations that she was followed and physically threatened by a local woman.

Morgan County Prosecutor David Savasten has said the allegations of stalking and the attack are not related and said there are no plans to file charges against the woman accused by Riffle.

In addition to the two felony charges of workers' compensation fraud, Riffle is charged with two misdemeanor counts of filing a false incident report and three misdemeanor charges of giving false information to a state trooper.

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

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

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