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Former magistrate Bonnie Riffle gets 5 years probation

February 24, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Former Morgan County Magistrate Bonnie Riffle was sentenced Thursday to five years on probation for faking an attack on herself and collecting workers' compensation.

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Morgan County Circuit Judge Donald Cookman imposed a total of 21/2 years of jail and prison time, but suspended the sentence.

Riffle's mother wept joyously when the judge sentenced her daughter to probation instead of sending her to jail.

"My prayers were answered," Wavy Payne said after her tears dried.

Cookman fined Riffle a total of $1,000 and ordered her to pay back $1,690 she received in workers' compensation benefits.

Riffle, who insists she is innocent, said after the sentencing she will appeal the decision but is relieved for the time being.

"At least I have some sense of direction now," she said. "I can at least move on to the next thing."

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The charges against Riffle stem from her account of what took place in her office in the Morgan County Courthouse on Feb. 16, 1999.

Riffle told police that two men grabbed her and demanded money, and one of them cut her with a knife.

But police concluded that Riffle fabricated the incident and inflicted wounds to herself.

Two of the counts - for collecting workers' compensation benefits - are felonies. The other charges - two counts of filing a false incident report and three counts of giving false information to a state trooper - are misdemeanors.

Cookman criticized Riffle, who was elected magistrate in 1992, for not expressing remorse.

"It's obviously troublesome to the court that she continues to maintain her innocence, but that's obviously her right," Cookman said. "It's also troublesome to the court that these acts were committed while she was a magistrate of Morgan County."

"In all honesty, I can't stand here and apologize to the court for a crime I did not commit," Riffle said before she was sentenced. "I am still at a loss for words."

Cookman said it would be pointless to incarcerate Riffle. "I believe that Mrs. Riffle has punished herself more than I could ever do in imposing a jail sentence or penitentiary sentence."

Special Prosecutor Jerry Moore of Pendleton County pushed for "substantial incarceration" for Riffle, who had about 30 supporters in the audience Thursday. Nearly three dozen people wrote letters to the court asking for leniency.

Moore said a stiff sentence would send a message to Riffle and to the community that "she, too, as a magistrate must comply with the laws of the state."

Riffle's attorney, Robert Stone, said that would be unfair.

"She should not be singled out and treated any different than any other citizen because she's a public official," said Stone, who noted that a pre-sentence report recommended probation for Riffle.

Riffle's brother and two of her three sisters were present for the sentencing. Pansy Truitt, the oldest sibling, hugged her mother as she cried.

"I've lost a lot of weight," Payne said afterwards as the family gathered in the empty courtroom. "The family was falling apart."

"It's been a nightmare every day," said Riffle's husband, Jim. "We're relieved and we appreciate everybody who came out to support us."

One of the toughest periods was being held for 60 days for diagnostic testing, unable to see her family, Riffle said.

While sharing an 11-foot-by-11-foot room with three other women, she was subjected to heavy secondhand smoke and developed respiratory problems, she said.

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