James City County Zoning Administrator and Lanexa resident Melissa Brown is on paid leave after she was charged with seven felonies, County Administrator Robert Middaugh said at a press conference Thursday. Brown is accused of bouncing three checks totaling $4,250.
Brown, 34, turned herself in to authorities at the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail on Thursday evening.
The charges are the result of a police investigation after Brown allegedly cashed two checks with forged signatures at a SunTrust Bank branch in late January. Both checks bounced. Police said the checks were made out to Brown from her husband’s business account through Citizens and Farmer’s Bank, but he told police he had not signed the checks.
Brown also cashed a check on a personal account that had insufficient funds during the same period, police said.
Brown faces three counts of obtaining money by false pretenses, two counts of forgery and two counts of uttering a forged instrument (using a forged document).
Middaugh said Brown’s paid suspension from her position is pending the outcome of a county investigation. After due process, the county can proceed to suspension without pay, Middaugh said.
“This is poor decision-making on her part,” Middaugh said Friday. The alleged offenses affect Brown’s job performance, he said, because there is “a trust issue in a person of authority. That’s what’s troubling.” County residents and staff “need to have faith she will make the right choices… and the right legal choices.”
Middaugh said the county will also conduct a professional investigation into Brown’s job conduct. Her county credit card has been taken and any charges on it will also be investigated. So far, no county funds or zoning department decisions seem to be affected by Brown’s alleged behavior, according to Middaugh.
Brown cashed two checks at a Lightfoot SunTrust branch on January 29 and 31 from her husband’s business account, according to James City County police spokesman Major Steve Rubino. The checks, for $850 and $2,000, respectively, both bounced. Police have not released Brown’s husband’s name or the name of his business.
Then, on January 31, Brown went to a different Suntrust branch near Kingsmill and obtained $1,400 cash from a check written on a joint checking account with her husband. The bank discovered later this account had insufficient funds to cover the full amount.
The bank had attempted to contact Brown’s husband’s contractor business about the two bounced checks but no one claimed the bank’s certified letter, according to Rubino. The bank contacted police on April 13.
After obtaining a search warrant for the Citizens and Farmer’s business account, police compared the signature on the bounced checks to the signature on file. The signatures did not match, and when police contacted Brown’s husband he said the signature was not his.
Police contacted Brown, who said “she was working on taking care of the matter,” Rubino said.
She did not, Rubino said, so police obtained a warrant Thursday for her arrest.
Brown began her career with the county in January 2003 as a zoning officer and worked her way up in the ranks. She and her husband are still living together, according to police.
Middaugh said Director of Planning and Assistant Development Manager Allen Murphy will temporarily fill Brown’s role.