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Augusta County stands behind supervisor’s claim that he was making up ‘file’ in phone call

Chris Graham
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AFP made a follow-up request to Augusta County government on Tuesday related to a filing made under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act for public records that Butch Wells, a member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, claimed to have in his possession during a Dec. 22 phone call.

Wells called me on Dec. 22 to try to pressure me into telling him how I came to learn the identity of one of the two purported sexual-harassment victims at the center of the story involving the March 20 resignation of former South River Supervisor Steven Morelli.

During the call, Wells, on seven different occasions, referenced a “file,” which he would refer to as a “criminal” file in two instances, that he said he had started in reference to the March 20 Morelli resignation.

In a response to the FOIA request that I made on Dec. 22, Kathleen Keffer, the assistant county attorney, first answered back that Wells “informed us that he does not have a physical file.”

My first follow-up to this answer from Keffer was to request a copy of any digital files that Wells may have in his possession relative to the March 20 investigation that he claimed to have begun, to make sure that she was not splitting hairs with the term “physical file.”

Her response: “To be clear, Mr. Wells indicated it was a ‘mental’ file. ‘Physical’ as I stated it in my message to you was not intended to describe the format of the file. It was meant to denote that there is no such file in existence. I apologize for any confusion caused by my word choice.”

I filed a third request to Keffer on Tuesday morning. Not doubting her for what she says she has been told by Wells, but to repeat, Wells referenced, seven times, a “file” that he said he had started, and in none of those instances did he let on that this “file” was a figment of his imagination.

My email to Keffer on Tuesday:

I’m following up on this request. I am not satisfied with Mr. Wells’ claim that the file that he referenced in the phone call with me on Friday, Dec. 22, is a “mental” file.

He stated, seven times, in the course of the 12-minute phone call with me on Dec. 22, that he had started a file.

He did not indicate, in any of those instances, that the file was a “mental” file.

I am writing today to request that he provide me with a sworn, signed affidavit attesting as fact that the file that he referenced – seven times – in the Dec. 22 phone call does not actually exist, except in his own mind.

My only other option to get him to attest to that would be to file an appeal of the denial of my FOIA request on Dec. 22 in Augusta County Circuit Court, so that he could swear under oath in front of a judge that what he referred to as a “file” does not actually exist.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Keffer’s response indicates that the county isn’t budging on Wells’ claim that the file he repeatedly referred to in his conversation with me doesn’t exist.

The County has done its due diligence by requesting the record(s) from Mr. Wells. Mr. Wells has indicated that he does not have the record(s) requested. You have received the County’s response pursuant to Virginia Code Section 2.2-3704. We believe that the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act have been satisfied.

Looks like we’re going to need to go to court to get to the bottom of this.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].