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And that’s not all – the mysterious EDA workforce housing transaction

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Artist’s rendition of workforce housing apartment building – pending the EDA’s 2017 purchase of the land the number of planned 12-unit buildings was reduced from three to two to be initially constructed – today there are still none there. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

As noted in our story on approval of a half-million-dollar increase (to $760,000) in County funding of the financial investigation (forensic audit) and consequent litigation resulting from that investigation of FR-WC Economic Development Authority finances

during the executive leadership of Jennifer McDonald, the specter of institutional wrongdoing and a lack of municipal oversight to prevent it permeated the April 2nd meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

SEE RELATED STORY:

Cost of EDA audit skyrockets from $260,000 to $760,000 – and that’s not all

Not long after County Board Chairman Dan Murray’s pre-meeting call for a collective effort to return “peace and tranquility” to the community it continued when two of three public comments speakers addressed the EDA situation. Cheryl Cullers, who said she would be running as an independent to replace the retiring Linda Glavis as South River District supervisor, called for the creation of a “fraud-waste-abuse hotline”.

Independent South River supervisor candidate Cheryl Cullers

“The residents are angry and they want to get to the bottom of what happened to the EDA. They also want to stop this from ever happening again … There is a healing process that must begin now,” Cullers told the county board she seeks to become a part of.

Then Kristie Sours Atwood, who told this reporter she is also pondering a run for South River supervisor, rose to call the EDA audit “a farce – there are so many holes in it,” she said of her exploration into what is known, though according to EDA officials no one outside the EDA Board of Directors has physically seen a draft of the still-evolving report.

Atwood, who has filed suit against the County over alleged conflicts related to building inspection department approvals and review of what she contends was flawed construction of her home by a local builder, asked that no payments be made to the Aikens group and its various legal entities until the final EDA audit report is released.

Perhaps a South River supervisor candidate, Kristie Atwood

Four-and-a-half months ago on November 28, 2018, the Aikens group became owner of the 3.5-acre workforce housing parcel at the end of Royal Lane off the Route 55 East entrance into Front Royal. The much-ballyhooed as of 2015 EDA workforce housing project is cited in the EDA civil litigation as one of several projects from which funds are alleged to have been embezzled.

SEE RELATED STORY:

Sheriff, ITFed principal Tran, Donnie Poe named with McDonald in EDA civil suit

Workforce Housing WHAT?!?

“They’ve got a lot of skin the game,” Atwood said of Aikens Group – actually not that much according to a November 28, 2018 Deed of Sale from the EDA to the Cornerstone LLC branch of the Aikens group. The price of that transfer of ownership from the EDA to the Aikens Group was ten dollars.

If not as good as the one dollar deal given to Truc “Curt” Tran and his ITFederal LLC for 30 commercial acres at the Royal Phoenix Business Park site, it was still a pretty good one considering that in April 2017 the EDA board agreed to pay $445,000 for the 3.5-acre parcel initially presented as a late 2014 gift to the EDA for community development.

During a conversation with the media in the EDA parking lot on Dec. 20, 2018, ‘Curt’ Tran expressed distress that Jennifer McDonald’s job performance was under critical scrutiny. McDonald resigned that day. Tran and his company are among eight defendants named with McDonald in an EDA lawsuit seeking recovery of over $17.6 million in EDA assets. An EDA loan of $10 million to Tran apparently pushed by retired Congressman Robert Goodlatte, R-6, is among those assets being sought.

Asked if the EDA purchased the property for $445,000, why it would sell it to the Aikens Group for $10, a loss of $444,990 by our calculations, Dan Whitten noted he had been conflicted out of the transaction in his duel County-EDA attorney roles.

EDA Board Chairman Gray Blanton, who signed the November 28, 2018, Deed of Sale to the Cornerstone LLC branch of the Aikens group, did not respond to a phone message question about the purchase and sale. EDA officials have been advised not to discuss matters related to the civil litigation filed on their behalf. And as noted above, the workforce housing project is on the lawsuit list of projects from which money is alleged to have been embezzled.

The workforce housing projects dates to late 2014 when a Deed of Gift was arranged to the EDA from local realtors Walter and Jeanette Campbell for their 3.5-acre parcel at the end of Royal Lane off the John Marshall Highway/Route 55 East entrance into Front Royal. As later explained by EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, who is the Campbell’s niece, the couple would receive a federally-generated tax credit for the undeveloped property in exchange for the land gifted to the EDA for economic development.

As that Deed of Gift situation unraveled in 2017, at one point McDonald asserted that the Aikens Group had been involved in the workforce property transfer from near the beginning, agreeing to a purchase from the original owners at the price on the Campbells Deed of Gift to the EDA. As for the absence of any mention of Aikens’ involvement prior to 2017, McDonald alleged that the regional developer did not want its name tied to the project publicly due to competitive advantage issues.

A shot down Royal Lane toward its dead end at the boundary of the EDA’s workforce housing parcel – despite a reported EDA expenditure of $500,000 on engineering, prep work and permitting, five years down the road the property looks pretty much the same.

During a November 2016 Front Royal Town Council discussion of special exceptions requested by the EDA for the workforce housing project to be built on a dead-end street, Town Planning Director Jeremy Camp referenced a funding stream through the “Home Consortium” that the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission managed. Faced with questions from Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger about a $445,000 price attached to the Deed of Gift, the town planning director suggested further clarification from McDonald who was present at the 2016 council meeting.

Pressed by Egger for reasons the $445,000 price – the property was then assessed at $310,000 – appeared on the Campbell’s Deed of Gift to the EDA, McDonald explained that the former owners got a tax credit based on the price listed on the Deed of Gift.

“That’s the amount of our Home Fund. It’s not actual money we ever had our hands on; that’s Home Funds that go directly from the DHUD to the property owner, so it’s never money that we see,” McDonald said of the EDA and the price listed on the Deed of Gift. Royal Examiner’s research at the time indicated that the federal tax credits were based on a third of the value of the involved property, thus apparently explaining the need for a price on a Deed of Gift.

SEE RELATED STORY:

Missing appraisal raises workforce housing questions

Jennifer McDonald and Bébhinn Egger often butted heads over assertions made about EDA projects by the EDA executive director. Until Town Finance Director B.J. Wilson’s spring 2018 discovery of a history of annual debt service overpayments by the Town to the EDA, Egger had been the only elected town official to question the often fluid and secretive dynamics of EDA projects under McDonald’s executive leadership.

At the time Royal Examiner research into that funding stream indicated it was regionally-administered money, by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, originating in a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD or DHUD) program.

Despite council approval of the requested zoning permit exceptions, the project floundered with no apparent site work being done. In 2017 McDonald pointed to delays in town and DEQ permitting as reasons for delays.

Following an April 28, 2017, EDA board closed session it was announced that a failure to meet a previously undisclosed developmental deadline related to the Campbell’s tax credit eligibility would negate the deed of gift. McDonald elaborated that the deadline was part of confidential agreement between the Campbells and the EDA on the exchange of the property. In the wake of the unmet deadline the EDA’s options were to deed the land back to the Campbells or purchase it.

SEE RELATED STORY:  

Missing appraisal raises workforce housing questions

Asked about the decision to purchase following the meeting, McDonald said the EDA had already spent a half-million dollars in preparatory work, including site planning, engineering, town and state DEQ permitting fees, so the board decision was that it would be best to proceed with the transaction as a purchase, rather than abandon the project and site at this point.

“We’re frugal,” then EDA board Chair Patty Wines commented.

As Executive Director Jennifer McDonald watches, then-EDA Vice-Chair Greg Drescher reads an April 2017 motion to pursue a $445,000 purchase of the 3-1/2 acre workforce housing parcel the EDA had allegedly done $500,000 of engineering, permitting and site work on.

In reaction to that change in the workforce housing dynamic adding over $440,000 to the EDA’s cost of the project, one town official reacted angrily at a subsequent May 2017 council meeting.

“I feel extremely manipulated, not only as a councilman, but also as a town citizen. We were told by Jennifer at our public meeting in November that the $445,000 price was from an appraisal. That was false. I even pointed out that the assessed value was much, much lower,” Councilwoman Egger began.

“We were told that we had to abandon all logical planning practices to build on THIS particular lot, because the land was being donated. That is now also false,” Egger said of the April 2017 explanation of the new dynamic requiring an EDA purchase of the workforce housing property.

SEE RELATED STORY:

Despite safety concerns, Town granted EDA project road exceptions

“Are we supposed to believe that the EDA is so incompetent that they can’t meet a deadline two and a half years later? I don’t believe that for one second,” Egger told her colleagues, adding, “Why is the agreement between the EDA and the Campbells confidential? … Why is the EDA continually hiding behind confidential agreements and permitting processes?”

As Bébhinn Egger and Eugene Tewalt listen, former colleague Bret Hrbek speaks. Hrbek was one especially critical of Egger’s questioning of EDA projects, once claiming those questions threatened to run ITFederal and its principal ‘Curt’ Tran away from the sweetheart deal he had on EDA land and financial resources. Tewalt was among Egger’s former colleagues to recently apologize for not listening to the councilwoman in 2016-17. Now retired from politics, Hrbek remains publicly silent on the evolving EDA and ITFederal legal situations.

Egger then concluded with an observation that seems particularly timely in the spring of 2019 as the community awaits the next legal filings to drop following a now $760,000 forensic audit of EDA finances over the past decade.

SEE RELATED STORY:

Madden requests, Athey empanels special grand jury in EDA case

“It gives me little hope for the future of our town, knowing that the council blindly went along with approving this project, even though the numbers didn’t add up; it will create a planning nightmare, and the information provided to us was lacking. The EDA can pass the buck all they’d like, but those of us with our eyes open see this for what it is: another botched project where none of the numbers make sense, all of the pertinent information is confidential, and the council and public are given false information which is never retracted and never apologized for.”

If not the community, Egger, now Bébhinn Rowland of Maryland, received May 25, 2019 apologies from Mayor Hollis Tharpe and Councilmen Eugene Tewalt and Jacob Meza for their roles in minimizing Egger’s questions and council’s collective unwillingness to explore the myriad issues about EDA processes presented by their colleague at the time.

SEE RELATED STORY:

Mayor admits: we ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ in apology to former councilwoman

SEE RELATED STORY: 

Council confronted over past protectionism of EDA and its chief executive

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Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Meeting – January 24, 2019

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The Economic Development Authority held their monthly Board of Directors meeting on January 24, 2020.

One of the topics was the sale of the Stokes Market (most recent the Main Street Market) to William Huck, owner of C&C Frozen Treats on Main Street in Front Royal. Huck has been trying to remodel the property he owns adjacent to C&C but because of costs higher than anticipated and issues with zoning and permitting, he has been exploring other options to open his newest business known as My Lagniappe – it’s a Louisiana expression that means ‘An extra or unexpected gift or benefit, such as that given to customers when they purchase something.’ If you know Huck, you know he always offers his customers a little lagniappe.

William Huck of C&C Frozen Treats say he’s invested in Front Royal 110% – now better place on earth. Supervisors Delores Oates and Cheryl Cullers seem to agree. Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The solar panels on the roof of the EDA office building was also a point of discussions. The EDA is advertising for any party interested in purchasing the solar electric system currently stationed on top of the EDA Building at 400 Kendrick Lane, Front Royal.

County Administrator Doug Stanley thanks EDA Board for offer of solar panels to RSW Jail, but no thanks.

The RSW Jail has said they are not interested in the solar panels. The cost of installation and unknown purchase price makes the project not cost effective.

Discussion also included workforce housing, the 2018 audit, Afton Inn renovations and the big one, running out of money by March.

Watch the EDA Board at work in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

Disposition of Solar Panels

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Town given okay to amend its civil suit against EDA, with some explanation

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Following a conference call with involved attorneys at their respective offices at 8:45 a.m., Friday morning, January 24, Judge Bruce D. Albertson granted the Town of Front Royal leave to amend its current $15 million civil filing against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority. The Town has 30 days to file an amended suit and the EDA will have the option of filing a demur to dismiss the amended suit as not factually supported legally.

The Town initially filed its suit seeking the return of $3 million of its assets believed to have been misappropriated as part of the EDA financial scandal, on June 21, 2019. That filing was described by Town Attorney Doug Napier at the time as largely precautionary to prevent any statute of limitations deadlines from being passed on yet-to-be-determined fraudulent EDA transactions utilizing Town assets.

Just over three weeks later on July 12, the suit was amended to $15 million, as previously reported, still without any elaboration on the sources of that number.

The Warren County Courthouse, a familiar sight for EDA-involved principals – Royal Examiner File Photos

Of the January 24 judicial okay to again amend its suit, Town Attorney Napier said any coming amendment would “have to be legally cognizable” – or accompanied by legally supportable documentation. Napier said the Town had a scheduled meeting with its contracted auditor, Mitchell and Company, next week. That meeting may shed light on which direction, and how far in either, the Town’s amended civil suit against the EDA will next go.

The EDA’s civil litigation against what has grown to a total of 14 human and business entity defendants currently stands at $21.3 million. And despite his being dropped from the list of EDA civil case defendants in the wake of his death last spring from a possibly self-inflicted gunshot wound, electronic computer and phone records of former Sheriff Daniel McEathron have recently been subpoenaed from his estate in the EDA civil suit.

The initial amendment to the original Town claim against the EDA coincided with the Town’s pulling back from participation in the “EDA Reform Committee” and three-way EDA-Town-County joint meeting efforts geared toward fixing what had gone wrong to allow the alleged misappropriations and embezzlements circling the former EDA executive director, Jennifer McDonald, to happen over a number of years.

At the helm of the EDA for a decade prior to her December 20, 2018 resignation, McDonald has been the central figure in both the civil and criminal cases brought as a result of the Cherry Bekaert investigation of EDA finances begun in September 2018. She currently faces 34 financial felony charges brought by the special grand jury empaneled to investigate potential criminality tied to EDA finances in recent years.

But she promised us – Jennifer McDonald at a May 2017 Town work session, as Town Manager Joe Waltz and Interim Police Chief Bruce Hite listen

Stated justification for one publicly voiced Town financial dispute with the EDA, the 4% bond interest rate the Town has been asked to cover on construction of the new Front Royal Police Department headquarters, has pointed heavily at “promises” made by McDonald. Those promises revolved around anticipation the FRPD project would qualify for the New Market Tax Credit Program offered municipalities for economic growth capital improvement projects.

However, as a non-job creating project the FRPD construction did not qualify for what would have been a 1.5% interest rate over the 30-year life of the bond issue with funding through the NMTC Program. As that dispute festers on the edge of Town-EDA litigation, the Town has refused to pay what appears to be an undisputed $8.4-million in principal payments bill the EDA has submitted to the Town on the FRPD project.

Written references in a Memorandum of Agreement and Resolutions of support of the NMTC funding cite “anticipation” of the program’s funding and support of that funding being pursued.

Despite late 2017, early 2018 recommendations of then Town Manager Joe Waltz, Finance Director B. J. Wilson and People Inc. NMTC Program Administrator Bryan Phipps that a guaranteed bank-offered 2.65%, 30-year interest rate would be preferable to competing with multiple municipalities for limited NMTC funds, a council majority chose to hold out for the NMTC financing the FRPD project ultimately did not qualify for.

But 1.5% will save us millions over 30 years … if we get it – that is still a fuzzy picture

However, some Town officials have pointed to verbal promises made by McDonald that the funding was in place, as a basis for the Town claim it should not pay more than 1.5% interest rate tied to those promises.

A “legally cognizable” argument on one Town claim against the EDA?

Time will tell.

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EDA in Focus

EDA sells 404 Fairgrounds Road property

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404 Fairgrounds Road

The Front Royal/Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) has announced the sale of its 404 Fairground Road property to Excelsior Enterprises.

Warren County businessmen Jack Donohue and Dan Beller are the new owners and will immediately begin converting it into state-of-the-art rental office space, complete with a kitchenette, printer, conference room, WiFi, coffee, and other amenities. This renovated space will be available by spring for small businesses and entrepreneurs. All parties interested in renting office space at this location are encouraged to call 540-692-0697.

The additional acreage at the site will also be developed into a new facility for Timber Works, Mr. Donohue’s expanding Warren County company. For nearly a decade, they have been serving the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia regions, offering tree trimming and removal, land clearing, stump grinding and forestry mulching. Timber Works prides itself on quality, safety, and customer service. The company is highly rated on Google and Yelp and has received the Angie’s List Super Service Award 3 years in a row. Their website is https://timberworksva.com and they can be found on all major social media platforms. Timberworks has five employees and plans to add another crew in 2020.

“We’re excited to sell this property to Excelsior Enterprises and look forward to seeing this property develop into new space for start-up and small business and expanded operations for Timber Works”, said Doug Parsons, Executive Director of the WCEDA. “We’re working hard to sell our properties and shore up our financial situation”, Parsons said. “On behalf of the EDA’s Board of Directors, we want to thank Mr. Donohue and Mr. Beller for their investment in this property and in Warren County.”

All proceeds of this sale will go toward paying down the EDA’s debt.

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Supervisors ponder EDA financial needs as the ‘Ides of March’ approaches

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The full Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Board of Directors was present Tuesday night, January 14, in support of its officers’ presentation of its financial status to four of five Warren County Supervisors, Tony Carter absent. That status, as reported during the EDA’s January 10 Board meeting, is the likelihood of an inability to continue meeting monthly debt service payments and operational expenses at some point in March.

Might that date be the mid-month “Ides of March” that laid Caesar low in 44 B.C.? It would be fitting as online research indicated that March 15 “Ides” date was also notable as the ancient Roman calendar “deadline for settling debts”.

EDA Board Chairman Ed Daley, speaking, introduced Vice Chairman Jeff Browne who made the ‘Future of the FR-WC EDA’ presentation to the County Supervisors. Interested spectators included Councilman Gillespie, second row far left, Mayor Tewalt, green shirt third row, and the rest of the EDA board and their executive director, second row to Gillespie’s left. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

However, legal variables impacting EDA operations and debt service obligations cited by County Attorney Jason Ham indicated that EDA’s cannot declare bankruptcy and must remain operational until their bond issues and debts are resolved. Other information presented at the Tuesday Supervisors work session indicated that were the EDA to remain unfunded when it hits its financial wall in March, the debt service obligation would fall to its controlling municipality, in this case, primarily at least, Warren County. The total EDA debt on past loans and credit lines on projects for the Town and County was cited at $41 million.

Parsons later told Royal Examiner that the County has already been subsidizing the EDA’s debt service payment on the Baugh Drive warehouse property. And as reported Tuesday, Truc “Curt” Tran continues to cover $42,160 monthly on the EDA’s $10 million ITFederal bank loan.

The 10,000 s.f. ITFederal building and Phase 1 of the West Main St. connector road behind EDA headquarters is currently a gated and unoccupied ‘community’ – ‘money well spent or a $10-million boondoggle, that is the question’ to maintain a Shakespearean theme.

So, it would appear the County will end up paying much of that EDA debt one way or the other. EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons later verified those net monthly expenses at $90,038.27 in unsubsidized debt service payments and approximately $40,000 in operational costs, for a total pending monthly EDA budget need of just over $130,000.

Of course, as EDA Board Vice Chairman Jeff Browne told the supervisors Tuesday evening, the above “Ides of March” EDA insolvency scenario will occur “if nothing changes” in the EDA’s financial situation.

Things that could push that financial wall back are the sale of a number of properties the EDA is currently marketing – some prospects have been cited – or the Town of Front Royal beginning to settle its unpaid and undisputed debt of nearly $8.8 million to the EDA for construction of the Front Royal Police Headquarters.

Several EDA board members, primarily Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, have publicly accused the Town government of acting in bad faith in withholding scheduled FRPD construction invoice payments from the EDA which oversaw and financed that project. The Town is disputing the interest rate on the FRPD project but not the amount due in principal.

In the audience Tuesday night were three Town officials, Mayor Eugene Tewalt, Councilman Gary Gillespie and Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick. Tewalt has publicly called for good faith negotiations on the Town-EDA financial situation rather than the increasingly hostile and expensive litigation the Town Council has turned to in recent months.

Mayor Eugene Tewalt chimes in during EDA discussion – Tewalt, among others, disputed Kristie Atwood’s (on cell phone behind Tewalt) assertion county public schools were being held as collateral on EDA project loans. Photo by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

While the Town of Front Royal withdrew from EDA board appointment authority when the County assumed its share of Town operational funding several years ago as part of its North Corridor Agreement compensation arrangement with the Town, Front Royal continues to share in debt service payment obligations regarding its EDA projects.

However, in its current budget and projected in the FY 2021 budget summary presented to the town council on Monday, annual debt service payments of about $141,000 to the EDA have been re-budgeted to pay for Town legal and auditing fees regarding its civil litigation against the EDA.

Town officials have yet to provide any documentation on the Town’s civil claim of “up to $15 million” in alleged assets lost or misdirected as part of the EDA financial scandal under previous EDA executive and board leadership.

If the Town Council’s intent toward the EDA remains hostile and litigious, newly-elected Shenandoah District Supervisor and newly-appointed Board Chairman Walter Mabe gave a glimpse into his perspective when he said, “To turn our backs on our EDA is ludicrous.”

Following the first of its newly-scheduled second Tuesday work sessions, the Board of Supervisors took the looming EDA funding needs, as well as a request for reimbursement of $36,827 in legal fees to several past and two remaining (Blanton and Patteson) EDA board members regarding dismissed misdemeanor charges related to the special grand jury investigation into the EDA financial scandal.

Flanked by his colleagues, save absent Tony Carter, and with three Town officials present Board Chair Walter Mabe said, ‘To turn our backs on our EDA is ludicrous’. Newly-elected Supervisors Mabe, Cheryl Cullers and Delores Oates have been regular attendees at recent EDA board meetings.

Several board members said they were torn on how to approach the request. It was noted that EDA board members serve without compensation. And it was observed that a precedent was indicated when the board agreed to compensate its own members served on the same now-dismissed misdemeanor misfeasance and nonfeasance charges.

Several options were discussed, including covering a portion of the request or making the County’s contribution to those EDA legal fees a loan, that the EDA would pay back when able.

See these discussions and public comments about the EDA in the exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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Crime/Court

McDonald has bad day in civil court – how bad remains to be seen

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Former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald remains free on bond.

On Friday afternoon, January 10, former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald was found guilty of civil contempt regarding the movement of a piece of property frozen by the court during earlier EDA civil litigation hearings; and had a default judgment regarding a failure to respond to civil court orders for information on her two real estate companies, go against her as well.

McDonald was fined $375 to cover County-EDA legal costs pursuing the civil contempt judgement, and ordered not to repeat what she and her sister Gail Addison into whose name the frozen real estate parcel was moved, testified was a simple mistake. Those two sanctions were all EDA attorneys were seeking in the way of punishment on the civil contempt ruling.

As for the default judgement for failing to heed court-requested documentation on her two real estate companies, DaBoyz and MoveOn8 named along with her as three of 14 defendants in the amended EDA civil litigation, a date of April 17 was set for attorneys to argue McDonald’s liability on that ruling.

Judge Bruce D. Albertson will hear, not only those civil case arguments on April 17, but further motions arguments from a number of EDA-related criminal case defendants who were in court on the 1 p.m. docket.

On Friday afternoon Judge Albertson also granted the Commonwealth’s request to nolle prossed (drop) all current EDA-related criminal charges against Earth Right Energy principal Donald F. Poe.

Prosecutor Michael Parker restated the reasons cited in his written submission of the previous day, regarding the amount of material recently received concerning the Poe prosecutions and gaps in that material and a lack of time available with Poe’s first criminal trial on a count of perjury slated to begin January 22.

Poe attorney William Ashwell did not object to the prosecution’s request.

“We could jump up and down and say we want (the charges) out altogether now … but functionally this is a great example of the State acting as gatekeeper (of legal processes),” Ashwell told the court.

The amount of material involved in the EDA civil and criminal litigation – cited as approaching a million pages – played into many of the motions arguments heard Friday. Like Special Prosecutor Parker of the Harrisonburg Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office before him, EDA civil counsel Cullen Seltzer told the court that the amount of involved material and documentation was in issue in their respective cases.

Seltzer said the volume of material made it impractical and prohibitive cost-wise to reproduce traditionally in hard copy. He said a data base was being created with portions flagged to different defendants’ names to ease the online search process.

In arguing against the civil contempt charge against his client, McDonald attorney Peter Greenspun, pushed into dual criminal and civil case duties due to McDonald’s financial problems that led her initial civil case attorneys to withdraw, pointed out once the real estate movement mistake was discovered, the sisters’ corrected their mistake.

“When the attorney said, ‘wait, can we do this,’ she did everything to restore the situation without court intervention,” Greenspun told the court.

Greenspun argued that the involvement of local attorney David Crump in the transaction indicated it was, in fact, a mistake rather than an act of contempt of a court order installed by initial EDA Judge Clifford “Clay” Athey Jr.

“This was not done in a parking lot or a jail cell – her conduct was not contemptuous; it was a mistake that was corrected,” Greenspun told the court.

However, EDA co-counsel Lee Byrd pointed to Addison’s own testimony to argue that deceit was a motivation in the transfer. Addison said the move was made so she, a former real estate agent, could market the parcel in her name rather than her sister’s due to “the bad name” McDonald had developed as a result of the EDA litigation.

And while Greenspun pointed out the jailed McDonald was not present for any of the three-day hearing at the end of which Athey froze some McDonald real estate assets, EDA counsel pointed to the courthouse documentation on the court order freezing McDonald assets and scoffed at the idea the experienced real estate agent wouldn’t know how to find out which of her assets had been frozen by the court.

“Their only excuse is ‘I wasn’t aware’ – they can’t say the order didn’t exist,” Byrd told the court.

And it was the plaintiff argument that held sway with the judge.

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EDA faces looming cash-flow crisis as Town treads water on $8-million debt

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A summary of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s financial situation was presented by its Finance Committee Chairman Marjorie “Jorie” Martin at the Authority’s Friday, January 10, board meeting.

That situation includes a net of $481,995 in cash assets in banks when coming debt service and operating payments are deducted, with five months left in Fiscal Year 2019/2020. Martin told her board the EDA’s monthly operating expenses was $45,000 – a number she called “not bad”.

However, with all debt service variables considered Martin said the EDA faced running “out of money in the middle of March”. That projection would appear to assume the Town of Front Royal will not have paid the $8.77 million dollars it owes the EDA in undisputed, but thus far withheld principal payments on construction of the Front Royal Police Headquarters now in use across Kendrick Lane from EDA headquarters.

Marjorie “Jorie” Martin said the EDA faced running “out of money in the middle of March”Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

A copy of a letter sent to Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson detailing that Town debt to the EDA was also included in Martin’s Finance Committee Report.

“I would have thought the police department situation would have been settled long before now, but at the rate we’re going I left it in (as bad debt) till they (the Town of Front Royal) figure out what they’re doing,” Martin explained during her presentation of an FY 2020/2021 draft EDA budget to the board.

Interested observers at Friday morning’s meeting were newly-installed Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Walt Mabe and North River District Supervisor Delores Oates. No one from the Town of Front Royal was present.

The EDA adjourned to closed session after an hour-and-10-minute open meeting. Mabe and Oates were invited to stay and remained to attend the closed session. EDA staff said the only anticipated action after the closed session was approval of a motion to present a summary of the EDA’s financial situation and proposed FY 2021 Budget to the full County Board at the Supervisors’ upcoming, January 21 meeting.

While the County and Town pay their respective shares of the EDA’s debt service accumulated on their behalf, the County alone now funds the EDA’s operational budget. That arrangement was reached several years ago as part of the County’s continued negotiation on compensation to the Town for central water sewer extension into the Route 522/340 North Corridor.

BOS Chairman Walt Mabe listens to the discussion.

So, it appears the operational fate of the existing Town-County EDA after March will rest in the board of supervisors’ fiscal hands. Unless the Front Royal Town Council agrees to make good on at least portions of its $8.77-million debt to the EDA on the FRPD construction project.

Other EDA-Town finances
Two interesting asides to EDA-Town finances were also discussed during Friday’s meeting. One was the discovery that the EDA has been billed and paid for Town sewer service to its building at 404 Fairgrounds Road since 2002. EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons told the board during his Executive Director’s Update that it has been discovered the building is not, and apparently has never been connected to the Town sewer system extension into the North Corridor. A $4,000 adjustment to a pending purchase contract on the building was suggested to account for the condition and anticipated repairs to the property’s septic system.

During discussion of what the EDA has paid for that unprovided sewer service it was not receiving over an 18-year period, Harold asked, “Does anyone know what the (banking) interest rate was during those years?” to which it was replied, “Pretty high,” drawing some laughter. The question-answer appeared to be a reference to the Town claim it was promised a 1.5% interest rate on construction of the FRPD headquarters, a rate never achieved. The EDA is currently paying 4%, down from an initial 4.75% rate.

During discussion of what the EDA has paid for that unprovided sewer service it was not receiving over an 18-year period, Harold asked, “Does anyone know what the (banking) interest rate was during those years?” to which it was replied, “Pretty high,” drawing some laughter.

Afton winterization
And the EDA has informed the Town of winterization costs for the Afton Inn building as a resolution to that redevelopment situation is explored. Harold told his board that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the EDA and Town of Front Royal on the EDA marketing and redevelopment of the Afton Inn property for the Town includes the Town’s agreement to be responsible for such necessary expenses. Harold told the board the winterization bid was $15,700.

It was also noted during the Asset Committee Report that a response from Afton Inn developer 2 East Main Street LLC was expected within days on whether it hopes to continue with the project or file a Notice of Intent to Terminate its redevelopment agreement with the EDA, current owner of the property on behalf of the Town.

The Afton Inn, across Crescent St. from Town Hall, is awaiting ‘winterization’ and a determinization on its redevelopment future or demolition. Royal Examiner File Photo/Roger Bianchini.

Workforce Housing parcel
A positive Asset Committee development is a scheduled meeting with the Cornerstone LLC group which somehow purchased the 3.5-acre Royal Lane Workforce Housing property from the EDA in late November 2018 for $10. The property was originally “gifted” to the EDA for $10 by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Campbell in 2014-15. However, due to unmet developmental deadlines qualifying the Campbells for tax credits for their gift, the parcel was eventually purchased from them by the EDA at a cost of $445,000 in 2017. Due to forensic audit questioned post-purchase expenditures it is written off as a $640,000 loss in the Cherry Bekaert Report on EDA finances during McDonald’s executive tenure.

Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold told his board he was optimistic about the upcoming meeting with Cornerstone LLC representatives to determine an equitable resolution to the Royal Lane property situation. That situation arose when the Deed of Sale was sent to Cornerstone as the buyer with no price on it after then-Chairman Gray Blanton’s signature was acquired on the deed’s signature page. Local Real Estate attorney Joe Silek Jr. was filling in on the transaction for then-EDA attorney Dan Whitten. Whitten had recused himself from the transaction due to a perceived conflict of interest as County Attorney.

See details of these EDA Board discussions and all Friday’s business in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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