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EDA in Focus

Blanton tabbed as EDA board chair – stresses sound recruitment tactics



New EDA Board Chairman Gray Blanton conducts his first official act, leading his board into closed session. Photo/Roger Bianchini

Gray Blanton was unanimously selected to chair the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors at a special meeting Friday morning, September 7.

Acting Chairman and board Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond convened the 8 a.m. meeting, calling for nominations.  Recently resigned chairman Greg Drescher placed Gray Blanton’s name in nomination, William “Billy” Biggs seconded Blanton’s nomination.  With no other nominations forthcoming, Blanton took the chairman’s seat from Drummond after his unanimous approval.

Blanton’s call for other business led to Ron Llewellyn’s motion to go into closed session, which was accomplished at 8:02 a.m.  The lone topic of the closed session was discussion of debt service payments with legal counsel.

Over the last month to six weeks, both the Front Royal Town Council and Warren County Board of Supervisors have also adjourned into sometimes lengthy closed session discussions which included “past and present” debt service payments as one of their topics.

The closed session ended an hour later at 9:02 a.m., after which Blanton addressed his new role as board chairman.  He noted that in semi-retirement he had the time to tackle the job, time being a major issue Drescher cited in his decision to step down last month.  Drescher is superintendent of Warren County Public School, definitely NOT a semi-retirement role or part-time job.

“I’m willing to take my turn at the helm – I’ve been in business in Front Royal since 1978 and my father before me also was in business in Front Royal, so we know a little bit about what’s going on in the business world, and that’s what we deal with here – new business and helping existing businesses,” Blanton observed.

Blanton, a pharmacist who has served time on both the Front Royal Town Council (1990-94) and Warren County Board of Supervisors (in 2007 as an appointed replacement), came on the EDA board in September 2017, giving him a year in the saddle before taking the chairman’s role on.  He noted that he had volunteered to take over after Drescher’s departure.  As noted by EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald last month, Vice-Chair Drummond had indicated no desire to stay on in the chairman’s role on a permanent basis.

Blanton said he hoped to continue EDA efforts to expand the community’s job base.

“We need to keep our focus on bringing in new businesses with good-paying jobs.  I mean we’ve got 50% that commute out of the county, and that’s a lot.  If we can bring jobs you can support a family with – buy a house and a car, send the kids to school, things like that – we don’t have enough of that,” the new EDA board chair said.

Blanton observed one complication in EDA business recruitment work, the secrecy demanded by many businesses seeking to relocate or establish new bases of operations.

“Unfortunately, business wants it all to be kept silent.  They do not want their competition knowing about their prospects, what they’re thinking – you have to keep it all under wraps.  That’s why we have to go into these sessions,” he said of the just adjourned closed meeting, adding, “But that’s the way they want to do it and if you don’t do it their way, ‘Bye, bye’ – they’re gone.”

Of information he has received since joining the EDA board, Blanton said he had been told of one past prospect’s interest in this community that had been “leaked” leading to just such a sudden “Bye, bye” and exit elsewhere.

“We’re never going to let that happen again,” the new board chair stated unequivocally of a discipline in confidentiality he hopes to accentuate in his role as chairman.

No announcement came after Friday’s closed meeting, and to our knowledge, no leaks either – way to start, Gray!

Of Blanton’s appointment, Executive Director McDonald later said, “I think Gray was a great addition to our board and I think he will make a great chairman. He understands business and asks the right questions.”

EDA in Focus

Town, County officials tread lightly around the elephant in the room



As Liaison Chair Bill Sealock listens, Council Clerk Jennifer Berry records and Councilwoman Letasha Thompson jots notes, Town Manager Joe Waltz, center right, takes his turn updating county officials across the table on the status of a variety of town projects. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

With a rising tide of critical public scrutiny of past failures of municipal oversight of the Town-County Economic Development Authority resulting in civil litigation involving an attempt to recover nearly $20 million in misdirected assets at a cost of over three-quarters-of-a-million dollars of taxpayer money; and concurrent criminal investigations stretching to the federal level, one might think a quarterly Town-County Liaison Committee meeting might be rife with discussion of that topic.

However both the town and county governments conduct other business – and as they say on Broadway, “the show must go on”.

So the first 20 minutes of a brief 30 minutes or less Front Royal-Warren County Liaison Committee meeting of Thursday, April 18, was devoted to summary briefings of that other business. Town Manager Joe Waltz and County Administrator Doug Stanley handled presentation of those summaries offered to committee members Bill Sealock and Letasha Thompson on the town side and Dan Murray and Tony Carter representing the County.

With the Town taking on the rotating hosting duties, Vice-Mayor Sealock chaired his second meeting during Mayor Hollis Tharpe’s self-imposed administrative leave pending resolution of a misdemeanor criminal charge involving a massage parlor visit. See Related Story:

As press releases fly, plot thickens in Tharpe sex solicitation case

Topics on the Town side included:

  1. the status of Phase One of the West Main Street Extended Project into the ITFederal portion of the Royal Phoenix Business Park from Kendrick Lane – 90% complete to the first building constructed on site;
  2. construction of a parallel central water utility line into the Route 522/340 North Commercial-Industrial Corridor – a May 6 submission for updated plan evaluation and cost estimates;
  3. the Town’s halting movement toward enforcement of a property maintenance code that will initially target only blighted and derelict structures – awaiting County feedback on a request to utilize the County’s Board of Building Code Appeals as a more cost efficient method of that implementation;
  4. resolution of infrastructure issues at a new wastewater treatment plant septage receiving station – accomplished and backflow issues resolved;
  5. and the status of Phases 2 and 3 of the Happy Creek Road Project – $1.3 million in carryover VDOT funds transferred for use on Phase 2; another $2.5 million committed by the EDA for the project, with a total cost estimate of $16.9 million for both phases and a projected 2026 start date.

On the County side topics included:

As Tony Carter, center left, listens and Dan Murray’s hand, bottom left, occupies, County Administrator Doug Stanley takes his turn updating town officials on county projects, some within the town limits.

  1. the Crooked Run West developer request for Town central water service extension into the County’s North Corridor – County Planning Commission recommendation of denial of necessary zoning changes to facilitate a 1000-plus residential unit mixed development project that is contrary to both county and town comprehensive plan guidelines; recent receipt of a VDOT traffic study; and June as the earliest estimate of county board of supervisors discussion of whether or not to adhere to its planning commission recommendation of denial of the project;
  2. Development Review Committee projects – met on March 27 to discuss the Crooked Run West proposal, as well as construction of a new Christendom College chapel, Catlett Mountain Road home construction on existing lots; and in-town projects including an ice vendor business on South Royal Avenue; a daycare on South Commerce Avenue; a proposed Sheetz Gas Station on Shenandoah Avenue; and interior work on A. S. Rhodes Elementary School. The committee’s next meeting is slated for April 24;
  3. the status of the EnerGov building inspection software upgrades designed to make online self service a customer friendly experience. The status of that software system that initially went live on November 14, 2017, is continued issues to resolve what was discovered to “not provide the public a friendly experience” and discussion with an outside contractor to correct the situation in more timely manner than county staff could accomplish it;
  4. the County’s project inside the town limits, including Ressie Jeffries Elementary School renovations – completed; upgrades to the Health and Human Services building on 15th Street to accommodate occupancy by the County Registrar’s Office – moved in April 1; and the public school system’s Brighter Futures alternative school program – completed in November; punch list review with contractor under way;
  5. implementation of the joint town-county tow board – establishment of a tow list of qualified companies on February 6 that will be in effect through June 30, 2020. Citizen complaints were heard about exorbitant tow costs, a main issue surrounding creation of the town board, at an April 3 tow board meeting. However, such complaints have apparently not been officially submitted to the tow board in writing. So, Stanley’s summary indicated “tow representatives” are urging citizens to file official complaint forms which are available online. Contact the county administrator’s office for further detail on accessing those forms.

The elephant in the room

With the above agenda discussion completed by 6:20 p.m., Vice-Mayor Sealock asked if there was any other business to be brought forward. County Board Supervisor Carter noted that the county had agreed to take over as fiscal agent for the EDA, effective August 1.

County Board Chairman Murray noted that the County’s assumption of that role will provide “multiple layers of checks and balances” of EDA financial workings. On the EDA side their board has created redundancies in requiring the signatures of two board members on financial transactions, as well as increased board involvement in the development of those transactions.

From left, EDA Board Chairman Gray Blanton, EDA Board member Ron Llewellyn, term expired and since resigned, and then-Executive Director Jennifer McDonald at a November 2018 town council work session; the following month McDonald resigned amidst a mounting EDA financial crisis. Royal Examiner File Photo

As for the increased checks and balances provided by putting the EDA under the fiscal agent auspices of county government, a previous county staff presentation cited direct involvement of the County Finance Department and Treasurer’s Office in procurement policy, bookkeeping and recordkeeping of EDA business. The down side acknowledged is the additional demand on county staff to assume those additional responsibilities for another agency.

But in the current and still evolving legal and political environment it appears that additional demand will be a necessary consequence to assist in putting the EDA’s house back in order; not to mention a step in regaining the trust of what is becoming an increasingly suspicious, and according to Dan Murray, aggressively hostile public. As noted in a related Royal Examiner  video, at Tuesday’s county board meeting Murray described being physically pushed Sunday at a diner he regularly frequents by a customer angry about the EDA situation.

And so things progress this spring of 2019, as municipal and EDA officials wrestle with how they allowed what is alleged to have happened within the EDA in recent years happen; and how they will respond to what appears to be a growing social media-fed negative public reaction of a sometimes less than constructive nature.

County Board Chairman Dan Murray at April 17 capital improvements bond issue signing with EDA officials; EDA Board Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond, standing, waits for the paperwork to slide his way.

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EDA in Focus

Busy week for EDA: Appointments, Town FOIA, director hunt, bond issue



Monday’s special meeting quorum and two surviving staff members – Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

On Monday morning, April 15, at the first of two special meetings of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors called this week secretary and assistant secretary appointments were made. A three-member quorum – only five of the seven board seats are currently occupied – voted to appoint Ed Daley, in his absence, as secretary; and Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond took on the duty of assistant secretary. Present were Chairman Gray Blanton, Drummond and Treasurer Tom Patteson, along with Interim Executive Director John Anzivino and Attorney Dan Whitten.

As literally everyone in Warren County not in a coma now knows, the FBI and State Police swooped in Tuesday to search the EDA headquarters and remove some items related to criminal investigations stemming from the EDA forensic audit and consequent civil litigation seeking the return of over $17 million in allegedly embezzled or misappropriated EDA assets.

A coordinated – well, as coordinated as possible – April 17 press perusal of the front portion of the EDA office during Wednesday’s closed session indicated that the computer hard drive and a cell phone previously seen in former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s still-locked down office were no longer on her desk. EDA officials would not confirm whether any of the office printers had been removed by law enforcement the previous day.

Above, EDA Attorney Dan Whitten and Board member Greg Drescher oversee a school staff tech person locking down outside access to the executive director’s computer upon announcement of her resignation on Dec. 20, 2018. Below, a somewhat emptier desk in the still locked-down office the day after FBI-VSP search of EDA headquarters.

Wednesday’s special meeting closed session was called to discuss candidates in the running to succeed Interim Executive Director John Anzivino on a permanent basis, or at least as permanent as such things may be. Returning to open session the board quorum of four – up by one from Monday with the addition of Mark Baker – resolved to continue the process of selecting its new executive director.

During a brief discussion with media following adjournment Anzivino declined to speculate on when an appointment might be announced. Previous EDA board discussion indicated a desire to have a permanent director in place in May. Anzivino indicated the field had been narrowed to three from which to choose.

While declining to give any detail on the previous day’s search by federal and state law enforcement, Anzivino reiterated that the EDA will continue to cooperate in the criminal investigation related to information uncovered by the forensic audit of EDA finances underway since mid-September 2018.

Anzivino also said that from personal observation work appears to be continuing on the building on the ITFederal site. ITFederal and its principal Truc “Curt” Tran are among the nine defendants named in the EDA civil litigation seeking recovery of allegedly misappropriated EDA assets. While stating he no longer plans to relocate ITFederal to the 30-acre parcel at the Royal Phoenix Business Park sold to him for one dollar, he has indicated a plan to rent space in the building under construction out.

A road to where? – Phase One of the West Main St. connector was authorized with a three-building ITFederal complex generating 600 high-paying tech jobs promised by Congressman Bob Goodlatte on 30 acres gifted by the EDA for one dollar to get the re-development ball rolling at the former Superfund site. Recent FIOA information indicates Goodlatte asked for the $10-million EDA loan to Tran and ITFederal.

Positive PR

During the open portion of Monday’s special meeting Board Chairman Gray Blanton broached the idea of getting an accounting of current business the EDA is engaged in as a positive counterpoint to the heavily-publicized scandal revolving around the alleged embezzlement of EDA assets discovered by a lengthy, six months and counting and $760,000 and climbing forensic audit of EDA finances.

Anzivino said he would prepare a press release summarizing property maintenance, project development, and tenant recruitment, including the U.S. Census Bureau for a training center.

Town FOIA request

Also on Monday Vice-Chairman Drummond asked if the town government was going to get its formally requested copy of the forensic audit that has thus far resulted in the filing of civil litigation seeking recovery of that minimum $17.6 million in EDA assets said to have been moved for personal benefit during Jennifer McDonald’s directorship and oversight of EDA finances.

Chairman Blanton responded that he saw no reason the Town shouldn’t get a copy.

However, EDA Attorney Dan Whitten cited a semantical issue with the Town request, which had initially been stated as for the “final report” which Whitten pointed out does not yet exist. The forensic audit continues to develop, so no “final” version is available.

As previously reported, it has been noted that thus far only the EDA Board of Directors has seen the written updates of the forensic audit and Anzivino confirmed that once those drafts of the Mueller Report, I mean the Cherry Bekaert Report have been reviewed by the EDA board they have been shredded.

Following Wednesday special meeting Anzivino said he thought his Tuesday meeting with Town Attorney Doug Napier and Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson went well, and that the semantical issues would be worked through to try and accommodate the Town’s request to be kept abreast of the information thus far available from the forensic audit.

And a bond issue

Following adjournment of the approximately 15-minute Monday meeting, the board broke before reassembling at 11 a.m. for a joint signing of the approximately $11 million bond issue on three capital improvement projects. Those projects are renovations at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and on county and school space at the Health and Human Services complex in the old middle school building on 15th Street; and construction of the new Rivermont Fire Station.

County Board Chairman Dan Murray joined Blanton and Drummond in signing the documents, with county and school administration staff present, as well as Sands-Anderson bond counsel Dan Siegel.

From left above, Dan Murray for the County and Gray Blanton and Bruce Drummond for the EDA sign off on bond issue for three capital improvement projects as Tom Patteson and Greg Drescher chat in background. Below from left, Drescher, bond counsel Dan Siegel and Doug Stanley chat as Bruce Drummond seated, peruses the paperwork.

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EDA in Focus

EDA Investigation: FRPD’s initial interview of Jennifer McDonald, Part 2



Nearly two years after an alleged break-in at the Front Royal-Warren County EDA office on Kendrick Lane, the FRPD has no official suspect in the case. / FRPD crime scene photo

In this second segment of the initial interview on June 15, 2017 with Front Royal Police Department Investigators Landin Waller and Crystal Cline, McDonald pushes forward a theory targeting this reporter as a player in the EDA office break-in revolving around inquiries into and source information acquired that ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran was the “secret investor” in the planned Skyline Regional Justice Academy.

McDonald referenced a time I worked at local radio station WFTR (WZRV The RIver 95.3 FM) and claims I accessed public files. However I never actually was in the EDA offices suite while a radio station employee.  After being fired from the radio station, perhaps coincidentally at the very time I was seeking information from Congressman Robert Goodlatte and his staff about the congressman’s involvement with and knowledge of ITFederal and its owner, McDonald invited me to come to her office “to talk”, presumably to glean information about what I had learned about Tran and his company.

The following is a transcript of the official incident report for the alleged break-in, reported on May 18, 2017:

Front Royal Police Department Investigation Narrative: Officer Report for Incident 17050871

Date, Time, Reporting Officer: 05/18/17, 14:00, Detective Landin J. Waller Description of the Incident:

On 05/18/17 I, Detective Landin J. Waller, was contacted by Captain Ryman in reference to an incident at the .Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) located at 400 Kendrick Lane. Myself and Detective King responded to the scene where we were met by Captain Ryman and Captain Nicewarner. Detective King and I were briefed about the scene by Captain Ryman.

Detectives arrived on scene to find several 4-inch by 6-inch photos taken from McDonald’s work area and placed on a conference table, along with a large cut-out photograph of the subject with a black plastic handle steak knife plunged through the forehead of the photo and stuck to the head rest of a brown leather office chair where McDonald stated she normally sat. / Photos from FRPD

We were advised four (4) 4″ by 6″ personal photographs and a large cut out photograph of Jennifer McDonald were taken from McDonald’ s office and found in the conference room. Three ( 3) of ‘the 4″ by 6″ photographs had McDonald in the picture with her face scratched out with a sharp object. The fourth 4″ by 6″ photograph was a picture of McDonald1 s niece and her toddler aged son with the word “NIGGAR” written in black marker across the face of the child. The large cut out photograph had a black plastic handle steak knife plunged through the forehead of the photo and it was stuck to the head rest of a brown leather office chair where McDonald admittedly normally sits.

Detective Waller noted that there was undisturbed dust on the window ledges and on the blinds at every window. The window to McDonald’s office was raised up about two inches and not secured; However there was cobwebs and undisturbed dust on the blinds and window ledge.

There were no signs of forced entry to the buildings windows, and doors. As I noted there was undisturbed dust on the window ledges and on the blinds at every window. The window to McDonald’s office was raised up about two inches and not secured; However there was cobwebs and undisturbed dust on the blinds and window ledge. The two doors of access to the building and office did not have pry marks or signs of tampering.

Investigators responding to the reported break-in documented that the two doors of access to the building and office did not have pry marks or signs of tampering.

The scene was photographed and processed by Detective King. Detective King took overall, midrange, close-up, and close-up with scale photographs. All photographs will be attached to this report in the images file. There were 6 items of evidence collected and packaged from this scene. Item #1: (4″ by 6″ photograph of niece and son), Item #2: 4″ by 6″ photograph of McDonald with Dolphin), Item #3: (4″ by 6″ photograph of McDonald with Niece), Item #4: (4″ by 6″ photograph of McDonald and family) , Item #5: (cutout picture of McDonald) , Item #6: (black plastic handle steak knife) . Detective King dusted the conference ‘ table and drawer for latent prints but was not successful.

I interviewed the two employees that were at the office, Jennifer McDonald and Missy Henry. These interviews were audio recorded and will be added to the case file.

From the interview with McDonald, I was informed that she was the Director of the EDA inhere she has been employed since 1999, She advised there are two other employees, Missy Henry and Maria Jones, that work out of this office. McDonald advised me she left the office last evening (05/17/18) at 17:00 or 17:30. She said she went to a Rotary meeting at 19;30. McDonald said left from the Rotary meeting and went directly home and the next morning she arrived to work at about 07:30. McDonald said she went to her office and she and Missy were talking when she noticed some pictures were missing from her office but she was not sure which ones. She said a while later she was notified by Missy of the scene in the conference room – McDonald did say that last Thursday morning she noticed a large knife (from the kitchen area of the EDA) was in her chair in the conference room on 05/11/17, but did not notify the police but thought it was odd.

Jennifer told Investigator Waller that this knife was found lying in her chair in the conference room on 05/11/17, but she did not notify the police.

I asked McDonald if she could think of anyone that might be mad enough to do something like this, she said “yes”. She informed me that there is a group of people who have made derogatory statements about the Work-Force Housing Project in the Royal Examiner. McDonald went on to explain there was a piece of land that was to be gifted to the town for this project; However, the EDA missed the deadline for the land to be gifted and now the land must be purchased. She said the piece of land in question was gifted by her family members (Aunt & Uncle). She stated the Royal Examiner has posted articles about this land deal in which many persons have commented negatively about her and the EDA. She listed Councilwoman Bebhinn Egger, Mike Graham, Stan Brooks, Shea Parker, Tom Conkey, Roger Bianchini, and Norma Jean Shaw as persons who she felt were angry with her.

Stack on the cabinet were copies of a voluminous press release and documents related to questions posed by then-Town Council member Bébhinn Egger. Those questions had been promised to Egger May 19, 2017, one day after the break-in was reported.

McDonald informed me that herself, Missy, and Maria Jones are the only ones with keys to the outside of the building and to the office door. She did say there was a spare key for each door in a real estate type lock box that was located on the iron railing of the stoop. She advised that Maria Crigler, The Administrative Assistant of Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission,  (the neighboring business) also has the code to the lock box because they have a spare key in the lock box. McDonald informed me the keys are kept in the lock box incase someone forgets their key to the office and needs to gain entry to the office. I was then informed that all 9 employees at Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission have the code to the lock box.

I also interviewed Missy Henry in the conference room. Henry stated she has been employed at the EDA as an Administrative Assistant since 2012. She advised that she left the office on 05/17/17 at 17:05 and did not return to the office around 0800 on 05/18/17. Henry advised me she was the first to notice the conference room scene. Henry also advised me that she had just changed the code to the lock box this past Monday to a 3 digit code instead of a 4 digit code. She advised that no one has been notified of the change except herself, Jennifer and Maria.

I spoke to all the employees at Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission and determined that the last employee to go leave the building was Brandon Davis. X was advised that Davis1 wife went into labor last night and he stopped by the office to grab some items from his desk before going to the hospital. I have yet to speak with him, but all the other employees did not notice anything out of the ordinary on 05/17/17.

Later on that day, I spoke with employee Marla Taylor Jones by phone. Marla advised she is the current Director of Marketing with the EDA and has been since 2009. She said she arrived to work at 08:10 on 05/17/17 and left at 17:00. She did say she noticed a man who was inside the gate of the property and he was holding a phone or a video recorder and it appeared he was recording. She described the male as a white male with a beard wearing blue plaid shirt, shorts, and a ball cap. ‘ She said he went outside to ask him if he needed assistance but he walked through the breezeway and towards Ameri-Sist which is a business on the east end of the building. Jones said she had Henry call Ameri-Sist to see if the man came to their business, but was informed that no one had stopped in. Jones also said that when she was leaving at 17:00 she noticed an old red Ford Explorer or Blazer with a white male inside and the engine was running. She said he was on the road behind the building and she asked him if he needed help. She said he told her he had just made a delivery and was routing his next delivery. She said she thought this was a bit unusual.

On 05/18/17 after clearing the initial asked McDonald if I might have the spare I wanted to set up surveillance cameras, keys. On 05/18/17 at 17:30 hours Myself, Sergeant Cline set up surveillance video scene, I responded back to* the EDA and keys to the building and office because McDonald agreed and gave me  the spare Detective King, Detective Fogle and inside the office.

Watch Part 2 of Jennifer McDonald initial interview with Front Royal Police Department that occurred on June 15, 2017:

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EDA in Focus

FBI, State Police descend on EDA headquarters Tuesday morning



The EDA office complex is in western section of old Avtex Admin building at left of this aerial photo. Royal Examiner File Photo/Roger Bianchini Courtesy of CassAviation

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Virginia State Police conducted a search and apparent removal of items from the office of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority on Tuesday morning, April 16.

FBI Special Agent/Supervisor Neil Mathison told press present at 11:30 a.m. that units had been on the scene since early morning and expected to be done with their search of the premises by mid-afternoon.

Other than that summary of the federal and state law enforcement presence at the scene, information on the nature of the search and its enabling authority was not forthcoming. Boxes were seen being carried in and out of the rear parking lot, main entrance to the western section of the old American Viscose Administration Building the EDA shares with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission.

We’ve seen those black SUV’s in movies – a sure sign of a federal presence and apparently not just in Hollywood. Photos/Roger Bianchini

Present in addition to FBI Supervisor Mathison, VSP Special Agent in Charge Lt. John Defilippi and additional personnel from the federal and state law enforcement agencies, was Warren County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton. Layton confirmed that his boss, Brian Madden, was off on Tuesday. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said that Madden was not expected back in the office until next week.

A Special Grand Jury requested by Madden and authorized by Circuit Court Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. to explore potential criminal charges related to allegations of financial misappropriations of EDA assets in recent years was empanelled on Thursday, April 11. While tight-lipped like the law enforcement officials present, Layton did say that the EDA Special Grand Jury would determine its own schedule as the members saw fit to accomplish their assigned task.

Madden requests, Athey empanels special grand jury in EDA case

However asked whether the search in progress had been authorized by the Warren County Special Grand Jury Layton, like the federal and state law enforcement official present, was non-committal.

From left, Virginia State Trooper Joey Yokiel, Asst. Comm. Attorney Bryan Layton, FBI Special Agent Supervisor Neil Mathison and VSP Special Agent in Charge Lt. John Defilippi

A Richmond FBI Public Information Officer referenced by Mathison for additional information, said that at this time no further information would be released by the FBI. The VSP public information office deferred to the FBI as the lead agency in the investigation.

Interim EDA Executive Director John Anzivino was seen arriving and entering the EDA office while media was present. In response to a question, Anzivino said he had been able to meet with Front Royal town officials Tuesday morning as planned to discuss a Freedom of Information Act request the Town has filed regarding the results of the six-month-old, $760,000 forensic audit of EDA finances currently underway.

Interim EDA Executive Director John Anzivino returns to office shortly after 11:30 a.m. as law enforcement search continued.

It is the civil litigation filed on behalf of the EDA on March 26, by the Sands-Anderson law firm seeking recovery of a minimum of $17.6 million in allegedly misdirected EDA assets that was the basis for the launching of the Warren County Special Grand Jury.

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

Mathison, Defilippi and Layton did not respond to questions about whether Tuesday’s law enforcement activity at the EDA headquarters was a result of the special grand jury investigation or another potential investigative source at the state or federal level.

FBI and VSP Supervisors Mathison and Defilippi ponder the status of search …

And three law enforcement vehicles prepare to roll out.

Recent file photo of shredded documents in EDA office recycling bin – according to Interim Executive Director Anzivino various updated forensic audit reports have been shredded after review by the EDA Board of Directors. Anzivino explained that the EDA is the only board that has thus far viewed the evolving Cherry Bekaert documentation of its forensic audit investigation. However, former County Board Chairman Tony Carter and County Administrator Doug Stanley, below at March 22 EDA meeting, have been allowed to sit in on EDA board discussion of the report.

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EDA in Focus

EDA break-in investigation: Back to the beginning



FRONT ROYAL – Nearly two years ago, on May 11, 2017, former Front Royal-Warren County EDA executive director Jennifer R. McDonald claims she found a knife lying in the chair where she normally sat. There was no signed of forced entry, nor was a call made to police.

A week later, on May 18, 2017, McDonald did telephone the Front Royal Police Department, who found photos of McDonald with the face scratched out on a boardroom table, and another photo with a knife stuck through the forehead, as well as some defaced family photos. Police say nothing was reported missing, there was no sign of forced entry and to this day, the case remains unsolved.

Royal Examiner, beginning today, will publish the entire investigative file of the Front Royal Police Department, which was obtained by FOIA request. Over the next days and weeks readers will be able to follow the evidence themselves and see that Waller, Cline, and Investigator Zach King did a thorough and complete investigation.

05/11/17McDonald said a knife from the kitchen area was found in her chair in her office. No forced entry. Not reported to Law Enforcement.
05/18/17McDonald reported incident at EDA. Photos of McDonald with her face scratched out found on boardroom table and cut out photo with knife through forehead. No forced entry: Nothing reported stolen.
05/21/17McDonald said she talked to Ron Llewellyn by phone about meeting on the B&E. Llewellyn told McDonald John Costello knew about the B&E and "missing files".
05/22/17McDonald called to tell me about phone call with Llewellyn and noted there were no files missing.
05/24/17McDonald notices 3 confidential files (ITFederal, Workforce Housing, Criminal Justice Academy) missing from her cabinet above her desk. Sends e-mail to about missing files. Incorrect e-­mail address.
05/25/17McDonald finds typed letter on windshield of car at her residence stating: RAPE AINT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART (No report to Law Enforcement)
Sometime between 05/30/17 to 06/01/17Sammy North approaches Roger Bianchini at Melting Pot and curses at him for his Royal Examiner article on Jennifer McDonald. Bianchini makes FRPD Captain Jason Ryman aware of incident but does not wish to pursue charges.
06/05/17McDonald has meetings with Royal Examiner reporters Norma Jean Shaw and Roger Bianchini at the EDA office. (separate times) Gives both reporters detail of the criminal investigation at the EDA and shows pictures of the crime scene from her phone.
06/07/17McDonald and EDA Board of Directors hire Private Investigator Ken Pullen.
06/08/17Detective Waller and King respond to EDA to collect DNA from McDonald. McDonald notified FRPD about hiring Private Investigator.
06/14/17McDonald sends Detective Waller text about e-mail she received from Norma Jean Shaw indicating she has confidential information about Curt Tran being investor for the Criminal Justice Academy.
06/15/17Waller and Cline interview McDonald at CID Office. McDonald requests that we speak to Norma Jean Shaw and ask her about pictures. McDonald states Shaw has not seen scene photographs. Interview ends 14:30.
06/15/17Waller and Cline interview Norma Jean Shaw at CID Office. Shaw states McDonald showed her EDA scene photos from her personal phone.
Shaw states that McDonald and Sheriff Danny McEathron have real estate corporation (Daboys LLC.)
Shaw states that Donnie Poe came into Mike McCool's office and was upset with Jennifer McDonald over a land (Farm) she recently purchased in Browntown or Limeton. Poe wanted to buy the land and he feels McDonald bought it out from underneath him.
Shaw disclosed her source for the Academy investor came from a client of Brett Hrbek.
06/16/17Waller and Cline interview Roger Bianchini at CID Office. Bianchini states that he met with McDonald 06/05/17 and was provided details of the B&E at the EDA and shown pictures.
Bianchini stated he had meeting with McDonald on 06/15/17 between 15:00-16:00 at her Office in the EDA building & said McDonald gave him details of an incident at her residence involving a paving stone thrown through her front door window and a typed note being found on the ground with two phone numbers. Bianchini said one of the numbers belonged to Tom Sayre and the other was a 202-area code.
06/16/17After Waller and Cline interview Bianchini, Lieutenant Gordon Foster with WCSO contacts Detective Waller to inform him of new incident at McDonald's residence. Foster stated Deputies responded to McDonald's residence on 06/15/17 at 21:03 and described the same incident Bianchini had just detailed in his interview.
06/16/17Waller and Cline interview Marla Jones at the EDA. Confirm that Bianchini was in McDonald's office on 06/15/17 between 15:00 and 16:00.
06/16/17Waller and Cline re-interview Bianchini about details of incident McDonald disclosed to him at her residence. Bianchini confirms all details of incident including the note.

On June 15, 2017, Front Royal Police Investigator Landin Waller and Investigator Crystal Cline interviewed McDonald. She has a great deal to say about who she thinks may have been responsible for the alleged break-in, including former town officials, a local business man, an EDA board member—even a local reporter whom she knew was investigating her real estate purchases with a local elected official.

In the next video segment, McDonald makes several untrue statements about this reporter, perhaps in an attempt to impugn character and to deflect any suspicion from her own actions? Royal Examiner readers will have to examine the evidence and decide for themselves.

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EDA in Focus

EDA had spent only $10,500 at time of workforce housing purchase



Under watchful eye of his executive director, board Vice-Chairman Greg Drescher reads motion to authorize EDA’s $445,000 purchase of the workforce housing 3.5-acre parcel on April 28, 2017. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

As referenced in our second story on ramifications of the investigation into financial wrongdoing and alleged embezzlement of FR-WC Economic Development Authority assets, the rationale used for proceeding with a $445,000 purchase of the workforce housing project parcel when its “gifted” status evaporated in April 2017 was the EDA’s expenditure of a half million dollars on the project to that point. See Related Story:

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

From last week’s story we quoted from an April 2017 Royal Examiner story (See Related Story): “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.”

The following month, on May 19, 2017, coincidentally one day after an alleged break-in of the EDA office in which no signs of forced entry were apparent, the EDA released a 383-page explanation of the workforce housing project following then-Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger’s submission of six specific questions concerning the project.

Stacks of the EDA’s 383-page explanation of the workforce housing project released on May 19, 2017, one day after an alleged break-in and vandalism of the EDA office

  • Who put the $445,000 price on the now-voided gifted deed of transfer;
  • A timeline on all permitting for the project, particularly now that fingers have apparently been pointed the town’s way for the failure to meet the previously secret March 1, 2017 deadline;
  • Why there was a confidential agreement between the EDA and the Campbells on the land transfer;
  • An itemization of how the EDA has already spent $500,000 on the project, leading to the decision to proceed with a purchase of the property;
  • Public disclosure of all familial relationships between anyone involved in the transaction;
  • And finally, appraisal prices on the Afton Inn and old Stokes Mart/B&G Goods building the EDA is also involved in managing or marketing.

Of her colleagues failure to join her in seeking answers as a group, Royal Examiner reported, “However, her colleagues seemed less interested in the misinformation and previously undisclosed confidential agreement that gave the EDA less than nine months to accomplish – WHAT isn’t exactly clear.” See Related Stories:

Egger, Connolly butt heads over workforce housing project changes

Connolly again berates Egger for continuing workforce housing discussion

Of the 383-page EDA response to her above questions, Egger said at a subsequent council meeting, “It sort of reminded me of the person who goes in to pay their fine with all pennies… it was every piece of paper they could find with the words workforce housing on them. And I had asked very specific questions and I expected very specific answers to those questions. After looking through the packet, very few of those questions are answered.”

Bébhinn Egger, above left, and John Connolly, below right, had some testy exchanges about the viability of raising questions about how the EDA was functioning and representing those functions in 2017. Three of her then-colleagues, including Eugene Tewalt and Hollis Tharpe also pictured (as well as Jacob Meza) apologized to Egger on March 25, 2019, for their stances at the time.

In Royal Examiner’s exploration of that voluminous EDA response to questions about the workforce housing project, we noted that many of the specific items cited as expenditures, in fact, appeared to be proposals or in one case an escrow account created to cover future expenses: “While there was a ‘Project Invoices & Contracts’ section in the May 19 package, as we pointed out in our ‘First Impressions of EDA reply…’ story it is NOT clear exactly how much money has actually been spent on development of the Campbell parcel versus how much has been theoretically committed to it. That is because while some of the included documents are invoices, others are proposals, or relate to the establishment of escrow accounts and contingency funds, the latter two alone totaling $207,380 of the $420,765 “expenditure” total listed in the document.  The documents appearing to be proposals containing amounts that may not yet have been spent could total from as little as $6,000 to as much as $70,000 or more,” this reporter wrote. See Related Stories:

First impression of EDA reply: 383 pages later what have we learned?

County attorney invokes attorney-client privilege on EDA workforce housing questions

Contacted by email about the discrepancy between money actually spent that is not recoverable versus money just committed to the project, EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald responded to Royal Examiner that “all but $10,500 spent on a traffic study IS recoverable.”

As this reporter wrote at the time, “Since even this cynical reporter estimated more than that actually spent based on information provided in the May 19 informational packet, I e-mailed her back for double verification – “All but $10,500 for a traffic study is recoverable, and that is on the record??”

“Absolutely,” McDonald replied.

So much for frugality as the stories surrounding the workforce housing project continued to unravel in May and June 2017. See Related Story:

Some answers, more questions, (one hint) on EDA workforce housing

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