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County officials, EDA board members have good day in court – will it last?

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After hearing combined arguments from attorneys for 11 of 13 County municipal and Economic Development Authority defendants present on why ancient English Common Law did not create 21st Century legal grounds for criminal prosecution regarding unintentional dereliction of the oversight duty of their office, Judge Bruce D. Albertson ruled for those defendants.

Also on Monday Albertson denied a Removal Petition request that all five sitting County Supervisors be immediately removed from the conduct of their office prior to the resolution of a Show Cause Hearing on that Removal Petition filed October 18.

“For me as a judge to act now is potentially influencing the outcome of the election,” Judge Albertson observed in denying immediate removal.

However in a possible harbinger of things to come, the judge added that “there are other conceivable outcomes civil and criminally” as to a potential final resolution of this citizen-elected official dispute.

Some litigants, attorneys and reporters home away from home – the Warren County Courthouse – Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

On a motion by defense counsel for the supervisors that petition was sent to the County Registrar for verification that the required 10% of county voters in each voting district signing the petition, were in fact registered county voters. A return date of November 22 at 8:45 a.m. was set to get the result of that Registrar’s Report.

More on that initial Removal ruling later, but first to the court decision quashing the criminal charges against those county supervisors, the county administrator and past and present EDA board members.

After retiring to chambers to consider his ruling after an hour and seven minutes of legal arguments and counterarguments, 13 minutes later Judge Albertson returned to sustain the collective motions to quash the three misdemeanor indictments against all 11 defendants whose attorneys were present and participating in the arguments.

Upon that ruling, an observing co-counsel for Tom Sayre and Tony Carter, whose counsel was not present due to a scheduling conflict, both rose to ask that they or their client be included in the ruling, drawing some laughter from a packed courtroom.

“That makes sense,” Judge Albertson said, allowing the joining of the two in the judgment as had been discussed earlier were the ruling to go that way.

Tony Carter, here at Sept. 24 misdemeanor booking at RSW Jail, may be wondering if he has to pay his criminal attorney now that the charges against him have been collectively quashed in his attorney’s absence.

Albertson noted he was unable to find any evidence codifying misfeasance and nonfeasance as prosecutable misdemeanor offenses in the Commonwealth of Virginia, even under English Common Law at the base of U.S. law. He said the only related legal reference to the two charges he could find was in a 1967 civil case in England.

“What else is out there? It’s like finding a black hole by the gravity moving around it,” Albertson said, noting that the closest DCC Code that was found to bring the charges under was “solicitation”.

Solicitation of what, the court may have asked.

Acting Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton argued that while “as ill-defined as it may be, there is a legal precedent” for the charges, in arguing against the motions to quash the indictments.

Several attorneys jumped on that argument.

“ ‘As ill-defined as may’ be is repugnant to Virginia Law,” David Crump, who represented four defendants, replied to Layton’s assertion of precedent.

“ ‘As uncertain and vague as it is’ supersedes due process and fairness and is repugnant to the Virginia Constitution,” David Silek, representing former EDA Treasurer William “Billy” Biggs, added.

As Royal Examiner reported on September 8, of the three “feasance” failings of public office only malfeasance is codified as criminal by the Virginia Legislature, and that as a misdemeanor offense, though one that could lead to more serious charges.

The dividing line between malfeasance and misfeasance and nonfeasance is intent.

Malfeasance is defined as “intentional conduct that is wrongful or unlawful” while nonfeasance is defined “as a failure to act where there was a duty to act” and misfeasance is described as “conduct that is lawful but inappropriate”.

All the charges relate to the County and EDA Boards’ continued allowance of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald to operate without oversight, restrictions or direct supervisory control as a financial investigation of EDA affairs was closing in on her between September and late December 2018. McDonald resigned under mounting pressure from that Cherry Bekaert financial fraud investigation on December 20, 2018, admitting to liability for the return of $2.7 million in EDA assets. The EDA claims her liability is much higher.

While not taken between September and December 2018, this photo of Jennifer McDonald on the job as she continued to be while under increased legal and audit scrutiny in late 2018 is at the root of the Removal Petition against County Supervisors.

The misdemeanor indictments cited McDonald’s movement of around $309,000 to her own benefit during that four-month period at the end of 2018, setting the groundwork for the charges. While the EDA civil litigation is seeking return of a total of $21.3 million now, due to the one-year statute of limitations on misdemeanor charges, earlier transactions could not be included in the indictments.

Removal on hold

Helping fill Circuit Courtroom B Monday morning were a number of citizens involved in the Removal Petition filed against all five County supervisors on October 18. As noted above, they left disappointed.

Not only was their request for immediate removal of the Warren County Board of Supervisors denied, but the foundation of their petition, the criminal misdemeanor indictments against the supervisors regarding a lack of due diligent oversight of EDA operations the last four months of 2018 were quashed as not legally prosecutable by Virginia law, no matter how deep you dig back to its roots in English Common Law.

Following adjournment, Removal Petition attorney Tim Johnson said he did not believe the quashing of the criminal indictments was a major blow to the Removal initiative. While no longer under criminal indictment for a lack of supervisory oversight of EDA finances at the hands of an executive director under increased scrutiny, misfeasance and nonfeasance can be “grounds for impeachment of a high official” Johnson told the press outside the courtroom.

So involved supervisors still on the board in the wake of the November 5 Election can be held accountable for past failures, Johnson believes. As noted during the hearing two of those supervisors, Board Chairman Dan Murray and Linda Glavis are not seeking reelection. Tom Sayre is running for reelection against Walter Mabe in the Shenandoah District. And Archie Fox and Tony Carter are not up for reelection for another two years.

With the citizen petition filed with the Court, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has taken up the Removal case for the plaintiffs. Acting Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton called the citizen loss of faith in their County elected officials “an unusual circumstance in my experience”.

In arguing for the plaintiff’s request for the immediate suspension of the supervisors said he believed “the damage to the public trust is so severe” as to justify the immediate suspension of their powers to govern.

County Attorney Jason Ham and co-counsel Jim Cornwell countered that there was no basis in the facts of the citizen petition to justify such a radical suspension of the municipal government function.

Cornwell said in arguing four such cases he had never seen immediate removal authorized by the court. The only case he was familiar with where the judge did order removal, with a six page Opinion he noted, was a Norfolk City Treasurer who had been convicted on six embezzlement charges – “Here’s there’s none of that,” Cornwell argued. “There is some vague reference that ‘something may happen.’ There is no evidence, it is a feeling of some people … Why suspend on an opinion?” he asked the court.

At the request of the Commonwealth, Albertson retired to chambers to watch Royal Examiner videos of two county meetings, on October 1 and October 25, with counsel from both sides before rendering that decision. Arguing on behalf of the petitioners, Layton said he believed the videos illustrated the unusual and high level public “loss of faith in the Board of Supervisors” due to the EDA financial fraud situation.

Court adjourned at 11:20 a.m. and reconvened at 11:42 a.m. following the video viewing.

Judge Albertson observed of what had been viewed, as one video segment that “devolved into yelling” and another that had been “very respectful” in its conduct of public speakers expressing themselves.

County Attorney Ham summarized what he had seen as less than ten people expressing public dissatisfaction at the hiring of legal counsel for the supervisors at taxpayer expense. He argued against overturning the electoral will of the full voting population of the county for a vocal minority of its citizens.

Layton countered that while only 10 citizens may have spoken publicly, many more were there in support of those 10; and the citizens’ petition when verified would represent 10% of the voting population, not just 10 citizens.

However Judge Albertson denied the immediate removal request.

He called it a “drastic remedy” adding that the Removal Petition itself was a “drastic measure” itself and perhaps a “pressure valve” on public discontent.

And as noted above, he worried over a judicial action that could influence a looming legislative election just two week away and alluded to other possible legal directions this citizen-elected official dispute might take.

Criminal and non-criminal dereliction of public duty: Where might they apply in the EDA financial scandal?

Defense attorneys move to quash grand jury misdemeanor indictments

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Crime/Court

Front Royal man arrested on robbery and weapons charges

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D’Andre Lawrence. Photo / RSW Regional Jail

Early this morning, D’Andre Lawrence was arrested on felony robbery and weapons charges stemming from an early morning incident at the Blue Ridge Motel. Front Royal Police were called at approximately 1:30am to respond to an alleged robbery that had occurred at the local motel. The victim alleged that two individuals assaulted him and took an undisclosed amount of money and ran in the direction of Massanutten Avenue.

Lawrence was arrested on the mentioned charges and transported to RSW Regional Jail and held without bond. The second individual in this incident was identified as a male juvenile and is wanted for questioning.

Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Z. King at 540-636-2208 or by email at zking@frontroyalva.com.

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Virginia State Police concludes investigation into inmate death at New River Regional Jail

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The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Wytheville Field Office has concluded its investigation into the September 2019 death of an inmate at the New River Valley Regional Jail. The case is closed and no charges will be placed in accordance with the findings of the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke and at the advisement of the City of Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney and Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney.

The investigation was conducted at the request of the New River Valley Regional Jail. On the evening of September 11, 2019, Radford University Police responded to a call at a campus facility concerning Aris Eduardo Lobo-Perez, 18, of Culpeper, Virginia. Police took him into custody shortly before midnight on a charge of public intoxication. As is standard procedure, Lobo-Perez was transported by the arresting agency to New River Valley Regional Jail in Pulaski County.

At approximately 7:20 a.m. on September 12, 2019, jail personnel approached Lobo-Perez to offer him breakfast, which he declined. It was at 7:50 a.m. that jail personnel found Lobo-Perez unresponsive in his cell. Despite the immediate efforts by jail personnel to resuscitate the inmate, Lobo-Perez was declared deceased at the jail. His remains were transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke for examination and autopsy.

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Fugitive since 2015 arrested

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During the course of a preliminary investigation, Detective M.R. Ramey obtained credible information regarding the location of a wanted fugitive out of Prince George County, VA. With the assistance of the United States Marshal’s Service and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Derek S. Vrable, 34, was arrested without incident at a residence located in Warren County this afternoon. The underlying charges for this arrest were for Grand Larceny and Breaking and Entering. Vrable has been wanted on this violation since 2015.

Derek S. Vrable, 34, was arrested without incident at a residence located in Warren County.

 

Derek Vrable was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service and transported to the RSW Regional Jail by Warren County Sheriff’s Office where he is currently being held without bond. Other charges may be forthcoming in the near future regarding the initial criminal investigation. No further details are available in this case due to the pending nature of the active investigation.

The Front Royal Police Department would like to extend our thanks to the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in apprehending this individual.

Anyone who may have further information regarding this case is asked to please contact Detective M.R. Ramey at 540-636-2208 or by email at mramey@frontroyalva.com.

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School bus driver arrested and charged with kidnapping and abduction

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On March 4, 2020, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office received notice from the Warren County Middle School that a 13-year-old female student has made comments alleging an adult male bus driver has made inappropriate comments and advances toward her.

The school notified the School Resource Officer, and Warren County Sheriff’s Office Investigators arrived and contacted the victim’s parents and interviewed the young girl. WCSO Investigators located the alleged offender at his home. Agosto Andres Luzunaris, age 42 of Linden, Virginia, was arrested and charged with one count of Kidnapping and Abduction (class 5 felony) that occurred on or about December 2019 through March 2020. Luzunaris is currently being held without bond at the RSW Jail in Front Royal.

Agosto Andres Luzunaris, age 42 of Linden, Virginia, was arrested and charged with one count of Kidnapping and Abduction (class 5 felony). Photo courtesy of RSW Jail.

 

WCSO says the investigation is ongoing; however, it has been reasonably determined there was no risk of harm to other children, and this was determined to be a localized incident. There were no complaints of physical damage to the victim, and the charges stem from allegations that the offender made inappropriate comments and physically restricted the movement of the victim on the school bus.

Melody Sheppard, Interim Superintendent, Warren County Public Schools responded, “Our primary concern is always the physical and emotional well-being of our students. Warren County Public Schools will continue to support the Warren County Sheriff’s Office investigation.”

 

Code of Virginia

§ 18.2-47. Abduction and kidnapping defined; punishment.

A. Any person who, by force, intimidation or deception, and without legal justification or excuse, seizes, takes, transports, detains or secretes another person with the intent to deprive such other person of his personal liberty or to withhold or conceal him from any person, authority or institution lawfully entitled to his charge, shall be deemed guilty of “abduction.”

B. Any person who, by force, intimidation or deception, and without legal justification or excuse, seizes, takes, transports, detains or secretes another person with the intent to subject him to forced labor or services shall be deemed guilty of “abduction.” For purposes of this subsection, the term “intimidation” shall include destroying, concealing, confiscating, withholding, or threatening to withhold a passport, immigration document, or other governmental identification or threatening to report another as being illegally present in the United States.

C. The provisions of this section shall not apply to any law-enforcement officer in the performance of his duty. The terms “abduction” and “kidnapping” shall be synonymous in this Code. Abduction for which no punishment is otherwise prescribed shall be punished as a Class 5 felony.

D. If an offense under subsection A is committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending, the offense shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor in addition to being punishable as contempt of court. However, such offense, if committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending and the person abducted is removed from the Commonwealth by the abducting parent, shall be a Class 6 felony in addition to being punishable as contempt of court.

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Harrisonburg man charged following Loudoun County pursuit and shooting

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A Harrisonburg, Virginia, man faces multiple charges following a pursuit and a non-fatal officer-involved shooting Thursday evening (Feb. 27, 2020) in Loudoun County. Michael E. Bonner, 54, was released from Reston Hospital Center Friday afternoon (Feb. 28, 2020) and taken in state police custody. He has been charged in Loudoun County with grand larceny of a vehicle, eluding police, hit and run, driving without a driver’s license and unauthorized use of a stolen vehicle, and is being held at the Loudoun Adult Detention Center.

Michael Bonner – Courtesy Photo/Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office

The incident began at approximately 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 27, 2020) when a 2017 Ford Escape passed a Virginia State Police trooper as they were traveling east on Route 50 in Loudoun County. The trooper’s license plate reader alerted the trooper that the Ford had been reported stolen out of Fairfax County. The trooper attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the Ford refused to stop and sped away on Route 50 near Tall Cedars Parkway. During the course of the pursuit, the Ford Escape reached speeds of up to 100 mph and rammed two state police vehicles that were attempting to contain the fleeing vehicle in order to bring it to a stop.

State police again surrounded the suspect vehicle and forced it to a stop on South Sterling Boulevard near Shaw Road in Loudoun County. During the course of engaging with the pursuit suspect in order to take him into custody, Bonner was shot at by state police. Bonner was transported to Reston Hospital Center for treatment of the non-life threatening injury.

The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Fairfax Field Office responded to the scene to investigate the officer-involved shooting, which remains under investigation at this time. Once the investigation is completed, state police will turn its findings over to the Commonwealth’s Attorney for review and adjudication.

No law enforcement personnel were injured in the incident, which remains under investigation at this time. In accordance with Department policy, the trooper involved in the shooting has been placed on administrative leave.

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Front Royal man arrested and charged for felony eluding and reckless driving

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On February 25, 2020, Front Royal Police Officer J. Treese attempted to conduct a traffic stop at approximately 8:30pm on a 2013 Chevy Corvette that was traveling at a high rate of speed in the 1400 block of N. Royal Avenue. The vehicle did not display a license plate and when the officer activated his emergency lights, the vehicle failed to yield, and a pursuit was initiated. The pursuit continued through several jurisdictions to include Warren County, Shenandoah County, Strasburg and Frederick County.

Front Royal officers discontinued the pursuit; however, the pursuit was re-initiated by Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police while on I-81. The vehicle stopped in Clarke County, where the driver fled from the vehicle on foot. The area was searched by Frederick and Clarke County deputies and the Virginia State Police; however, the driver was not located.

With the assistance of Upper Pottsgrove Township Police Department located in Pennsylvania, Front Royal Police has identified the driver as William Watson Allen IV. Charges were obtained on Allen for Felony Eluding and Reckless Driving. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office arrested William Watson Allen IV this morning just over the West Virginia state line. Allen was transported to the Eastern Regional Jail. Other charges may be forthcoming in this matter.

William Watson Allen IV. Photo courtesy of Front Royal Police Department.

Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Ramey at 540-636-2208 or by email at mramey@frontroyalva.com.

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Upcoming Events

Apr
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10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 1 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 19: Our stories, songs, and craft this week will be about friends! Come to story time and see your friends,[...]
Apr
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Thu
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 2 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 19: Our stories, songs, and craft this week will be about friends! Come to story time and see your friends,[...]
12:00 pm LFCC work from home training @ ONLINE
LFCC work from home training @ ONLINE
Apr 2 @ 12:00 pm – 12:30 pm
LFCC work from home training @ ONLINE
LFCC Workforce Solutions recognizes the challenges companies are facing as most workers are forced to temporarily work from home. That’s why it has developed this FREE live webinar “5 Ways to Support Employees During this[...]
6:00 pm FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
Apr 2 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Front Royal Christian School
3 exciting shows: APRIL 2 – 6pm, April 3 – 7pm, April 4 – 6pm. Bring the family! Filled with fun flappers and a villainess that audiences will love to hate, Thoroughly Modern Millie JR.[...]
Apr
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6:00 pm Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Apr 3 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
6:00 pm FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
Apr 3 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Front Royal Christian School
3 exciting shows: APRIL 2 – 6pm, April 3 – 7pm, April 4 – 6pm. Bring the family! Filled with fun flappers and a villainess that audiences will love to hate, Thoroughly Modern Millie JR.[...]
Apr
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8:00 am Troop 53 Annual Mulch Sale @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue
Troop 53 Annual Mulch Sale @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue
Apr 4 @ 8:00 am – 1:00 pm
Troop 53 Annual Mulch Sale @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue
Spring is approaching, and Troop 53 is preparing for their annual mulch fundraiser. The funds raised will help support troop activities and send our Boy Scouts to summer camp, where they learn valuable skills in[...]
6:00 pm FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly ... @ Front Royal Christian School
Apr 4 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
FRCS Spring Musical: Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Front Royal Christian School
3 exciting shows: APRIL 2 – 6pm, April 3 – 7pm, April 4 – 6pm. Bring the family! Filled with fun flappers and a villainess that audiences will love to hate, Thoroughly Modern Millie JR.[...]
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10:00 am Focus on Health Employment & Edu... @ LFCC | Science and Health Professions Building
Focus on Health Employment & Edu... @ LFCC | Science and Health Professions Building
Apr 7 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Focus on Health Employment & Education Fair @ LFCC | Science and Health Professions Building
Two sessions: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Different vendors at each session. Held in the Science and Health Professions Building at LFCC’s Middletown Campus. Contact Taylor Luther for more[...]
4:30 pm Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 7 @ 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! Tuesday, March 17 –  Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! This[...]