Today, October 13, the Department of Justice announced it has charged more than 14,200 defendants with firearms-related crimes during Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, despite the challenges of COVID-19 and its impact on the criminal justice process. These cases have been a Department priority since November 2019 when Attorney General William P. Barr announced his commitment to investigating, prosecuting, and combatting gun crimes as a critical part of the Department’s anti-violent crime strategy. These firearms-related charges are the result of the critical law enforcement partnership between United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, led by Acting Director Regina Lombardo, who has made firearms-related investigations a priority.
“The number one priority of government is to keep its citizens safe,” said Attorney General Barr. “By preventing firearms from falling into the hands of individuals who are prohibited from having them, we can stop violent crime before it happens. Violating federal firearms laws is a serious crime and offenders face serious consequences. The Department of Justice is committed to investigating and prosecuting individuals who illegally buy, sell, use, or possess firearms. Reducing gun violence requires a coordinated effort, and we could not have charged more than 14,000 individuals with firearms-related crimes without the hard work of the dedicated law enforcement professionals at the ATF, our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country, and especially all of our state and local law enforcement partners.”
“Protecting the public from violent crime involving firearms is at the core of ATF’s mission,” commented ATF Acting Director Regina Lombardo. “Every day the men and women of ATF pursue and investigate those who use firearms to commit violent crimes in our communities, many of whom are prohibited from possessing firearms from previous convictions. ATF, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the nation, is committed to bringing these offenders to justice for their egregious and violent criminal acts.”
“Across the district we strive daily to bring impactful firearm cases and reduce violence in our communities. Recently we have redoubled our efforts to partner with the Roanoke City Police Department and federal law enforcement to share intelligence and adopt firearms cases, when possible, in the Roanoke Valley,” Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar said today. “In far Southwest Virginia, we are partnering with the Virginia State Police and ATF to target those individuals engaging in the business of selling firearms without a license. These important cases remove individuals who directly cause violence or put guns in the hands of those that do. We could not bring these cases without the close partnership of federal, state and local law enforcement, but we particularly recognize the good work of ATF, who are at the forefront of this fight.”
Of the more than 14,200 cases charged, 79 defendants have been charged in the Western District of Virginia, announced Acting United States Attorney Bubar.
Notable cases recently prosecuted in the Western District of Virginia include a number of prosecutions of felons illegally possessing firearms, straw purchases, and selling stolen firearms.
In August 2020, Luis Castano was sentenced to 96 months in prison after being convicted of illegal possession of a firearm by convicted felon. Castano, who was arrested after being pulled over for driving erratically, was found to be in possession of a Bushmaster, AR-style rifle. The rifle had a loaded, large capacity magazine containing 61 rounds of ammunition, with one round in the chamber.
In July 2020, John Webb was sentenced to 42 months in prison after being convicted of selling stolen firearms. Webb, a convicted felon, admitted to breaking into the home of a neighbor and stealing two shotguns, two rifles, and cash. Webb then took the stolen guns to Wytheville, Virginia where he sold them at a pawnshop.
In July 2020, Robert Joseph and Harold Gaines were sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to illegally possess firearms. Joseph was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison. Gaines received a 48-month sentence.
According to court documents, Gaines paid Joseph to supply him with particular firearms and Joseph, in turn recruited, and directed, straw purchasers to obtain firearms from gun stores in the Western District of Virginia. Joseph then delivered the weapons to Gaines in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland. Gaines subsequently sold those weapons to others. Joseph obtained approximately 40 firearms for Gaines during the course of the conspiracy. Both Joseph and Gaines are convicted felons and are prohibited from legally possessing firearms
Under federal law, it is illegal to possess a firearm if you fall into one of nine prohibited categories including being a felon, illegal alien, or unlawful user of a controlled substance. Further, it is unlawful to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense or violent crime. It is also illegal to purchase – or even to attempt to illegally purchase – firearms if the buyer is a prohibited person or illegally purchasing a firearm on behalf of others. Lying on ATF Form 4473, which is used to lawfully purchase a firearm, is also a federal offense. The Department is committed to prosecuting these firearms offenses as well as using all modern technologies available to law enforcement such as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, known as NIBIN, to promote gun crime intelligence. Keeping illegal firearms out of the hands of violent criminals will continue to be a priority of the Department of Justice and we will use all appropriate, available means to keep the law abiding people of this country safe from gun crime.
For more information on the lawful purchasing of firearms, please click here.
Blue Ridge Narcotics & Gang Task Force investigation nets dealer arrest in Culpeper
CULPEPER, VA – The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force has concluded a three-month long investigation with the arrest of a Culpeper, VA resident. William E. Settle III, 36, was arrested by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force following a search warrant executed at his residence. Through the course of the investigation, Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force officers learned that Settle would routinely travel outside the Commonwealth to a fentanyl source of supply. Settle would then transport the fentanyl back to the Commonwealth for distribution and sale.
On July 26, members of the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force obtained a search warrant for Settle’s residence located along the 600 block of Highview Court in Culpeper, VA. During a search of the residence, 50 capsules of fentanyl with a street value of $1500.00, $1,750.00 in currency, and 2 firearms were seized. Settle was arrested and charged with one felony count of possession with intent to distribute schedule I/II drug, one felony count of possession of a schedule I/II drug, one felony count of possession of a firearm while possessing schedule I/II drug, one misdemeanor count resisting arrest, one misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice. Settle was also served with outstanding failure to appear warrants out of Culpeper. Additional charges are pending. Settle was transported to the Culpeper County Jail where he is being held without bond.
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force is composed of law enforcement personnel from the Culpeper, Orange, Rappahannock Sheriff’s Departments, Culpeper, and Warrenton Police Departments and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office.
New DNA technology being utilized in 23-year-old Strasburg murder-infant abduction case
On Monday, July 26, the Culpeper Field Office of the Virginia State Police issued a statement on new DNA technology being utilized to seek new leads in a 23-year-old murder/child abduction case that occurred in the Town of Strasburg. VSP noted the ongoing cooperation of the child’s father, Daniel E. Pompell, in its investigation. Anyone with possible information regarding the July 1998 murder of Sylena Jo Dalton and abduction of then 10-week-old Allyson Kathleen Dalton is urged to contact VSP Senior Special Agent Mike Jones at (540) 829-7400 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is the VSP release in its entirety:
“Tomorrow marks 23 years since on July 27, 1998, a 10-week-old baby girl disappeared and her mother was violently murdered at their apartment in the Town of Strasburg. The Virginia State Police (VSP) Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s (BCI) Culpeper Field Office is awaiting results from new, advanced DNA testing utilized as a part of the still ongoing criminal investigation.
“As technology has changed and advanced, so have our tactics in working to solve these tragic crimes,” said Capt. John A. Defilippi, VSP BCI Culpeper Field Office commander. “The DNA testing will provide additional information that will greatly aid us with advancing this case. But we are still encouraging anyone with information related to Allyson’s disappearance and Sylena’s death to still come forward with information.”
The infant, Allyson Kathleen Dalton, was last seen at approximately 7:45 a.m. on July 27, 1998, at her mother’s second-floor apartment in the 100 block of Charles Street in Strasburg. She was with her mother, Sylena Jo Dalton, at the time.
Later that same day, at 2:25 p.m., one of the mother’s coworkers found 20-year-old Sylena stabbed to death on a couch inside the residence. Allyson was unaccounted for and has not been seen since that morning. Investigators believe Sylena was killed between 9:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., that morning of July 27, 1998. Neighbors told police that no screams were heard nor was there any disturbance made that morning at the apartment. No murder weapon was found at the scene.
Allyson’s father, Daniel E. Pompell, told state police agents he stopped at the residence on the morning of the murder. Witnesses confirm seeing him outside the apartment with a bundle under his arm. State Police are appreciative of Mr. Pompell’s continued cooperation related to the ongoing investigation as state police persist in efforts to locate his daughter.
Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact VSP Senior Special Agent Mike Jones at (540) 829-7400 or by email at email@example.com.
(From a Virginia State Police release)
UPDATE: EDA and McDonald agree to $9-million debt exemption to her bankruptcy claim
On Tuesday, July 20, U.S. Western District Harrisonburg Division Bankruptcy Court Judge Rebecca B. Connelly issued a “Non-Dischargeable Consent Order Judgement” in Jennifer McDonald’s bankruptcy filing. The judge’s order decrees that “The Warren EDA is granted judgment against and is entitled to recover from Debtor, the sum of $9,000,000; and this judgment shall survive discharge of the Debtor in this Chapter 7 bankruptcy …”
The preface to Judge Connelly’s ruling notes that “In the interest of resolving this matter and avoiding litigation uncertainty, risks, and costs, but without the Debtor admitting the Warren EDA’s allegations, the Warren EDA and the Debtor have engaged in arm’s length negotiations and agree that the Warren EDA’s non-dischargeable claim is in the amount of $9,000,000 …”
The bottom line appears to be that the EDA and its former executive director have agreed that $9 million is the amount of the EDA’s civil court claim against McDonald, without her agreeing that she actually did anything wrong to justify the claim. So, that amount will be subject to collection in the civil action claim by the EDA outside the bankruptcy court process. The bankruptcy court order notes that any amount the EDA was to recover in the bankruptcy action would apply to achieving its $9-million civil claim in Warren County Circuit Court.
A reading of an “Exhibit A1 – the Stipulation” explaining detail of the “Non-Dischargeable Consent Order Judgement” further elaborates that McDonald as “The Debtor waives any right to contest the validity, enforceability, extent, and scope of the terms of the Stipulated Non-Dischargeable Judgment … and waives any right to seek relief from this Stipulation on any grounds” based on any applicable law.
Remaining at issue between the parties appears to be how the EDA will collect that $9-million dollar judgement the parties have agreed to. A number of McDonald-owned properties were frozen by the court early in the civil process, while properties co-owned with other family members were not. Since that order several relatives were named as co-defendants. The “Stipulation” also notes that the EDA-McDonald agreement order “shall not release or discharge any entity other than the Debtor from any liability owed to the Warren EDA” under its Amended Complaint in civil court against all co-defendants.
No ‘Summary Judgement’ against ITFederal
Also, on the EDA vs. McDonald et al. civil action side, on July 14, Harrisonburg-based presiding Circuit Court Judge Bruce D. Albertson dismissed an EDA motion for a “Summary Judgement” ruling against Truc “Curt” Tran’s ITFederal LLC. Plaintiff and defense attorneys made oral arguments on the EDA motion before Albertson on June 10. The bottom line here appears to be that the court has ruled there is not enough substantive information in the plaintiff’s original complaint to rule ITFederal immediately liable for the claim against it.
ITFederal’s $10-million EDA loan to achieve the development of its 30-acre parcel (valued at about $2 million but gifted to ITFederal by the EDA for one dollar) at the Royal Phoenix Business Park/former Avtex Superfund site, with as much as another $2 million in developmental expenses, was the largest single claim in the initial EDA financial scandal civil action.
The EDA alleges that the ITFed loan was achieved under false pretenses as part of the over-arching embezzlement-misappropriation of funds conspiracy allegedly orchestrated by McDonald as EDA executive director after former federal Sixth Congressional District Representative Robert Goodlatte brought Tran here with much ballyhoo for a fall 2016 ITFederal ribbon cutting at the Avtex site. And now the EDA claim against ITFederal, which remains current on its EDA loan payments of about $40,000 a month with an estimated $2 million spent on site, will, unlike the EDA claim against McDonald, continue as a contested part of the EDA’s civil action.
See related EDA meeting, 2018-19 audit story – “Financial Scandal Era Audits near completion as EDA ponders Budget Adjustments”
Legality of Meza council appointment will be re-argued orally third week of September
A date of September 22, at 10:30 a.m. has been set by Warren County Circuit Court Judge William W. Sharp to again hear oral arguments in support of plaintiff (Paul Aldrich) and defense (Jacob Meza, Town of Front Royal) filings on the court’s decision to re-hear a citizen challenge of Meza’s appointment/election to council on January 4th, four days after the term he did not run for reelection to, expired. Plaintiff counsel David Downes was seeking an August date further in front of the November 2nd Special Election to fill the final year of the council seat term vacated by Chris Holloway when he was elected mayor in November 2020, taking office January 1, 2021.
Meza is not running to continue into that final year of Holloway’s old council seat term. With the filing deadline passed, only Warren County Republican Committee Treasurer Amber Morris and Bruce Rappaport, a conservative independent who lost the Republican Committee endorsement to Morris, have filed to be on the ballot in the November Special Election.
Speaking of “elections”, how the term “elected” in Section 47 of the Front Royal Town Charter upon which the plaintiff case is based, is finally interpreted by the court could cast a larger shadow over the judge’s final ruling on the issue. In a letter to plaintiff attorney Downes and defense counsel Heather Bardot dated July 15, Judge Sharpe addresses his promise to resolve the case prior to the November 2, 2021, Special Election to fill the final year of the old Holloway council seat term.
“I intend to keep my word … the citizens of the Town of Front Royal deserve to have this matter resolved,” the judge wrote of that pre-Election Day resolution of the case promise, continuing, “As I have already noted, though the Complaint in this case challenges the validity of Mr. Meza’s office, if the Plaintiff’s position is right, then it is quite possible that the validity of the claims to office of other current council members and the mayor may also be in question.”
A potential impact on the mayor’s or other council members seats stems from initial May 25th hearing discussion on whether the relevant Section 47 wording could be interpreted as preventing elected town officials from running in General Elections for one year after their previous term had expired.
That Section 47 wording is: “No member of the council of the Town of Front Royal shall be appointed or elected to any office under the jurisdiction of the council while he is a member of the council, or for one year thereafter.” (underscore added)
However as previously observed during the May hearing, with an 84-year precedent in place of council members and mayors running for re-election since the 1937 passage of the Town Charter, the likelihood of such a judicial re-interpretation might seem remote. In fact, Downes noted that the plaintiff is not pursuing such an interpretation of the Charter wording, adding that what he termed “a methodical analysis” of relevant historical documents, which he cited as “the Virginia Constitution of 1776, the Virginia House of Delegates Rules of Procedure from 1912, Robert’s Rules of Order from 1915, the Town Charter of 1937” among others “shows that the framers of the charter were clearly addressing an election by councilmen and not a general election by the public.”
In addition to jurisdictional issues and legal standing of the plaintiff to challenge Meza’s “appointment” or “election” by his four Republican Committee colleagues to council on January 4, it continues to be the context of the words “appointed” and “elected” as it applies to council actions in Charter Section 47 around which the case revolves.
Much of the written arguments filed by the two sides in the wake of Judge Sharp’s decision to re-examine and re-hear those arguments, echo points made during the May 25 hearing. As reported in Royal Examiner’s story on that hearing, “Bardot pointed to the absurdity of the Section 47 wording” if it was interpreted to mean council could “appoint” someone who was already a council member to a council seat. So, she asserted that Charter Sections 6D and 9 applied to filling council seats, rather than Section 47.
In her Demurrer filing for dismissal, Bardot pointed to Section 6D wording on filling council vacancies: “The council may fill any vacancy that occurs within the membership of council for the unexpired term, provided that such vacancy is taken within 45 days of the office becoming vacant,” Section 6D states. No reference to a one-year hiatus per appointments is made here, Bardot noted.
Citing the inclusion of the words “appointed or elected” Judge Sharp’s initially ruled that Section 47 applied only to paid staff appointments, not council member appointments. Sharpe said it seemed clear that the Town Charter’s intent, dating to its 1937 adoption, was not to prevent council members from running for re-election for a year. So, the court sided with Bardot’s stance for the defense that Sections 6 and 9 of the Charter were the applicable sections on council appointments, rather than Section 47.
In the first round of oral arguments, as he likely will again on September 22, Downes countered that it was “dangerous to take one word out of context” in trying to decipher the intent of town fathers 84 year ago. The plaintiff counsel argued that the Section 47 wording referred to two distinct and different actions: 1/ appointment to a town staff position while being a council member, or within a year of having been a council member; and 2/ “election” as in acquiring a council majority consensus for reappointment to a council seat within a year of leaving council voluntarily, like Meza by not seeking reelection, or involuntarily, as in being voted out of office by the public.
Some have contended Meza did not run in 2020 because he may have believed he would have lost after a controversial year in office surrounding his employer Valley Health and his flip-flopping on recusals from discussion and votes in authorizing a $60-million County-Town EDA loan to help finance construction of a new hospital without a Maternity Unit.
Plaintiff Paul Aldrich and his counsel contend Meza’s appointment/election by four of his County Republican Committee colleagues (the vote was 4-1) was the very type of political cronyism Section 47 of the Town Charter was designed to prevent.
And so the two legal sides continue to circle and counter the other’s points of contention on jurisdiction, authority of the plaintiff’s challenge and how long-dead town fathers used the English language 84 years ago.
Stay tuned, as a final decision on these issues has been promised by the court before November 2, 2021, one might guess by the end of September or early October at the latest.
Non-fatal Hill Street stabbing report leads to charges against roommate of victim
In the early morning hours of Thursday, July 15, 2021, officers with the Front Royal Police Department responded to a residence in the 400 Block of Hill Street for a report of a stabbing. When officers arrived, they located a male victim, identified as Mario Frazier, who was bleeding from an apparent stab wound to his neck. Frazier provided a statement to officers identifying the offender as 61-year-old Front Royal resident, Anthony “Tony” Herbert. Frazier, who shares a residence with Herbert, stated there was an argument and physical altercation leading to the stabbing. The victim was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for non-life-threatening puncture wounds.
Herbert was quickly located and apprehended by Front Royal Police officers without further incident. Herbert was transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail, where he was held without bond on a Malicious Wounding charge. He has a scheduled court date of September 21, 2021, at 10 a.m. in Warren County General District Court.
(From a July 15 FRPD Press Release)
FRPD traffic stop leads to chase, multiple charges against Virginia Avenue resident
On Tuesday evening, July 13, 2021, at approximately 7:50 p.m., a Front Royal Police Department officer observed a red Jeep Liberty speeding on John Marshall Highway. The officer initiated a traffic stop and the driver pulled over to the side of the road.
As the officer began exiting his marked patrol vehicle, the driver of the Jeep Liberty quickly pulled off, driving east on John Marshall Highway towards Linden. The officer pursued, and the driver made an abrupt U-turn near ESA Lane and began traveling back into town. Additional officers from the Front Royal Police Department and Warren County Sheriff’s Office followed the vehicle as the driver continued north onto Commerce Avenue and several other streets until coming to a sudden stop in the 200 block of Virginia Avenue. The driver then fled on foot, where he was apprehended after a short foot chase.
The driver was identified as a 51-year-old Front Royal resident, Otis Lee Allen. Allen was taken into custody and transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail without further incident. Allen was released on a $3,000 secured bond with a scheduled court date of August 3, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. in Warren County General District Court.
(From an FRPD release)