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Earth Right Energy and Donald Poe reach agreement on levies and costs

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The Warren County Courthouse has seen a lot of activity lately related to alleged misappropriation of EDA assets. Royal Examiner File Photo/Roger Bianchini

FRONT ROYAL – Attorneys for defendants and the plaintiff in the “Warren EDA” civil suit seeking joint recovery of a total of $17.6 million in allegedly misdirected or embezzled Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority assets faced off on motions arguments Wednesday.

At issue were a slew of defense motions, including but not limited to a request for a Bill of Particulars further specifying individual defendant liability; quashing of levies against defendant assets; suspension of plaintiff discovery; a stay or quashing of the civil case pending resolution of a special grand jury investigation into potential criminal behavior tied to the civil case.

The hearing is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Thursday morning, apparently as the Special Grand Jury empaneled to explore potential criminality connected the EDA civil litigation reconvenes across the hall to hear more testimony. Three days of grand jury testimony last week resulted in four felony charges against the pivotal figure in the EDA civil litigation, former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

After four days in RSW Regional Jail, including one in the hospital for chest pains, following her Friday, May 24 arrest, McDonald was denied bond as a flight risk in a hearing Tuesday afternoon in the same, smaller Warren County Circuit courtroom in which Wednesday’s motions hearing was heard by Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr.

One result was achieved prior to the hearing’s conclusion. Following the lunch break attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants Earth Right Energy Solar Commercial LLC (ERE) and one of the company’s principals, Donald Poe, announced an agreement on one aspect of the defense filings.

That agreement is that the requested plaintiff levy or freeze on ERE and Poe assets will be dismissed and the company and Poe will carry the burden of their own legal costs and fees. Following the afternoon adjournment Sands-Anderson attorney Cullen Seltzer, representing the EDA, declined comment on how that agreement had been reached. Poe, who was accompanied by his wife, was the lone defendant present for the hearing. They left with their attorneys following court acceptance of the agreement.

The hearing began shortly after 9:30 a.m. and was adjourned at 4:17 p.m. with only one witness having testified. That witness was Warren County and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten. The bulk of the nearly two hours of afternoon testimony was comprised of Jennifer McDonald attorney Jay McDannell’s cross-examination of Whitten.

Through a recounting of the content of various plaintiff exhibits by Whitten, McDannell attempted to show that while Whitten as EDA attorney may not have been aware of certain contractual or real estate transactions undertaken by McDonald in her role as EDA executive director, certain members of the EDA board including its various chairs in recent years, past Treasurer William Biggs and Whitten’s predecessor Blair Mitchell may well have been.

Testimony from former EDA Board of Directors Chairman and Vice-Chairman Greg Drescher may kick off Thursday’s hearing. Drescher was present outside the courtroom waiting to testify most of Thursday afternoon and during part of the morning session.

Drescher is also Superintendent of Warren County Public Schools.  A contract alleged to be improper and unapproved by the EDA board or public school administration for installation of solar panels on county public schools by Earth Right Energy is part of the plaintiff complaint against the defendants. Drescher should have an interesting perspective on that contract from both sides of the equation.

As he was closing shop for the day, Athey asked McDannell if he needed his client transported from RSW Jail to testify Thursday. McDonald’s attorney said he would meet with his client following adjournment of Wednesday’s hearing, but added he did not anticipate that would be necessary.

See more on the motions hearing and the court ruling on those motions anticipated Thursday in an upcoming Royal Examiner story.

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Crime/Court

Fairfax County teacher convicted of solicitation of a minor; jury recommends 7 years

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Ryan Thomas Pick, 41, of Woodbridge, Virginia

HANOVER COUNTY (August 20, 2019) – Ryan Thomas Pick, 41, of Woodbridge, Virginia, was convicted yesterday by a Hanover County jury of two counts of Using a Communication System to Procure a Minor for an Unlawful Act and one count of Solicitation of a Minor Under the Age of 15, following a trial on the charges. The jury subsequently recommended that Pick serve a seven-year prison term for his offenses. Upon his release, Pick will be required to register as a sex offender in any jurisdiction in which he lives or works. He will be formally sentenced on November 22, 2019. Mark R. Herring, Attorney General of Virginia, made the announcement following the trial and conviction, which was presided over by Hanover County Circuit Court Judge J. Overton Harris.

“Individuals who sexually solicit children are robbing them of their childhood and their innocence, and what is even more troubling is that this man worked with children on a daily basis,” said Attorney General Herring. “Because of the work my team and local law enforcement agencies put into this, another dangerous predator is out of our community. My office will continue to seek justice against those who would exploit and harm children like this.”

The investigation of this case began in July of 2018 when an undercover officer with the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office conducted an undercover chat investigation on the social networking site Omegle. While posing as a 12 year-old girl, the officer was connected with Pick, who chatted with the officer and made comments that were sexual in nature. During the conversation, Pick sent a video of himself to the officer engaging in sexually explicit conduct. He then made several statements about sex acts he wanted to engage in with the purported 12 year-old. An investigation revealed that Pick held several jobs including as a music teacher for Fairfax County public schools, the music director at his local church, a private music instructor, and a seasonal pizza delivery man. In August of 2018, officers executed a search warrant at Pick’s Fairfax County residence. During the execution, Pick admitted to using Omegle regularly and to chatting with the purported 12 year-old.

This case was investigated by the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. Attorney General Herring’s Computer Forensic Unit provided digital forensic analysis of the evidence in support of the case. Assistant Attorney General Alexaundra Williams of Attorney General Herring’s Computer Crime Section prosecuted the case on behalf of the Commonwealth.

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Spotsylvania County Schools phishing scam investigation

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As a result of extensive investigative efforts, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office has been able to reclaim more than half of the money lost in a complex phishing scam targeting the Spotsylvania County Public School system.

On Thursday (Aug. 15) state police will be handing over checks to the Spotsylvania County Treasurer’s Office totaling $347,010.39. Additional checks will be forthcoming next week.

State police began the cyber investigation Aug. 1, 2019, and has been working with local and state law enforcement in other states in order to track down the fraudulent deposits made into accounts at multiple banks. State police are still pursuing the case and several individuals associated with the scam. No charges or arrests have been made at this stage of the ongoing investigation.

State police is also investigating two other potential cyber phishing scams involving county employees, but there is no evidence to suggest any of the three incidents is connected. Those investigations are ongoing, as well.

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Virginia man facing multiple charges after I-81 pursuit

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Spencer J. Reiman. Photo courtesy of RSW Regional Jail.

On August 14, 2019, at approximately 1 a.m., Virginia State Police Trooper M.T. Brill attempted a traffic stop on a 2018 Toyota Corolla that was traveling north on Interstate 81 at the 275-mile marker in Shenandoah County. The traffic violation was for speeding – 91 mph in a 70 mph zone. The Toyota refused to stop and a pursuit was initiated.

The Toyota, reaching speeds of up to 115 mph, continued north on I-81 into Warren County. On I-66, the suspect vehicle attempted to take Exit 13 when the driver lost control and struck the guardrail. The Toyota’s driver, Spencer J. Reiman, 31, of Vienna, Va., was taken into custody without further incident. Reiman was not injured in the crash.

Reimann was arrested for DUI and charged with one misdemeanor count of reckless driving, one felony count of eluding police, possession of marijuana and possession of controlled substances. He is being held at the Rappahannock Shenandoah Regional Jail.

Three passengers in the Toyota were also arrested, Kitkwan Karlo, 20, of Fairfax, Va., and Kyle Lujan, 20 of Vienna, Va., were charged with drunk in public and underage possession of alcohol. Frederick Maggi, 21, of Fairfax, Va., was charged with drunk in public.

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‘Bawdy Place’ trial related to dropped Tharpe charge set day after Election

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From left, Cynthia Atkinson Bailey with children Brandy and Jesse Atkinson outside the WC Courthouse following Tuesday’s hearing – Royal Examiner Photo/Roger Bianchini

A hearing and trial date of Wednesday, November 6, at 2 p.m. was set in the cases of Cynthia Atkinson Bailey, her daughter, son and son-in-law regarding their alleged roles in operation of a Front Royal massage parlor in which sexual favors were allegedly offered as part of the business operation.

Misdemeanor charges against the 55-year-old Bailey, daughter Brandy Nicole Atkinson, son Jesse Thomas Atkinson and son-in-law Joshua Allan Stamper will go to trial that day, while the felony charges will face a preliminary hearing.

Responding to a question from Warren County General District Court Judge W. Dale Houff, defense counsel David Downes and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton concurred that the joined cases would likely require a couple of hours, leading to the setting to the 2 p.m. start time for cases likely to consume the rest of the court’s afternoon docket.

Layton also informed the court that he and defense counsel were “on the same page” regarding a variety of evidentiary motions regarding discovery and alleged offense dates. In fact, Downes withdrew a submitted Bill of Particulars, telling the court that audio tapes he had received from the prosecution today “may clarify” what he had requested from the prosecution in that filing.

Among the evidentiary motions that may be in the process of resolution is Downes’ “Giglio Motion” seeking information on potential prosecution witness Tiffany Amber Wymer. That defense motion cites a felony charge “on or about December 6, 2018” for “possession with intent to distribute marijuana” that according to the defense motion was dropped by prosecutors on May 28, 2019 in Frederick County General District Court.

Downes motion on his client’s behalf questioned if the resolution of that case related to Wymer’s anticipated testimony in the Bailey et al prosecution and “whether she has received immunity from prosecution for” a variety of other possible charges, including “her fraudulent welfare applications… operating an illegal sex chat website” and “prostitution charges”. Downes further asks how many incidents of prostitution Wymer may have received immunity for.

The two sides also appeared to agree to pin down the offense dates to between May 16 and June 7, 2018. The fact that Bailey had a June 7, 2018 charge and arrest on a prostitution charge nul prossed by the Commonwealth on October 2, 2018, appeared to play a role in some contentious accusations amidst dueling press releases between the defense attorney, the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office which took over as special prosecutor in a related case of solicitation of prostitution against former Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe, and FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis.

A political twist
Downes alleged the new charges against his client were “retaliatory” & “vindictive” due to his client’s intention not to testify in the Tharpe prosecution, invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate. The Tharpe prosecutor’s office and FRPD denied any wrong doing or vindictiveness in the “bawdy place” bust.

Tharpe’s misdemeanor solicitation case was dismissed at the request of Special Prosecutor Heather Hovermale during a July 15 hearing. As Royal Examiner reported at the time, Hovermale told the court the prosecution could not proceed in the wake of Cynthia Bailey exerting her Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate in response to several questions, including whether she knew Tharpe or if he had ever touched her in a way she did not invite.

His charge dismissed, Tharpe almost immediately announced that he would run in the November election to regain the mayor’s seat he announced four days after his April 15 indictment he would resign from effective May 2. As Royal Examiner has previously observed, ironically the foreman of the grand jury that handed down the indictment against Tharpe was Matt Tederick, a local Republican Committee operative and former chairman. A 4-2 council majority, Tewalt and Thompson dissenting, appointed Tederick interim mayor on May 28.

However it appears there will be no Tederick-Tharpe grudge match on Election Day, November 5. Tederick has announced he will not run in the special election to fill out the remainder of Tharpe’s term through 2020. But former mayor and current Councilman Eugene Tewalt, who announced his candidacy after Tharpe’s resignation and Tederick’s appointment, will oppose Tharpe’s attempt to regain his mayoral seat one day prior to the Bailey family trial and hearing.

Good Times, Bad Times
Bailey and her children were arrested by Front Royal Police on May 15, 2019 and charged with the misdemeanor offense of maintaining a “bawdy” (defined as gross, indecent or overly graphic) place. Other charges include receiving money from earnings of prostitution (felony), prostitution (felony), and cruelty to children, the latter charge according to the criminal complaint involving the presence of a juvenile in the Biggs Drive residence who “answered phone calls, arranged appointments and walked clients to the rooms.” The referenced juvenile is believed to be a grandchild of Bailey’s.

Joshua Allan Stamper remains incarcerated in Stafford County on unrelated charges, but was transported here for today’s hearing.

According to an FRPD press release issued on May 16, the arrests were the result of an ongoing investigation that began in late January of 2018. It also appears that investigation also resulted in the now-dismissed charge of solicitation of prostitution against Tharpe.

The indictment against Tharpe cited a May 31, 2018 incident in which Tharpe allegedly offered “money or its equivalent to another for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts… and thereafter did a substantial act in furtherance thereof against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth…”

That offer is alleged to have been made at the 312 Biggs Drive address out of which the massage parlor run by Bailey under the banner of Blue Ridge Services, operated.

Stay tuned as Hollis Tharpe seeks re-election on November 5; and Cynthia Bailey and her family fight the charges against them one day later.

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Arrest made in connection with July arson fire

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Carl Wayne Robinson. Photo courtesy RSW Regional Jail.

On Saturday, July 14, 2019, Warren County Fire and Rescue and Warren County Sheriffs Office along with Middletown Fire and Rescue units were dispatched to 600 Catlett’s Ford Road for a reported residential structure fire.

Units arrived on the scene at approximately 1:35pm to find a small, single-family home with fire and smoke evident from within the residence. Units quickly extinguished the fire and verified the homes sole occupant had escaped the blaze. The occupant was treated and released on the scene for smoke inhalation. There were no other injuries.

The cause of the fire was investigated by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office. Fire Investigators determined the fire was caused by an act of arson. Fire Investigators were joined by the Warren County Sheriffs Office Criminal Investigations Division to identify any suspect(s) in the case.

As a result of the joint criminal investigation; the owner/occupant of the home was arrested and charged in connection to the incident. Mr. Carl Wayne Robinson a 46-year-old male, the homes sole occupant, was arrested on August 10, 2019, and charged with §18.2-77 – Burning or destroying dwelling house.

Mr. Robinson is currently being held without bond. Anyone with information is asked to contact Fire Marshal, Gerry Maiatico, at 540-636-3830 or Sheriffs Office Lieutenant, Phillip Henry, at 540-635-4128.

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Virginia State Police still pursuing leads in unsolved 1999 New Kent County homicide

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The sketch is of the suspect (20 years ago) in the Sara Bruehl homicide.

RICHMOND – The Virginia State Police (VSP) Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s (BCI) Richmond Field Office continues to pursue new leads and tips connected to the 1999 unsolved homicide of a Mechanicsville teenager in New Kent County. To date, state police is still working to identify the male suspect who fired several rounds into the 1999 Nissan Altima Sara Bruehl had rented to drive to Virginia Beach with her two close friends on Aug. 8, 1999.

Sara Bruehl – 1999 Atlee High School graduation photo

It was 20 years ago on the Sunday evening of Aug. 8 that Sara Bruehl and her two friends were shot at while traveling along Interstate 64 near Exit 205 for Bottoms Bridge. Tragically, Sara, who was driving, was shot and killed prior to her vehicle crashing off the right side of the interstate. Her 18-year-old female front-seat passenger was also shot, but survived her injuries. The 17-year-old female backseat passenger survived injuries resulting from the vehicle crash. All three were recent graduates of Atlee High School in Hanover County.

The suspect was described as a light-skinned African-American or Hispanic male, with dark eyes and a goatee. The suspect vehicle was described as a small, red car with tinted windows and halogen lights. Based on witness statements and other information gathered during the course of the investigation, it is believed that Sara and the driver of the red car had engaged in a “cat-and-mouse” game of speeding up, slowing down and changing lanes over about a 20-mile stretch of I-64. Both vehicles were heading eastbound when the other driver pulled up in the right lane next to Sara’s vehicle, rolled down the driver’s side window, and shot four times into the Nissan Sara was driving. The suspect sped away in the eastbound lanes of I-64 as the Nissan ran off the right side of the interstate at Exit 205 and struck a tree. The shooting occurred at about 9:10 p.m.

“We know there are people out there today, even 20 years later, who know who was responsible for taking this young girl’s life and injuring her friends,” said Captain Tim Ring, VSP BCI Richmond Field Office Commander. “State police is still committed to identifying this individual and bringing him to justice. We owe it to Sara and her family to solve this case once and for all. That’s why we are still pursuing leads and still asking for people to come forward with any information they may have to share on this drive-by shooting.”

Anyone with information related to this case is encouraged to contact the Virginia State Police at #77 on a cell phone or 1-800-552-9965 or by email to questions@vsp.virginia.gov.

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Upcoming Events

Aug
22
Thu
5:30 pm Medicare Basics Educational Pres... @ Samuels Public Library | White Meeting Room B
Medicare Basics Educational Pres... @ Samuels Public Library | White Meeting Room B
Aug 22 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Medicare Basics Educational Presentation @ Samuels Public Library | White Meeting Room B
Come learn the basics of Medicare including: Eligibility, Important Dates, Medicare Coverage, Medicare Parts A,B,C, and D and Supplement Options. No Cost No RSVP required Walk-ins welcome For Educational purposes only For accommodations of persons[...]
Aug
24
Sat
8:00 am Safe Driving Class for Seniors @ Front Royal Police Department
Safe Driving Class for Seniors @ Front Royal Police Department
Aug 24 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Safe Driving Class for Seniors @ Front Royal Police Department
Hosted By: Front Royal/Warren County S.A.L.T./TRIAD Are you a senior 50 and over in need of learning current driving trends, traffic laws and just an overall overview of driving safely? If so, AARP provides a[...]
10:00 am Sample an Irish Dance Class @ Jig 'n' Jive Dance Studio
Sample an Irish Dance Class @ Jig 'n' Jive Dance Studio
Aug 24 @ 10:00 am – 10:45 am
Sample an Irish Dance Class @ Jig 'n' Jive Dance Studio
Sample an Irish Dance Class at the Jig ‘n’ Jive Dance Studio. Saturday, August 24th. 10:00 – 10:45am. $2/dancer. Boys and Girls. No experience or registration required.
4:30 pm Front Royal Salvation Army Corps... @ Salvation Army
Front Royal Salvation Army Corps... @ Salvation Army
Aug 24 @ 4:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Front Royal Salvation Army Corps BBQ Cookout @ Salvation Army
The Front Royal Salvation Army Corps will host a BBQ Cookout on Saturday, August 24, 2019, from 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm at 296 South Street, Front Royal. A BBQ chicken meal, including chips and[...]
Aug
27
Tue
1:30 pm Botanicals in Watercolor I @ Art in the Valley
Botanicals in Watercolor I @ Art in the Valley
Aug 27 @ 1:30 pm – 4:00 pm
Botanicals in Watercolor I @ Art in the Valley
This four week course with the instructor, Elena Maza, will deal with the basic three-primary color palette, different pigments and how they interact, how to mix all colors from three primary colors, how to apply[...]
Aug
29
Thu
1:00 pm Substance Abuse and Recovery Summit @ Mountain Home Bed and Breakfast
Substance Abuse and Recovery Summit @ Mountain Home Bed and Breakfast
Aug 29 @ 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Substance Abuse and Recovery Summit @ Mountain Home Bed and Breakfast
The McShin Foundation and RSW (Rappahannock, Shenandoah, and Warren County) Regional Jail would like to invite you to our substance abuse and recovery summit to be held on August 29, 2019, in Front Royal, Virginia.[...]
Aug
31
Sat
1:00 pm DJ Skyhigh’s End of Summer Blast @ Warren County Fair
DJ Skyhigh’s End of Summer Blast @ Warren County Fair
Aug 31 @ 1:00 pm – 9:00 pm
DJ Skyhigh's End of Summer Blast @ Warren County Fair
Come join DJ Skyhigh for his end of summer blast. Lisa Bell will be hosting wine tastings (at an additional charge) of over 50 international wines. Wines may also be purchased by the bottle to[...]
Sep
3
Tue
1:30 pm Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
Sep 3 @ 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
This four week course with instructor Elena Maza will focus on learning basic skills to create watercolor landscape paintings: basic composition and use of color and value to create a sense of depth and distance.[...]
Sep
4
Wed
1:30 pm Botanical Drawing @ Art in the Valley
Botanical Drawing @ Art in the Valley
Sep 4 @ 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Botanical Drawing @ Art in the Valley
Learn and practice the art of botanical drawing in pencil with local artist and instructor Elena Maza. This four session course will focus on learning basic drawing skills as applied to botanicals: basic line drawings[...]
Sep
7
Sat
10:00 am SHS Marching Band Mattress Fundr... @ Skyline High School
SHS Marching Band Mattress Fundr... @ Skyline High School
Sep 7 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
SHS Marching Band Mattress Fundraiser @ Skyline High School
Skyline High School Marching Band is having a mattress sale fundraiser on Saturday, September 7, 2019, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Skyline High School (151 Skyline Vista Drive, Front Royal, Virginia). There will[...]