Several more Economic Development Authority civil defendants were in court Thursday morning, July 30, to hear their attorneys echo past EDA defendant counsel arguments on dismissal of their clients from one or the other of the EDA’s two civil litigations now totaling at least $26 million.
Present from the nine-defendant list of people and companies named in the April 14, 2020, filing of a civil action seeking “not less than $4.45-million” in actual damages and $350,000 in punitive damages were William T. Vaught Jr. and Rappawan Inc. principal Stuart R. Vaught and Walter and Jeannette Campbell of Century 21 Realty. Dismissal motions were also argued for Tracy L. Bowers of TLC Settlements LLC, though she did not appear to be present for those arguments. Not having motions before the court were Service Title of Front Royal LLC and agent Victoria L. Williams.
Chief 26th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Bruce D. Albertson of Harrisonburg presided over the 8:30 a.m. hearing that ended a 11 a.m. with the judge taking the various defense motions under consideration.
Those motions began with Robert Light and Joseph Silek Jr. representing William T. Vaught Jr. and Rappawan Inc. Other than Silek and Light, the latter who presented the Vaught-Rappawan motions case, and EDA attorneys Vivian Giles and Sean Hutson of Sands Anderson who countered the defense motions, all other attorneys were present by remote telephone connections to the courtroom. Those remotely connected attorneys generally cited agreement with Light’s initial presentation for Vaught/Rappawan, adding specifics of the allegations against their clients, to call for their removal from the civil suit list of defendants.
At issue for all defense attorneys was an alleged lack of specific actions in the EDA complaints against their clients that proved they were aware of being part of an alleged conspiracy to defraud and misdirect EDA assets in conjunction with central civil suit defendant, former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. Also contended for all defendants were arguments that the nature of those allegations indicated that Statute of Limitations timelines on bringing charges had expired by the time the EDA civil litigation against their clients was filed.
Plaintiff attorneys Giles and Hutson countered that there was, indeed, detail of the participation of the defendants in alleged schemes utilizing real estate transactions to move EDA funds through McDonald companies in order to “launder” stolen EDA money and give it the appearance of legitimacy through those real estate transactions from which all involved parties allegedly saw profit from.
According to the EDA Complaint, the Vaught-Rappawan case utilized TLC Settlements to move $2-million of EDA money into McDonald’s DaBoyz real estate company to purchase several parcels from Rappawan with that money, which was then sold back from DaBoyz to Rappawan at a $600,000 loss a month later.
“Through these transactions over just a month’s time, Defendant Rappawan and Jennifer McDonald effectively laundered stolen money from the EDA. McDonald put $650,000 of the EDA’s cash in her pocket; Rappawan got back all the land originally sold and put $250,000 in stolen EDA cash in its pocket. The EDA, of course, got neither land nor its money back,” paragraph 75 on page 15 of the 30-page complaint states.
Of moving money through a bank into a real estate deal for someone other than the source of the money (in this case the EDA), Giles told the court, “Transactions like this just don’t happen when you pocket $600,000 in one month. Money in the bank makes it clean? – It’s a drug dealer’s dream – but it doesn’t work like that. Were they unjustly enriched? – Absolutely. If we’re wrong let a jury decide,” Giles told the court.
She told Judge Albertson that the defendants were essentially trying to make evidentiary arguments best suited for trial, during pre-trial motions. – “This is Discovery,” she said of defense arguments seeking additional clarity on the plaintiff’s case against their clients.
The statute of limitations arguments largely revolved around a debate on the nature of the charges and when the EDA actually became award of the alleged theft, embezzlement, and misdirection of their assets.
Of the defendant counsel assertion then EDA Board of Directors Chairman Greg Drescher had signed off on one of the enabling transactions, legitimizing it as EDA business, Giles told the court, “Mr. Drescher was duped, like the EDA was. What was happening was not discovered till much, much later.” – Which is essentially what defense attorneys are arguing for their clients.
How much later we will find out the result of Thursday morning’s legal arguments is unknown. Judge Albertson did not give a hint as to a timeframe for his ruling. To this reporter’s knowledge, thus far no EDA civil case defendant removal motion has been successful.
EDA approves grant agreement with Backroom Brewery
The EDA Board of Directors convened a Special Meeting Thursday morning, October 29. Following a one-and-a-half-hour Closed Session, the Board approved a resolution to approve the Master Agreement between Warren County, the EDA, and Backroom Brewery for an Incentive Grant and Tourism Grant to Backroom Brewery as financial assistance to expand its operations.
The Backroom Brewery is the first farm brewery operation in the state of Virginia and boasts more than 25 unique approved recipes. The EDA is proud to work with Warren County and support this local business. Congratulations to proprietor Billie Clifton and we wish them continued success.
EDA settles civil claim against McEathron estate for $90,000
Following an hour-and-thirty-five-minute closed session on a variety of topics that opened its monthly meeting of October 23, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors approved a motion agreeing to a settlement with the estate of late Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron.
The settlement amount agreed upon between the EDA and McEathron’s widow and two adult children is $90,000. McEathron was linked to the EDA financial scandal due to his partnership in former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s DaBoyz LLC real estate company. In the EDA’s civil litigation initially filed in March 2019, McDonald is accused, among other things, of unauthorized moving of EDA assets to her own benefit through her real estate companies DaBoyz and MoveOn8. Still Sheriff at the time, McEathron along with McDonald and the two real estate companies, were on the initial list of civil case defendants.
After taking early retirement effective May 1, 2019, just over a month after being named a co-defendant in the EDA civil litigation, the county’s long-time sheriff was found dead on his Bentonville property 28 days later, May 28, from an apparent suicide. Some questions about the death arose after Sheriff’s Office personnel, ostensibly alerted by McEathron to his planned suicide by phone, removed the body from the scene where it was discovered in proximity to an expended firearm before the Virginia State Police, the EDA criminal case investigating agency, was notified of the death.
On Friday, EDA Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, who made the motion to approve, addressed the McEathron Estate settlement prior to the vote.
“Mr. Chairman, I want the community to know that the EDA has negotiated in good faith for this settlement for a long time. This is something that we’ve taken very seriously; this is something that we have called back and forth with, with our attorneys and the estate’s attorneys. While we feel there are certain risks and rewards with these situations, I think the EDA is comfortable at this time that we have done the best that we can for the community and that it’s time to put this matter behind us as the motion is written,” Harold said.
Thank you for that,” Board Chairman Jeff Browne responded. There was no other comment prior to the vote on Harold’s motion, seconded by James Wolfe, which then passed by a 4-0 margin of the members remaining after the closed session, the above three and Tom Pattison. Jorie Martin and Melissa Gordon were present for the 8 a.m. convening of the meeting into closed session but had left to other commitments prior to the closed session’s 9:45 a.m. conclusion.
The motion on approval of the settlement read into the record by EDA Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson states in part, “Whereas the Front Royal-Warren County EDA has certain claims against Daniel McEathron; Whereas the EDA and McEathron’s heirs desire to resolve any claims that may exist between them; Now therefore be it resolved the chairman and the secretary of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA Board are authorized to enter into an agreement … (with those heirs) for the purposes set forth in this resolution which agreement shall provide for the payment of $90,000 dollars to the EDA …”
The motion adds that if any FOIA request are received by the EDA related to the settlement, McEathron’s widow or her attorneys will receive notice of those requests having been made.
As initially reported by former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw, McEathron and McDonald’s first transaction in DaBoyz dated to October 2016 and the pair purchased a total of $2.8 million of real estate between then and 2019. The LLC was involved in a number of transactions cited in the EDA civil litigation filed to recover allegedly misdirected assets, including a mysterious one in which a property was bought and sold back to the owner a month later at a loss of $600,000.
A number of McDonald and her two LLC’s existing properties were frozen by the court early in the civil case process. However, civil claims against McDonald assets have been complicated by her recent filing of bankruptcy, which put her assets under control of the Harrisonburg-based bankruptcy court.
The EDA civil litigation has grown to 24 human and business entity co-defendants, with total claims, actual and punitive, of about $25 million dollars. And as previously reported, the Harrisonburg Special Prosecutor’s Office has turned the criminal investigation into the EDA financial scandal over to the U.S. Western District of Virginia federal prosecutor’s office.
EDA approves short-term lease on Baugh Drive during Strategic Planning weekend meeting
The EDA Board of Directors met, via Zoom, Friday, and Saturday, October 9-10. There was one item of new business before the board. On a motion by Jorie Martin and seconded by Greg Harold, the Board of Directors unanimously approved a short-term storage lease with ECOMNET for use of 426 Baugh Drive warehouse building.
The remainder of the evening, as well as the full-day Saturday, was devoted to the process of updating the EDA Strategic Plan. The board, along with EDA staff, invited members of the community and Board of Supervisors to share their insights on the role the EDA can play in improving the economic health of and shaping the economic direction of the Front Royal Warren County community.
Attendees included Walt Mabe and Delores Oates, Warren County Board of Supervisors; Ed Daley, Interim County Administrator; Melissa Chapman, President, Ninth Way Solutions; Jeanian Clark, Vice President of Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education, Lord Fairfax Community College; Scott Jenkins, owner of Mountain Home B&B; Chris Laurence, Realtor; Dee Sparger, Outreach Coordinator, Front Royal Presbyterian Church; and Kelly Sprague, owner/manager Blue Wing Frog restaurant.
EDA Board Director Jim Wolfe facilitated the program. The goals of this event were to begin to articulate a vision and mission statement for the EDA, plus develop a list of objectives that the EDA can accomplish within the next five years. While the EDA Board, staff, and participants represented diverse professional backgrounds, all involved share a common passion for this community and a hopeful outlook for the future.
Chair Jeff Browne stated, “A lot of good ideas came out of the sessions that give us terrific ideas to consider as we move forward. There was a strong consensus on important ideas, like Town-County cooperation on a common vision for our community.”
The Board of Directors is proud to have begun this community conversation and look forward to fine-tuning the plan in the coming weeks.
‘This is BIG’ – EDA Chairman reacts to news feds handling EDA criminal investigations
At 12:03 p.m., Thursday, October 8, Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson forwarded a press release from Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst to the media regarding the status of her office’s investigation of potential criminal charges related to the EDA financial scandal and resultant civil litigation.
As stated in that release posted on the Royal Examiner website earlier this afternoon, Garst and her appointed EDA prosecutor Michael Parker, a specialist in white-collar crime, came to a decision to hand their investigation over to the Western District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s office in Harrisonburg in late February of this year.
“Our primary goal with the prosecution is to assure a just outcome. Mr. Parker did an excellent job of assessing the case and putting the evidence together. In doing so, it became apparent that federal prosecutors would be able to gain the best outcome,” Garst wrote in her release dated October 7, continuing to note the late February turnover of the case to the federal prosecutor’s office in Harrisonburg.
“It was explained that my office cannot comment on the case further or jeopardize any potential federal prosecution. I want to assure the citizens of Warren County that my office is dedicated to seeing justice done. In light of an ongoing criminal action, I cannot provide any further information,” Garst concluded, referencing further inquiries to Western District U.S. Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Specialist Brian McGinn.
While anticipating a similar reply to Garst’s “no further information” qualifier, Royal Examiner did reach out to the federal prosecutor’s office to see if there were any clues on timelines on decisions that might be made public. And in a very quick reply to our emailed query, McGinn noted as we predicted, “As per DOJ policy, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.”
Garst’s release acknowledging the change in prosecutors from the state to the federal level in the EDA financial scandal criminal investigation over seven months ago comes just nine days after the Front Royal Town Council’s aggressively worded September 28th Resolution “demanding justice” condemning the lack of action on the EDA criminal prosecution front by the Rockingham prosecutor’s office, and Parker in particular.
We contacted the author of that Resolution, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick who coming out of a meeting had not seen the Garst press release. Informed of its content, Tederick said, “Good news – mission accomplished,” in that a response containing some new information on the EDA criminal investigation’s status had been received.
“I’m sure there’s a rationale and a reason,” he added of the previous silence from the state special prosecutor’s office. “But when the public trust has been violated to this degree, the public deserves some assurance that they are still pursuing the case.”
Tederick noted that confidential information was not being sought in the Town resolution approved by a 5-1 vote, Thompson dissenting, on September 28, just that the case had not gone cold and been abandoned.
But as noted in our story “Town targets Special Prosecutor’s Office over EDA prosecution delays” it appears the Town pursued its Resolution initiative without any prior communications with the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.
That apparently was not the case with an inquiry launched by the EDA, according to Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne.
Having received Garst’s press release through the EDA, we contacted Browne about it. Browne indicated an EDA inquiry about the criminal case status through the EDA’s civil litigation attorneys was begun about a week before the Town resolution was publicly approved.
Browne said he believed local attorney and “B.E.E.R. Party” principal David Downes launched a separate inquiry to Garst’s office as well. Downes publicly criticized the Town Resolution’s message and tone in public comments at the September 28 council meeting prior to the vote on its approval.
Contacted about the County’s knowledge of the origins of Garst’s press release, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley said the County had inquired about the status of the Rockingham prosecutor’s EDA investigation through State Senator Mark Obenshain’s office. It was through Obenshain’s office Daley indicated County officials became aware yesterday of Garst’s press release that may have first been circulated locally in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area.
Regardless of who, how, or why – the consensus is that the information that the case is active and in federal prosecutors’ hands is welcome.
“This is big – from our standpoint, it is really good news,” EDA Board Chair Browne enthused. “This shows that it is still on prosecutors’ radar. The people of Warren County deserve justice. And we want to see anyone there is evidence of involvement prosecuted for it.”
Of the EDA inquiry, Brown observed that he kept hearing that nothing was going to be done regarding criminal accountability for the at-this-point still alleged criminal misdirection of EDA, County and Town assets – “It made me mad and I wanted to let people know we’re still interested in achieving justice,” Browne said of the impetus for the EDA’s inquiry through its legal counsel to the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.
And while the nature of the inquiries may have been different, Browne said he looked at it as a positive that both involved municipalities and the EDA were on the same page in seeking assurances that criminal accountability was still on the legal table at this point.
“We’re in this together, we should be working together,” he said of the Town, County, and EDA.
Perhaps another small step toward increased cooperation, as opposed to increased hostility and litigation, as this community moves forward toward an outcome, if slowly in a complex legal setting.
Rockingham Prosecutor’s Office turned EDA criminal investigation over to U.S. Attorney’s Office
The Front Royal Warren County EDA and Warren County officials, through the EDA’s attorney in the civil case, approached the Rockingham attorney two weeks ago to urge that office to reinstate the criminal charges in the EDA embezzlement case. The attached response is a press release from Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst.
My office was appointed to prosecute potential crimes occurring in Warren County. I authorized one of my most skilled prosecutors who specializes in white collar crimes, Michael Parker, to assist with the case. Our primary goal with prosecution is to assure a just outcome. Mr. Parker did an excellent job assessing the case and putting the evidence together. In doing so, it became apparent that federal prosecutors would be able to gain the best outcome.
Accordingly, working with our federal partners, we referred the matter to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia in late February of 2020. It was explained that my office cannot comment on the case further or jeopardize any potential federal prosecution. I want to assure the citizens of Warren County that my office is dedicated to seeing justice done. In light of an ongoing criminal action, I cannot provide any further information.
Any further questions in this case should be referred to Brian P. McGinn, Public Affairs Specialist, of the Western District United States Attorney’s Office at (434) 295-8672.
Marsha L. Garst
EDA unveils new logo featuring sunrise, logistical and transportation advantages
The Board of Directors and Executive Director Doug Parsons are pleased to introduce the new Front Royal Warren County EDA logo.
Chair Jeff Browne and EDA staff worked with Mike Shotton, of Shotton Design, for several months on the design. The sunrise on the horizon is a feature which reflects a positive belief in the future of the Front Royal and Warren County area. Included are three of the many industry sectors that are important components of our community’s economic engine. Additionally, Front Royal and Warren County are uniquely situated, geographically, to offer businesses and industries the advantage of the I-81 business gateway, the Virginia Inland Port, as well as the I-66/Northern Virginia/metro D.C. corridors.
This new look goes along with the new Board of Directors, new staff, and a new commitment to encouraging business and industry growth and development in the Front Royal Warren County area.