While attorneys for defendants in the EDA civil litigation have focused on what they contend are vagaries in details of the cited misdirection of EDA assets, the complaint itself lists some detail, including specified amounts of money moved on a variety of projects contended to be conduits for the alleged embezzlement or misuse of EDA or EDA-enabled resources.
As previously reported by Royal Examiner, the projects or methods identified as those conduits for misdirection of EDA assets in the civil complaint are: the ITFederal Loan; Subsequent Payments to ITFederal; Workforce Housing – Royal Lane Property Embezzlements; Afton Inn Project Embezzlements; Criminal Justice Training Academy aka Skyline Regional Justice Training Academy; Unlawful Payments Concerning Earth Right Energy LLC; and Unlawful Payment of Town and Warren County Funds for Defendant McDonald Owned/Controlled Real Estate”.
Due to the voluminous material cited in the 199-paragraph, 32-page EDA civil complaint concerning the above-cited EDA projects, loans, private business and contractual arrangements, we will begin Royal Examiner’s more detailed exploration of the EDA lawsuit and initial defense responses by narrowing on specific portions of the complaint. Note that Royal Examiner is not asserting the truth of either the allegations in the complaint or defense responses to those allegations – merely reporting their existence and some detail.
Of particular focus regarding alleged false information being used to prop up the movement of the largest amount of misdirected EDA assets, a $10-million bank loan little of which appears to have been spent here nearly four years on is ITFederal’s recruitment as the first commercial redevelopment client at the former Avtex Superfund site. Six pages of the complaint are devoted to the ITFederal loan process.
Of the securing of a $10-million dollar loan to ITFederal the complaint states in paragraph 89, “Tran and Defendant McDonald represented, through McDonald, to the Town, the County and the Warren EDA multiple times that (a) Tran was a high-net worth individual, (b) he did not need any financial assistance from the Town, the County and the Warren EDA to make the ITFederal Project financially viable, (c) ITFederal/VDN Systems had procured a $140 million contract with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to provide information technology services on a long-term basis and (d) Tran had the endorsement and support of U.S. Congressional Representative Robert Goodlatte …”
Continuing in paragraph 99, “On information and belief, despite any nominal award of any federal contracts to ITFederal and/or VDN, the actual work and payments under any such federal contracts … appear to be not more than $5,000 over the last five years.”
Paragraph 100 of the complaint states, “The websites for ITFederal, VDN and ACRC (three Tran companies) all appear to be bogus websites with little or no substantive information or recent activity in connection with purported businesses. In some cases it appears they have not been updated since 2012. Based on information and belief, these websites were created to convey a false impression that ITFederal, VDN and ACRC were active businesses with a substantive source of income with the intent of fraudulently inducing the Warren EDA to make the ITFederal loan.”
As previously reported here, in motions filings McDonald attorney Lee Berlik has contested the assumption that McDonald was consciously lying in regard to many of the allegations against her, rather than simply repeating lies she was being told; or in other instances following through on methods of moving EDA assets approved by the EDA board to facilitate projects it later regretted becoming involved in.
“The Warren EDA, Plaintiff in this action, is engaged in an attempt to smear Ms. McDonald by blaming her for every bad decision made by the Warren EDA board over the last several years and turning business deals the Warren EDA now regrets into implausible conspiracies,” Berlik wrote on the first page of a defense motions filing on April 16, adding emphasis in context, “Plaintiff suggests every statement by every counterparty it now regrets crediting was a false statement by Ms. McDonald … instead of a false statement to Ms. McDonald.”
Beginning with her presentation of Tran and ITFederal to the EDA board and town government in 2014, the complaint alleges a lengthy effort by McDonald to mitigate Tran and his company’s costs and liability while at the same time working toward securing of a $10-million loan the complaint asserts she repeatedly told local officials Tran did not really need to accomplish his project.
Rather, the Town’s initial assistance in the way of a $10-million dollar “bridge loan” to facilitate a $10-million bank loan then EDA Attorney Blair Mitchell noted Congressman Goodlatte had requested in a 2015 email correspondence with McDonald, was presented as a means of promoting long-sought commercial redevelopment at the site. It is perhaps also noteworthy that the EDA put up the 117-acre balance of the Royal Phoenix Business Park property as collateral for the $10-million dollar ITFederal loan from First Bank & Trust.
“Tran and Defendant McDonald stated that Tran did not need the financial support of the Town and the Warren EDA, but that such assistance was requested by Rep. Goodlatte,” graph 90 of the complaint states; further noting the request that 30 acres of the 147-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park be donated to Tran and his company “free of charge” – well he did end up paying a dollar for the parcel valued at $2 million in open EDA meeting discussion – and to secure the loan to facilitate construction “of all or a part of the ITFederal Project.”
Then U.S. Congressman Goodlatte, R-6th, participated in the October 2015 ITFederal ribbon cutting, taking credit for the company’s arrival here and promoting a promised $40-million ITFederal investment in the community that would create 600-plus high-paying, largely tech industry jobs.
The EDA complaint filed by the Sands-Anderson law firm of Richmond also addresses Tran’s alleged ties and access to resources from the federal EB-5 Visa Program created to trade U.S. citizenship in exchange for significant private investment – cited at $1 million dollars – in the U.S. economy.
“Tran and Defendant McDonald represented, through McDonald, on multiple occasions to the County, the Town and the Warren EDA that ACRC had obtained or was in the process of obtaining EB-5 financing to finance the ITFederal Project,” the complaint asserts.
“The new venture must create and sustain at least ten full-time employees for at least two years in order for the investor seeking citizenship to convert his or her green card into full citizenship … ACRC (American Commonwealth Regional Center) is another entity established and controlled by Tran … ACRC represents it is an approved EB-5 regional center … However, based on a search on the USCIS website on February 12, 2019, ACRC does not appear to be an approved regional center for EB-5 financing.
“There is no evidence that ACRC has ever successfully obtained or used EB-5 financing in connection with the ITFederal Project or for any other purpose,” the complaint states.
The complaint also notes that in 2017 Tran requested a modification of his Borrowers Note and Deed of Trust that would have forced the initially-discussed purchase price of about $2 million to kick in if certain developmental conditions were not met by specific dates. That extension to September 2020 significantly reduced the required scope of the project from its initial three-building complex housing all those high-dollar jobs Goodlatte had trumpeted in a press release.
“On information and belief, little to no proceeds of the ITFederal Loan has been applied to the ITFederal Project … Tran and Defendant McDonald have converted all or a portion of the proceeds of the ITFederal Loan to their own personal benefit,” that section of the complaint concludes.
But there’s more – under “Subsequent Payments to ITFederal” an additional four pages of the EDA complaint allege an additional $1.82 million dollars of “Unauthorized ITFederal Payments”. Those payments include $1,432,771.32 in reimbursements to ITFederal for work done at the site and over $392,000 in vendor payments.
McDonald attorney Berlik also contends that the complaint fails to meet a legal obligation “to connect any alleged facts to specific claims” against defendants, limiting their ability to construct a viable defense against those claims against them.
But regarding those “Unauthorized ITFederal Payments” the complaint offers some specificity. It disputes McDonald’s initial explanation to her board that those payments were draws on the ITFederal Loan. “The proceeds of the $10 million loan made to ITFederal was issued in full at the time of closing in 2015; there is no evidence that the Warren EDA retained those funds or had any ability to approve invoices or otherwise control or direct those funds.”
The complaint then disputes representations attributed to McDonald that those payments would be reimbursed to the Warren EDA by a grant from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). “It is clear from the VEDP documentation that Tran and Defendant McDonald met with the VEDP relating to ITFederal in the 2014/2015 timeframe, but that Defendant McDonald was unable to provide the information VEDP was requesting to award a grant related to the ITFederal Project …Defendant McDonald deliberately took Warren EDA funds and gave them to Tran/ITFederal with no reasonable expectation that such funds would be repaid or otherwise funded from another source,” the EDA litigation states.
The complaint concludes with an assertion that McDonald personally benefitted from those payments “as part of a scheme with Tran to fraudulently obtain Town and County funds for their own benefit.”
Well laid out, fraudulent schemes or implausible conspiracies?
That will be at issue for attorneys on both sides when and if the civil litigation proceeds into the courtroom for the requested jury trial. As previously reported, several defendants have moved for either dismissal of charges or delays in the civil process until the special grand jury investigating potential criminality related to the EDA civil suit is completed.
Next up, Workforce Housing – not as much money, a total loss to the EDA cited at $651,700, but perhaps an even more convoluted trail to that loss on a project initially presented in 2014 as a free land “gift” to the EDA. That cited financial loss appears to have been cemented by the EDA’s November 28, 2018 sale of the involved 3.5-acre Royal Lane parcel for $10. It is a sale accomplished over two months into the ongoing Cherry Bekaert forensic audit of EDA finances that resulted in the current civil litigation to recover lost assets.
Now why, you may wonder, would they do that?!?
As County-directed EDA develops detailed Strategic Plan for the future, it moves toward joint meeting with Town counterpart
The still legally named Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA, more commonly now referenced as the WC EDA in the wake of the Front Royal Town Council’s circa 2019/20 withdrawal from participation*) held its regular monthly meeting for September, Monday afternoon the 26th, at the Warren County Government Center. With no action items on the agenda, the focus of County EDA Director Joe Petty and the five EDA Board of Director members were committee reports concerning discussion of a cooperative path forward and procedural adjustments surrounding a reworked Strategic Plan.
Asked about the EDA’s direction in the wake of the meeting, now full-time County EDA Director Petty said, “The meeting was productive in getting the Board of Directors thinking about assigned tasks for the upcoming Strategic Planning Session. There has been a lot of positive movement in the past few months and the Board is looking forward to continuing that momentum into the session by planning for the future. This includes having a cooperative relationship with the Town, FREDA, and County for economic development initiatives.”
Board Chairman Jeff Browne launched the cooperative tone during his opening Executive Committee Report. He sought input on a preferred date for, and legal advice regarding, a largely social “get-to-know” each other meeting with the newly created Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) Board of Directors. With the meeting planned chiefly as a “getting to know each other” session with no business or action items scheduled, Browne inquired of EDA attorney Sharon Pandak, present remotely, if it would require the same legal notification as regular board meetings. Pandak said that with the intent that the two full boards be present, yes, published public notice of the date and time of the meeting would be required as usual.
Later Browne noted a recent meeting with Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell to discuss cooperative efforts between the now divided Town and County EDAs. And with Mayor Chris Holloway’s announced retirement from politics Cockrell is also essentially the Mayor-in-Waiting as the only person on the ballot for the mayor’s seat in the coming November Election.
Cooperative movement to a mutually agreeable end was also evident in discussion of a utility easement across WC EDA property at the Avtex site to allow Town crews to perform storm-water management work on existing infrastructure as needed in the future. A consensus was reached to put approval of at least a short-term agreement outlining what work and access is anticipated to eventually be on the table, on the EDA’s next regular monthly meeting agenda in October.
Also, during his Executive Committee Report, Browne noted an upcoming meeting with a senior member of the Council for Competitiveness regarding American companies, particularly supply chain businesses, planning to relocate from overseas seeking favorable locations in the U.S. “It seems like we’d be a really great location for them,” Browne said of the county with its Interstate Highway system crossroads location, as well as the Inland Port connection to the Norfolk Port Authority system.
After a brief discussion of some EDA properties insurance coverage issues forwarded by Jorie Martin, Jim Wolfe summarized work towards establishing goals for an upcoming Strategic Planning meeting slated for 8 a.m., potentially thru lunch time, on Friday, October 14. Chairman Browne pointed to a preparatory meeting envisioned for the previous Friday, October 7, where individually assigned tasks for board members related to the Strategic Plan update, budgetary and marketing matters would be reviewed to give the following week’s meeting a stronger jumping off point. Of the two-pronged October assault on the evolving Strategic Plan, Browne described a strategical perspective: “Focusing ultimately on the big picture – how do we assess competing priorities and reconnoiter them in terms of importance and their immediacy.”
That discussion segued into the Asset Committee Report of Greg Harold, who led off with the good news that with the Baugh Drive warehouse sale being finalized, that property was no longer on the EDA’s asset list. As to its remaining land assets, Harold pointed to the EDA’s recruitment of ULI (the Urban Land Institute) for assistance, particularly as to developmental and marketing issues with the redevelop-able 150 acres of the old 467-acre Avtex “Brownfield” site looming behind the EDA office complex on Kendrick Lane.
Queried later about ULI, County EDA Director Petty explained that “ULI is the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world.” Of ULI and its membership, Petty pointed to a goal of “delivering the mission, shaping the future of the (real estate/land use) industry, and creating thriving communities around the globe.”
During his presentation Harold noted that ULI’s team of professional land developers could help the EDA determine, not only a highest or best-use of a given property like the aforementioned “Brownfield” Avtex site, but also “the most realistic” and achievable uses.
“It’s not free – it costs money,” Harold pointed out to his colleagues. But with a worldwide track record of success for its members, it could be money well-spent in jump-starting the long floundering Avtex/Royal Phoenix site redevelopment, Harold noted. “I’ve come to the realization that for me Avtex is too big for me to try to figure out what to do with,” the Asset Committee chairman observed of the gorilla in the room of EDA property assets.
“What you’re talking about, is where needed bringing a level of additional professionalism into it, to help make us make good decisions and avoid things that we may not, just from a lack of experience, know about,” Browne observed of the benefit of ULI input.
The Future, if not NOW – flashing back to coach George Allen’s “The Future is Now” slogan for his Washington NFL team – certainly appears to be on the horizon for the WC EDA.
*FOOTNOTE – Against the advice of then-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, during the term of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick, circa 2019/20, the Town Council elected to ignore offered “good-faith negotiations” to determine who was owed exactly what in the wake of the estimated $26-million joint-Town-County EDA financial scandal, in favor of hostile civil litigation over the Town’s unilaterally claimed losses.
Poe joins EDA civil defendants in motions to nullify civil liability verdicts; Tran counsel granted additional time to file their motion to overturn jury verdict
After expressing some initial reluctance to invest more in legal fees attempting to overturn a Warren County Civil Court jury’s ruling of approximately $1.3 million in base ($945,000) and punitive ($409,800) damages against him and his Earth Right Energy (ERE) company, Donald Poe joined the line of EDA civil case defendants seeking to have Judge Bruce D. Albertson overturn jury liability verdicts rendered in July. The Poe/ERE “Motion To Set Aside Jury Verdict Or In The Alternative To Award A New Trial” was received and filed in Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office on Tuesday, September 6.
The rationale for that motion was along the lines of previous filings by counsel for April Petty, William Lambert, and a still pending one for Truc “Curt” Tran. The defendants’ contention is that the jury verdicts were based on evidence that did not meet a civil code standard to justify the finding of liability in each defendants’ case. Similar motions to strike plaintiff EDA evidence and their cases against the defendants were made by defense counsel and denied at the outset of several of those July trials. To those arguments forwarded by defense counsel on several occasions, Judge Albertson responded that it was “for the jury to decide” the relative weight of evidence to be presented.
In a related development, on August 25 over the objection of plaintiff EDA counsel, Judge Albertson granted Tran/ITFederal counsel’s request for additional time to complete its filing for overturning of the jury’s finding of compensatory liability of about $12 million-plus some interest against Tran and ITFederal. The judge set a new filing schedule of September 15 for defense filings, plaintiff responses by October 17, and defendant replies to plaintiff’s response by October 27. An initial defense motion to overturn filing date was set for 31 days from the July 28 jury verdict in that case. Running towards an August 28 deadline on that schedule, Tran counsel sought the additional time, as noted above, granted over the plaintiff’s objection.
As part of his order granting the filing extension for Tran/ITFederal, Judge Albertson ordered the defendants not to move substantial company or personal assets during the moves toward a final court ruling on the verdict: “Tran and IT Federal (on behalf of itself and on behalf of its wholly-owned subsidiary Lewisburg Way, LLC) shall not sell 943 Happy Creek Road before the court enters its final order, consistent with Code 55.1-400, which precludes fraudulent conveyances,” the judge began, adding, “Mr. Tran and IT Federal shall not dispose of, encumber, or waste any assets of IT Federal. In the same vein, IT Federal and Tran shall not gift, convey, assign, transfer or otherwise dispose of, encumber, or waste any personal assets to delay, hinder, or defraud the Warren EDA as a creditor.”
Motions to set aside the jury verdict of $125,000 of compensatory liability in April Petty’s case was filed with the court on July 28; and in William Lambert’s jury finding of $350,000 of compensatory liability, the motion to overturn was filed on August 18.
And the jury trial of Samuel North, cancelled in July following North’s filing of bankruptcy, has been rescheduled for October 25, beginning at 8:30 a.m. North is former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s husband. The central figure in the EDA “financial scandal”, McDonald reached a no-fault settlement agreement in her civil liability case with the FR-WC EDA. She agreed to turn over $9 million in assets, largely real estate, to the EDA to settle their claims against her; while admitting no fault in her acquisition of those assets.
She still is facing criminal trial in federal court in the Western District of Virginia on multiple charges related to the investigation into EDA finances during her executive director’s tenure. Due to its complexity and the amount of involved evidence – cited at over a million pages of documentation – that trial originally scheduled for as many as five weeks this fall, has been pushed into May 2023.
See trial and verdict stories on the Royal Examiner website front page under the NEWS banner at sub-section “EDA IN FOCUS“.
FR-WC EDA finalizes $5.7-million sale of Baugh Drive warehouse to Shahi Foods
The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA) is pleased to announce that Shahi Food, LLC is the new owner of 426 Baugh Drive in Stephens Industrial Park. The new property owners will relocate and expand their successful family-owned business to Warren County.
The FR-WC EDA originally purchased the property in 2018 and has since been exercising thorough due diligence and recruitment, which led to today’s announcement the contracted $5.7M sale of the property has been finalized. Shahi Food, LLC projects a $7M capital investment and a 5-year employment projection of 100 individuals and begins manufacturing operations at the Baugh Drive site in late 2022/early 2023.
Shahi is currently based in a nearby county and has been in business for over 30 years. They produce an ethnic ice cream bar called Shahi Kulfi in 6 flavors – chocolate, strawberry, cream, pistachio, mango, and coconut. They currently distribute to over 2000 retail outlets in 20 states and have a large market presence in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Ohio, and Virginia. Shahi is approved for retail sales in large grocery and warehouse stores in the US and has received approvals for European distribution of their products. Shahi Food, LLC’s parent company is Shadchem—an international food and consumer products group with a presence in over 16 countries.
“This announcement is the culmination of an intentional and active effort by the FR-WC EDA Board of Directors to bring companies to Warren County that provide quality jobs and values to our
community,” said EDA Chair Jeff Browne. “The sale not only brings jobs and investment to the area, but the proceeds allow the FR-WC EDA to pay down other debt obligations.”
“The County of Warren has had a long-standing partnership with the FR-WC EDA,” said County Administrator Dr. Edwin Daley. “We are incredibly excited about the recent announcement and look forward to having Shahi Food, LLC in the Warren County community for many years.”
About the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority
The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA) aims to strengthen our community’s economic growth by fostering a friendly business environment and providing services to create and retain quality jobs in Warren County. The Authority also supports community tourism, recreation, and arts & cultural initiatives to offer a better quality of life for the County’s residents, workers, and visitors. Coordination with the Board of Supervisors, County staff, the Town of Front Royal, and State agencies are integral to promoting economic development and tourism throughout Warren County.
For more information, contact Jeffrey Browne, FR-WC EDA Board of Directors Chair, at 540-635-2182 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warren County EDA tackles multi-faceted August meeting Action Agenda
The Front Royal Warren County EDA held its monthly meeting on Friday, August 26, 2022, at 8 a.m. All five Board members, legal counsel, and the County Director of Economic Development were present.
The monthly meeting began with the election of officers, which was approved unanimously. The new officers are Chair Jeff Browne, Vice Chair Scott Jenkins, Treasurer James Wolfe, and Secretary Marjorie Martin.
As part of the Executive update, member Jim Wolfe suggested a future board retreat to discuss updating the Authority’s strategic plan. Jorie Martin provided an overview of an existing insurance policy for the FR-WC EDA office building at 400 Kendrick Lane. The Board approved restructuring the policy to provide appropriate coverage and cost savings on the space.
The Chair provided an update on the lease of Suite C at 400 Kendrick Lane. C-CAP will be occupying the suite for their operations starting September 1st.
Jeff Browne summarized a meeting he had with Chair of the Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA), Rick Novak, who was in attendance for the meeting. One of the issues discussed that both Chairs agreed on is a joint EDA retreat to have an opportunity to meet each other in a less formal setting. Novak also provided information on the upcoming Festival of Leaves taking place in Downtown Front Royal on Saturday, October 15th.
Treasurer, Jim Wolfe, provided an update on monthly financial statements and the small business loan committee re-establishment.
The Warren County Director of Economic Development, Joe Petty, provided an update on current activities related to prospects, small business loans, annual audits, and marketing.
EDA’s legal counsel presented a by-law revision that would allow electronic meetings as permitted by the Virginia Code; and additional recommendations by the ad hoc committee consisting of Jorie Martin and Greg Harold. Upon review of the revisions, the Board unanimously adopted the revisions.
As part of new business, the Board approved rescheduling the September meeting, which will be held on Monday, September 26, 2022, at 8 a.m. at the Warren County Government Center Caucus Room.
The Board concluded the meeting with a closed session to discuss business opportunities, with no new business following the closed session.
EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne reacts to July civil litigation results ordering total of over $13.35 million paid to the County Economic Development Authority
As noted in our lead story on the “Warren Economic Development Authority” (EDA) versus Truc “Curt” Tran and his ITFederal LLC company civil liability case result (See: Jury awards WC EDA $11.9 million-plus in civil compensatory claims against ITFederal and Truc ‘Curt’ Tran), involved players on the plaintiff’s side deferred to current EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne for a reaction, not only to the Tran/ITFederal result, but a month in which four civil liability cases went the EDA’s way. After a day of reflection on this month’s civil liability trials, much of which he watched in the courtroom, often with other EDA board members, this is what Browne told Royal Examiner:
“As part of the Jennifer McDonald lawsuits, the EDA successfully sued six defendants this month in four civil jury trials and was awarded about $13 million in compensatory damages, $400,000 in punitive damages, and $75,000 in damages for statutory conspiracy. There will be additional civil trials in March 2023.
“The EDA’s main responsibility in these lawsuits is to recover assets that rightfully belong to the EDA and ultimately to the residents of Warren County. It’s a work in progress, but I’m pleased with the outcomes. Every defendant was found liable on multiple charges. Every defendant has to pay. A jury found that the EDA Board of Directors with oversight responsibility of Jennifer McDonald wasn’t negligent in retaining her as it took immediate steps after finding solid evidence of her misbehavior.
“But that isn’t the whole story. Members of the EDA Board were present on every day of every trial. We were impressed with the juries and Judge Albertson. Jury members listened attentively, took notes, and showed in their verdicts that they had a command of the facts in each case. Judge Albertson was fair to both sides of each case and did a good job of managing each trial. Prior members of the EDA Board, prior staff EDA members, a former county administrator, and former members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors all stepped up to testify and do their civic duty. We can be proud that our judicial system still works.
“The criminal process moves forward in other venues. In the meantime, some measure of justice is present in the jury verdicts in Warren County this month. For that, we are grateful.”
Coupled with the out-of-court “no-fault” settlement agreement with McDonald for an estimated $9 million in real estate assets, the courts have now ordered the return of $22 million to $23 million in assets to the EDA. At various points in the investigation into alleged embezzlement and misdirection of EDA assets between 2014 and 2018, the total involved amount has been cited from $21 million to $26 million. There have been significant legal fees involved, perhaps $6 million or more. But in the wake of this month’s results, it appears the EDA’s contracted civil counsel from the Sands Anderson law firm of Richmond are earning that money.
Asked for a reaction to the verdict, Tran and his attorney Gregory Melus declined comment. As noted in the above linked story on the verdict, Melus notified the court of his intention to file a motion to overturn the verdict as not supported by the evidence presented at trial, as have the other three involved civil case defense attorneys.
Jury awards WC EDA $11.9 million-plus in civil compensatory claims against ITFederal and Truc ‘Curt’ Tran
After five hours of deliberation beginning shortly after 9 a.m., at 3:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, July 28, a Warren County Circuit Court civil case jury awarded the “Warren Economic Development Authority” (aka EDA, WC EDA, FR-WC EDA) a total of $11,919,313.38, plus some interest payments from defendants Truc “Curt” Tran and his ITFederal LLC company. The finding of liability against the defendants related to exchanges of money for Tran and ITFederals’ plan to develop a 30-acre parcel at the 148-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park portion of the former Avtex Superfund site in Front Royal. That seven-person civil case jury also dismissed all counterclaims by co-defendants Tran and ITFederal related to breach of contract and surrounding claims against the EDA.
However, the jury did not find the defendants liable on claims of Conspiracy and Fraud that could have led to significant punitive damages up to $350,000, or as high as triple the compensatory claim of $11.9 million if found guilty of statutory conspiracy indicating malice against the plaintiff. Tran was found liable on claims of Conversion, Unjust Enrichment, and Ultra Vires, the latter actions outside the authority of involved officials. ITFederal was found liable on claims Conversion, Unjust Enrichment, Ultra Vires, and Breach of Contract.
The breakdown of liability of the defendants was $1,499,986 against Tran, plus 3-1/4 years of interest on that amount accumulated since the March 2019 filing of the EDA civil actions against defendants alleged to have worked with former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald between 2014 and 2018 to defraud the EDA out of an estimated $21-million. The $11.9-million claim of compensatory damages against Tran and ITFederal was the largest single portion of the EDA civil liability actions for recovery of lost assets. With approval of a bankruptcy court judge, McDonald settled EDA claims against her in an out-of-court “no-fault” settlement for what was cited as $9 million in real estate assets.
From testimony over four days of trial in the Tran/ITFederal liability case that $1.499-million finding against Tran related to EDA payments made to Tran under the pretense it was front money that would be reimbursed to the EDA by a $1.5 million Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) grant that was never acquired, or even applied for.
The finding of liability for $10,419,327.38 against ITFederal revolved around the $8,419,327.38 balance of a $10-million loan/promissory note the EDA gave the company to begin development of the ITFederal parcel behind the EDA offices in the old Avtex Administration building off Kendrick Lane. As noted in previous stories (see LINKS at end of story) on testimony and evidence presented during the trial, ITFederal was presented to the EDA Board of Directors in 2015-16 by then Sixth District Congressman Robert Goodlatte as not really needing the loan. Past EDA board members Greg Drescher and Ron Llewellyn testified that Goodlatte suggested the loan as a public relations move to illustrate Virginia’s positive work with the private sector to redevelop a former federal Superfund “brownfield” site.
Consequently, despite the written-in 30-year payback loan term, EDA officials believed it was actually being done as a short-term public relations effort, and would be paid back in a matter of months when what they believed was an existing $140-million ITFederal contract with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) kicked in. A McDonald representation to her board that Tran would become an “anonymous donor” of $8-million to a proposed Criminal Justice Academy project then being worked on by the EDA, was seen as the start of that early repayment, the former EDA board members testified.
It appears this civil case jury, as three before it this month, have rejected a defense theory of the case asserting that the defendants were unwitting victims of McDonald’s alleged lies concerning the movement of EDA assets, just as the EDA was victimized. Plaintiff attorneys from the Sands Anderson law firm of Richmond, Va., countered those arguments by asking the jury to “follow the money” to see who benefited from the misinformation they allege McDonald was giving the EDA board, as well as EDA auditors.
During the previous morning session on Wednesday, the two sides presented their final witnesses: for the defense Mark Viola, proprietor of Viola Engineering, who did geo-technical work for Tran on the ITFederal site regarding construction delays related to underground discoveries of old utility piping and substances; and in plaintiff rebuttal to some of the previous day’s defense assertions, former County and EDA attorney Dan Whitten.
Late Wednesday, the court heard motions from both sides to strike the opposition claims against their clients. After listening to extensive arguments from both sides, Judge Albertson denied all motions to strike claims by either side, preferring as he has reviewing similar motions in earlier EDA civil liability cases this month, to allow the jury to make the decision on the substance of each sides’ claims against the other. After adjourning to dinner of pizza ordered to the courthouse for them around 7 p.m., the jury returned at 7:25 p.m. to say they preferred to go home and begin deliberations Thursday morning, which Judge Albertson agreed to.
As the three previous defense attorneys have following findings in the EDA’s favor this month, Tran/ITFederal counsel Gregory Melus notified the court he would file a motion to overturn the jury verdict. Those motions appear based on a defense contention evidence produced at trial was inadequate to justify conviction. A 30/30/10 day filing and response time schedule was set, though plaintiff counsel indicated if Melus needed additional time due to scheduling conflicts, that would not be a problem.
With motions to overturn on the table, counsel for both sides declined comment following Thursday’s verdict. Current EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne, who observed much of the trial along with board members Jim Wolfe, Scott Jenkins, and Greg Harold, indicated that after speaking with counsel and some consideration he might have a response for the media shortly. See that EDA response in related story posted when available.