Connect with us

EDA in Focus

EDA moves on legal representation, loan accounts – addresses indictments

Published

on

A quorum of the EDA Board of Directors gets down to business, from left, Ed Daley, Tom Patteson, Executive Director Doug Parsons, with Gray Blanton and Jorie Martin to the right. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

At the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority monthly meeting on Friday, September 27, a four-person quorum, plus one (Greg Harold) by phone connection for a portion of the meeting, dealt with some financial housekeeping and a decision on interim legal representation.

On the latter front, counsel from Sands-Anderson, which already represents the EDA as bond counsel and in its civil litigation seeking recovery of $17.6 million-plus in allegedly embezzled or misdirected assets, was announced to serve as the Authority’s general counsel for the time being.

And following a closed session, on a motion by Jorie Martin, seconded by Tom Patteson, Sands-Anderson was also named as the EDA’s Point of Contact in negotiations with First Bank & Trust regarding the EDA Line Of Credit (LOC). The vote was 4-0.

The EDA is exploring separate legal representation in the long run as Warren County also searches for a permanent replacement for departed County Attorney Dan Whitten.

The County’s Interim Attorney Jason Ham of the Litten & Sipe law firm has declined the traditional dual County-EDA attorney’s role due to potential of conflicts of interest regarding the EDA financial fraud situation.

Indicted members

And on the EDA legal front, recently-appointed EDA Board Chairman Ed Daley read a statement addressing the September 24 misdemeanor criminal bookings of several current and past EDA board members. Those members, including currently seated Tom Patteson, Mark Baker and Gray Blanton, along with past members Greg Drescher, Ron Llewellyn, William Biggs and Bruce Drummond, were booked along with all five sitting county supervisors, the county administrator and county-EDA attorney on misfeasance and nonfeasance charges alleging an absence of due diligent oversight of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald during the first four months of the Cherry Bekaert EDA financial fraud investigation (see below linked story).

“The Front Royal-Warren County EDA, as a committed stakeholder in this community, is fully aware of the misdemeanor charges levied against past and current board members. The EDA recognizes these allegations and will appropriately respond and act accordingly as the necessary due legal process is administered through the Justice System,” Daley began, adding, “The EDA has recently developed and continues to refine a series of operational processes, procedures, and guidelines to ensure that accountability and transparency are at the forefront of our operational goals.

“The EDA has highly functioning committees dealing with financial oversight, asset management, communications, and executive oversight. These committees are fully engaged, routinely convened, and report to both the executive committee and the board at large.

“The EDA will continue to provide and promote economic opportunities for business expansion, retention, and other economic activities to match our strategic plan in order to provide continued positive resources to our community,” the board chairman concluded.

Finances

The EDA board also acknowledged its move to hand over direct financial management to the county government and presented a list of bank account balances, loan payment schedules and balances, as well as its current properties list.

A total of $1,697,361.35 was listed in bank account assets.

A current loan accounts total balance of just over $41 million was shown with estimated monthly payments totaling $150,582.54.

The total assessed value of 25 EDA properties was about $32 million (if this reporter’s fingers and TRAC phone calculator were functioning properly in concert).

And don’t forget the EDA civil litigation total being sought for recovery has most recently been discussed at over $21 million; as much as $15 million of which the Town is claiming it is owed in its own suit filed against the EDA.

It was noted that two smaller account balances with United Bank totaling $23,067.85 were being closed due to delays on the projects they were opened to fund. Those projects are the West Main Street connector road ($16,968.64) and Phase Two if the Happy Creek Road improvement project ($6,099.21)

Phase One of the West Main connector had been planned to run through the 30-acre ITFederal property. The initial section of the road accessing the 10,000 square-foot ITFederal building on site is nearing completion. However the future of the remainder of the ITFederal site remains in doubt due to the company’s inclusion as a defendant in the EDA civil litigation. That litigation is seeking recovery of the balance of the $10 million EDA loan to ITFederal on the grounds that it was acquired “under false pretenses” according to former EDA-County Attorney Dan Whitten.

So that’s the vision of a developed property – a model of unknown origins of the Royal Phoenix Business Park spotted in a storage area of the EDA office. The skatepark and soccer fields are shown in brown at bottom, off the Kerfoot Ave. notation, and the arrow at top indicates location of the EDA office in the old admin building on Kendrick Lane. I have a hunch this is not an engineer’s schematic of the connector road path.

The West Main Street extension is ultimately envisioned as a main thru road in the 147-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park property. It would ultimately connect the West Main Street-Kerfoot Avenue intersection near the skatepark and soccerplex to the south and Kendrick Lane just east of the EDA office complex to the north, essentially serving as a portion of the long-discussed “western bypass”.

See discussion of these and other business on the EDA’s September meeting agenda in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:


See Related Story:

Defense attorneys move to quash grand jury misdemeanor indictments

Share the News:

EDA in Focus

A new EDA? Town Council approves resolution seeking state’s blessing

Published

on

FRONT ROYAL — The Front Royal Town Council on Monday unanimously passed a resolution seeking a change in the Code of Virginia that would allow the Town to create its own Economic Development Authority (EDA) if it sees fit to do so.

Specifically, the Town’s newly approved resolution requests that the Virginia General Assembly amend a portion of the State Code to allow just Front Royal, VA, to establish a new EDA that’s “separate and independent” from the existing Front Royal-Warren County EDA, which is embroiled in a multi-million-dollar financial scandal.

“Upon deliberate and studied consideration,” the Town Council “finds that it is to the benefit and betterment of all the inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and in particular to the inhabitants of the Town of Front Royal,” that the Town be able to form a Front Royal EDA so that it “can forge its own path forward in the future, unencumbered by the tremendous financial, legal, and reputational burdens currently encumbering the Existing EDA,” according to the resolution.

“First and foremost,” explained Councilman Jacob Meza after motioning to adopt the resolution, “what we are doing is approving a resolution to request the ability to establish our own EDA if we so desire to do so. Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

“Here’s the thing,” Meza continued. “Our current EDA — which you could make the easy argument is ineffective — is going to be really difficult to operate through… at least in the next coming year and possibly years.”

Because of that fact, Meza said the Town Council wanted to be sure to submit its approved resolution prior to the start of the General Assembly’s legislative work that begins in January, “essentially hedging our bets that if our EDA becomes ineffective as a joint Town-County operation, then the Town has the ability to establish its own EDA so that we can continue moving forward on Town projects, especially related to property acquisitions and developments.”

If Front Royal were to miss submitting its request now, then the Town would have to wait to submit it in July 2021, said Meza.

“We wanted to get the ball rolling on this so that we have the option and the ability to continue if needed,” he added.

Councilman Gary Gillispie echoed those sentiments on Monday night.

“Please keep in mind, just because we are asking the General Assembly to authorize Front Royal to have an EDA, it does not necessarily mean that we’re going to launch into it,” Gillispie read from a prepared statement. “Once authorized, we can commence the process to determine if it’s in the best interests of the community.”

To avoid a potential legal hurdle, the Town Council seeks the State Code change without withdrawing from its current legal interest in the existing EDA.

“It appears to the Town that as long as there are outstanding and unpaid Existing EDA bonds and indebtedness, the Town cannot even rescind it ordinance co-creating the Existing EDA all, in which case the Town would not even be able to create a separate Town EDA which could fund Town EDA facilities either inside the Town’s corporate boundaries,” the resolution states.

In fact, the current EDA is saddled with outstanding and unpaid bonds and other indebtedness for private and public facilities, including hospitals and schools, states the resolution, which also pointed out that “apparently the Existing EDA likely will become insolvent sometime in the year 2020.”

“In my opinion, the current EDA is insolvent,” Councilman Gillispie read from his prepared statement. “I don’t see a way to get it back to solvency.”

The Town Council’s resolution also acknowledges, among other items, that if the Town did rescind its ordinance for co-creating the existing EDA, then it would waive its rights to share in one-half of any of the funds and properties held by the existing EDA at the time it was dissolved.

Such action “might well be construed as wastage of Town assets by Town Council, and thereby construed as legal misfeasance on the part of Town officials, which would be unacceptable to the Town,” the resolution.

The Town Council in its resolution also wasn’t shy about laying out reasons for why it wants to form its own EDA.

For instance, the six-page document outlines “the legal and financial troubles” of the existing EDA’s former executive director Jennifer McDonald, who “has been creditably accused and has been indicted in excess of 30 felony charges in connection with criminal charges related to alleged misappropriation of Existing EDA and Town funds.”

Additionally, the resolution says that McDonald — who isn’t named in the document but only referred to as the ‘former executive director’ — “has been civilly sued in the Circuit Court of Warren County, Virginia, by the Existing EDA for over $21 million in damages in relation to said alleged misappropriation of said funds.”

The resolution also makes it clear that the “Town, Town Council, Town officials and Town employees had no role whatsoever in the former executive director’s actions,” and is civilly suing the existing EDA and McDonald in Warren County Circuit Court for $15 million in damages.

The resolution also says that the “brand” of the current EDA “has been so badly damaged as to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the Existing EDA to attract new commerce and industry
into the Town.”

And the Town charges that “there is an inherent conflict of interest” on the part of existing EDA officials and employees who appear to favor attracting new commerce and industry “to benefit the County as opposed to the Town.”

For these and other reasons, the Town Council proposed a change to Virginia Code 15.2-4905 (Powers of authority section) that would grant the Front Royal Town Council the power to create its own industrial development authority (IDA).

“The purpose of an EDA or IDA is to bring economic development to a community where it is authorized,” Gillispie read. “It is also important to give existing businesses support to help them compete and stay profitable.”

Front Royal needs good-paying jobs, the councilman added, and there are several business parks within the Town limits that also need development.

“We just need someone who can market our Town and be able to go to Richmond or wherever it’s needed to get this accomplished,” said Gillispie, who added, if the General Assembly accepts the Town’s request and amends State Code, then Town Council members will work diligently to put safeguards in place that ensure such financial fraud never happens again.

Following Meza’s motion on adoption of the resolution, with a second from Councilman Chris Holloway, the members of the Front Royal Town Council, including Vice Mayor William Sealock and Councilmen Gillispie and Letasha Thompson, all voted yes to approve it.

Watch the Town Council meeting on this Royal Examiner video:

Share the News:
Continue Reading

EDA in Focus

Town skirts EDA request for FRPD construction back payments

Published

on

The Front Royal Town Council passed a series of four motions Monday, November 25, authorizing expenditures totaling $1.02 million dollars related to its civil litigation against the Economic Development Authority, as well as payments to contractors regarding construction of the new Front Royal Police headquarters across Kendrick Lane from the EDA office complex.

Of that million dollars plus total, $527,800 approved in a series of three motions is for legal and auditing fees related to the Town’s civil suit against the EDA. The $492,284.34 approved in the last of the four motions is for vendor (contractor) payments recently come due on the FRPD construction project.

The motions were all approved by 5-0 votes, with Mayor-Elect Gene Tewalt not voting as Mayor Pro Tempore as he was declared at the meeting’s outset. As noted above, over half of the authorized payments are for attorney and auditing fees for services related to the Town’s attempt to recover “as much as $15 million” from the EDA. The $492,284 was approved to cover direct payments to contractors on the Front Royal Police Headquarters construction project.

The motions were all approved by 5-0 votes, with Mayor-Elect Gene Tewalt not voting as Mayor Pro Tempore as he was declared at the meeting’s outset. Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

However with its litigation still pending as the EDA struggles to right its financial situation, the Town did not make good on an EDA request for back payments totaling over $8 million dollars for vendor/contractor payments it has made on the FRPD headquarters project on behalf of the Town.

In a letter from EDA Board of Directors Chairman Ed Daley to Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson dated November 15, 2019, included in the agenda packet on the final of the four EDA-related payment authorization requests, the EDA appears to attempt to force the Town’s hand on making up those back payments to the EDA.

After informing Wilson of the EDA’s receipt of FRPD project Requisition (invoice) “# 45” dated October 22, 2019, Daley wrote, “After speaking with our Board of Directors, I write to advise the Town that we will hold this pay requisition without paying until the Town of Front Royal pays the principal and interest due on this project.

“The principal, legal fees and draw fees paid by the EDA for the Town to date is $8,440,797.17,” Daley continues, adding, “The interest amount is $291,856.21 which covers interest on the previous 44 pay requisitions, up to October 31, 2019.” The recently-installed EDA Board Chairman closes by informing the Town, “Once we receive the past amount due on this project, we will process pay requisition # 45 accordingly.”

The Daley letter seeking reimbursement on the $8.44 million in police headquarter construction payments indicates an FRPD project payment and interest accrued history attached. But in the council motion on authorization of vendor payments there is no amount attached to Requisition # 45. However, in the “Revised Item # 15 motion made by Jacob Meza, seconded by Chris Holloway, an amount of $492,284.34 is cited to cover payments directly “to vendors Dustin Construction, Mosley Architects and JTS LLC for construction of the Police Department Project.”

The motion continues to cite the use of money “previously budgeted for the Police Department Project” and notes the Dustin Construction payment will be released “after signed waiver of lien is obtained.”

Contacted by phone on Tuesday, EDA Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson said that Dustin Construction ($243,843.48) and JTS LLC ($893.84) were included in payment Requisition # 45, but not the Mosley payment which may be from a separate invoice.

So it appears that the Front Royal Town Council has decided to respond to the EDA’s most recent request it make good on its $8.4-million FRPD project payment debt to the EDA by bypassing the EDA on that debt as the Town’s civil suit against the EDA moves forward; while simply making future invoice Requisition payments directly to the vendors.

The first EDA-related Council payment authorization of Monday’s meeting was $282,800 for “attorney fees and auditing services related to the Town’s civil suit against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA)”.

The funds for that payment were requested to be transferred from scheduled FY 2019 and FY 2020 Town debt service payments to the EDA on a number of projects. Those projects and transferred amounts were cited as Success Farm ($10,370), Baugh Drive Extension ($6,535), Happy Creek ($6,845), Stephens Industrial Park ($11,725), Leach Run Parkway ($105,925), and “Appropriated Funds Forward ($141,400), totaling the $282,800 authorized for attorney and audit fees related to the Town lawsuit against the EDA.

The now $21.3-million EDA financial scandal revolving around former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald began unraveling in late spring to early summer of 2018 when Town Finance Director Wilson discovered about eight years of Town debt service overpayments to the EDA. EDA officials told Royal Examiner they have not yet seen a number on those believed Town overpayments.

Might one take a guess based on that $282,800 transfer of future scheduled debt service payments to the EDA; or might one look at the fact that transfer comes within $9,056 of the disputed FRPD interest payments of $291,856.21?

Hey, guessing is always a gamble, isn’t it?

As those keeping a scorecard on the now multi-faceted EDA financial scandal and related civil and criminal litigation know, the Town Council authorized its legal department to file the aforementioned civil action against the EDA seeking recovery of “as much as $15 million dollars” of allegedly misdirected Town assets as a precaution against unknown variables, including possible statute of limitation issues. Included in the Town’s suit for recovered assets is exactly what interest rate the Town should be paying on the FRPD construction project.

The EDA is paying 3% interest on the FRPD construction project. However, the Town is holding out for a 1% rate that would coincide with what it contends was promised to it by the EDA, or at least by its then Executive Director McDonald, as part of the New Market Tax Credit Program for which the project did not qualify because it was not a job-creating economic development project.
In fact as Royal Examiner has previously reported, then Town Manager Joe Waltz and Finance Director Wilson, as well as People Inc. regional administrator of the NMTC Program Brian Phipps all advised Council against “gambling” on competing for the NMTC funding versus accepting a guaranteed, 30-year fixed 2.65% interest rate offered to the Town in late 2017 through a private sector bank.

Town Attorney Doug Napier and Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick.

Contacted Tuesday, Town Attorney Doug Napier said that after Phipps’ early January 2018 work session appearance before council, Town officials contacted McDonald, who assured them Phipps “didn’t know what he was talking about” and that the NMTC bond issue had been achieved to include the FRPD project.

Consequently a council majority decided to take that gamble on the best case scenario of nine years of interest-free payments significantly reducing the total interest due on a project bond issue.
The other two EDA-related payment authorizations unanimously approved by council Monday evening were “up to $45,000 to Mitchell & Company PC for auditing services to support litigation in the Town’s civil suit against … (the EDA)” and “payment not to exceed $200,000 to Damiani & Damiani for legal services related to the Town’s civil suit against the …(EDA).”

Contacted Tuesday for a reaction to the Town Council’s response to the EDA board’s request the Town make good on its FRPD payment debt, current EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons said,
“What the Town does is their business, what they chose to pay, what they chose not to pay it’s entirely up to them. We feel confident in the figures we provided on the invoice for the Front Royal Police Department. We would love to work out this difference of opinion with them; and we’re always ready to work with them on other projects while we work out our differences.”

Watch the entire Front Royal Town Council meeting of November 25th here:

Share the News:
Continue Reading

EDA in Focus

Sunday afternoon matinee: What do Dixon, Illinois, Front Royal and Warren County have in common?

Published

on

A sizeable crowd gathered Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Villa Avenue Community Center for a viewing of the documentary film “All The Queen’s Horses”. The film about a city financial official in Dixon, Illinois, who is currently serving a nearly 20-year prison sentence for embezzling $53.7 million dollars over a 20-year period, seems to be of particular interest locally due to our own developing municipal-EDA financial scandal.

Melanie Salins, who was instrumental in bringing filmmaker here, introduces Producer-Director Pope to Sunday audience for her film on small-town municipal embezzlement. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

Rita Crundwell was arrested by the FBI in 2012 on what is to date the largest municipal embezzlement in U.S. history. Film producer/director and public accounting professor at DePaul University Kelly Richmond Pope was present to introduce her film and do a post-viewing question-and-answer session centered around what similarities she does or doesn’t see between the Dixon, Illinois situation and Front Royal and Warren County’s Economic Development Authority financial scandal.

And based on what she heard in questioning or perceptions from locals, as well as what she may know about the 15-defendant EDA civil suit and related criminal charges against multiple defendants surrounding principal defendant and former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, Pope said the local situation may be more similar to the one Dixon dethroned as the largest U.S. municipal embezzlement scandal, a $48 million dollar one in Washington, D.C.

That similarity is based on the fact that the evidence assembled indicated that Dixon Comptroller, or Chief Financial Officer, Crundwell is believed to have acted alone, whereas the D.C. situation involved multiple people.

Kelly R. Pope gives some pre-viewing background to her documentary ‘All The Queen’s Horses’ on a $53.7-million municipal embezzlement in Dixon, Illinois.

Yes, Pope told the local audience, Crundwell’s family members did benefit from her spreading her wealth around, but no hard evidence was produced that any were legally complicit in Crundwell’s crimes. Of course, those charged civilly or criminally here have yet to have their day in court to contest the allegations against them.

If locally McDonald spread the story that her high cash flow was based on an improbable three-year run of luck on the slot machines at Charles Town, West Virginia’s Hollywood Casino, Crundwell had a variety of “rumors” floating to cover her family generosity and high-dollar quarter horse stable operation. Among those were an inheritance from rich, former boyfriend who passed away years earlier; and high-dollar horse sales from her high-profile, 400-quarter and show horse operation that took her around the country.

But nearly $54 million dollars out of a small city of around 16,000 residents’ annual budget for so many years – the question lay heavy on that community as a similar one now does on ours: “How did a high-school educated municipal clerk pull it off?”

Well, Crundwell was an attractive, gregarious, well-though-of local girl the community was proud of, and upon which the city’s mayor and council relied heavily on to conduct Dixon’s financial operations.

“It’s human nature to trust them,” one Dixon resident told Pope’s documentary camera of the local girl making good in an $80,000 a year city position.

The Sunday Matinee crowd awaits the film’s introduction and showing

Another question asked was how could so much money be removed from a small city budget over such a long period of time without somebody noticing?

Well, someone did notice – a municipal financial official from a neighboring city, Sterling, Illinois. In fact, the Sterling official wrote to Dixon officials citing the similarity in the two cities’ annual operational budgets, citing a RED FLAG in that while Sterling carried a surplus, Dixon carried a “huge” deficit of around $20 million. However, that warning was filed away without action, as the rationale that Dixon was doing a lot of borrowing at the time was self-generated to explain the difference.

Another factor in how it happened to Dixon was cited as its “Commissioner” form of government, which essentially does not carry multiple administrative and financial staff positions. Dixon’s staff was small with no direct oversight of Crundwell’s activities, other than by a poorly-paid, part-time elected council and mayor.

“Rita was the checks and balances,” one person told the documentary camera.

So, when she added seven bank accounts to facilitate her fraud to the City’s six legitimate bank accounts, no one noticed – for a long time.

Dixon, Illinois City Comptroller Rita Crundwell supported a 400-horse stable of quarter and show horses with a significant portion of the nearly $54 million she embezzled over a 20-year period, hence the film’s title.

However in November of 2012, after finally-alerted Dixon municipal officials notified the FBI of possible financial crimes in their midst, Crundwell eventually pled guilty to federal money laundering and wire fraud charges. The 19-year-and-7-month sentence handed down was above guidelines and near the maximum 20 years she faced. Crundwell is scheduled for release from prison on March 5, 2030.

And much as locally here, as McDonald’s alleged embezzlement schemes were uncovered essentially by accident when Front Royal Finance Director B. J. Wilson was asked by his elected council to find a way to make a half-million dollar, interest-free internal loan to fund a new town police radio system; in Dixon a Crundwell assistant Kathe Swanson uncovered some questionable financial transactions while covering for Crundwell during an absence from the office. It is noted in the film that Crundwell took four months a year off, apparently to take care of her horse operation, and maybe to spend some of her embezzled funds on some additional personal expenses.

Above, a blurry shot of Rita Crundwell, cowboy hat, from a showing of ‘All The Queen’s Horses’ in her auctioned-off home in Dixon; below, ‘We all have one,’ says film director Kelly Richmond Pope of that person all trust without question. In addition to her foray into documentary filmmaking, Pope is a professor of accounting at DePaul University. Her film is available on various streaming TV-movie sites.

And while it took a while to get to it in the film, once uncovered and successfully prosecuted, public outrage targeting Dixon’s elected officials saw a total turnover of the city’s elected leadership.

Towards the end of her Q & A with the audience, which included Mark Egger’s recounting of his daughter’s experience of outright vilification at times in trying to raise questions about EDA operations and projects while on the Front Royal Town Council in 2016-17, and other audience assertions of municipal and even law enforcement cover ups, filmmaker Pope told the crowd she might well return to explore the local dynamics of this community’s unfolding experience.

One interested observer of Sunday’s matinee was New York Times reporter Abbey Ellin, who apparently hooked up with Pope at the airport on the way into Front Royal. In fact, as the Q & A was breaking up around 5 p.m. from the 2 p.m. showing, Ellin was being maneuvered toward the airport return trip with the filmmaker by local transport service operator Michael Williams to assure Pope did not miss her return flight out of the D.C. area.

So, as the involved numbers of sought assets for recovery climb, along with the number of both civil and criminal defendants, along with conspiracy theories about how it happened, it seems national interest in Front Royal and Warren County’s slice of what Pope described as a $3.7-trillion-dollar national embezzlement problem is rising as well.

Looks like us local first chroniclers of our town and county histories better get cracking on those side projects …

Share the News:
Continue Reading

Crime/Court

Removal Petition hearing on County Board continued to December

Published

on

An as-yet undetermined date in December was set for the continuation of a hearing on the citizen-launched Removal Petition against the five sitting Warren County Supervisors. The hearing was on the Warren County Circuit Court docket Friday morning, November 22, at 8:45 a.m.

Judge Bruce D. Albertson heard motions and the reasoning for the continuance by video hook up from his home courtroom base in Harrisonburg. When a suggested date of December 6, when Albertson will be in court on EDA-related criminal hearings, did not work for one of the two defense attorneys, James Cornwell, the judge said he would like a specific December date agree upon within two working days.

As he had the previous day during hearings on EDA-related criminal charges, Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton notified the court of his intention to remove himself from EDA prosecutions with a newly-elected Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell slated to take over at the turn of the year, prior to any EDA-related trials getting under way. And with Bell planning to recuse himself from EDA prosecutions to assure there is not even a perception of possible conflicts of interest that might impact future EDA legal proceedings, Layton suggested that despite his desire to continue with the EDA cases, that they, like yesterday’s criminal cases, be turned over to the office of Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst.

Rockingham Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Parker appears poised to take on the bulk of cases Layton has been working, along with the EDA Special Grand Jury investigation. Layton again noted Parker needed time to get up to speed on the background of the various cases he is taking on.

See you again in December – primary motions arguments on the Removal Petition targeting the WC Board of Supervisors will be heard on an as-yet determined December date following Friday’s continuation. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Defense co-counsel Cornwell and Acting County Attorney Jason Ham had no objection, by remote phone hook up, to Layton’s call for the continuance of the Removal Petition hearing.

During Friday’s hearing it was reported that notice of certification of the required amount of signatures had been received from Warren County Voter Registrar Carol Tobin. That certification, which came despite the loss of 107 signatures that could not be verified as registered county voters, allows the Petition for Removal from office of the supervisors to proceed.

The filing required a minimum of 10% of the number of registered county voters who voted in the last election. That number is cited as 6,958, requiring a total of 696 countywide. Even with the 107 lost signatures, the petition contained 835 verified signatures.

The petition was filed October 18 as part of the grass roots public reaction to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial scandal that has led to a number of dueling civil litigations surrounding the EDA’s attempt to recover $21.3 million dollars in allegedly misdirected or embezzled EDA assets. The EDA civil litigation alone has already cost the County and its taxpayers $1.31 million dollars in legal and investigative financial audit costs.

And with a $750,000 cap on attorney’s fees payable to the Sands Anderson law firm of Richmond removed by the supervisors on Tuesday, that number is anticipated to keep climbing over the coming year or more as the civil cases proceed and what is anticipated to eventually be in the neighborhood of a million pages of related documentation is submitted for those civil, and related criminal, cases.

The Removal Petition contends the County’s elected Supervisors were directly negligent and in dereliction of their official duties in allowing the alleged EDA financial embezzlements to develop under their indirect stewardship since at least 2014-15.

After the Front Royal Town Council voluntarily abdicated certain oversight functions several years ago when the County took over the Town’s operational funding of the EDA, the County Board alone now appoints EDA Board of Director members. It is those appointed members of the quasi-governmental EDA that have direct oversight authority of EDA staff, a defense motions filing in the Removal Petition case states.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton, left, with FBI and VSP during April 16 search of EDA offices. Leaving the office in January, Layton is fazing himself out of EDA cases and Commonwealth’s Attorney-Elect John Bell is recusing from them. So the Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office will take over those prosecutions.

The Removal Petition cites the board members’ three misdemeanor criminal indictments on misfeasance and nonfeasance charges filed September 20 as one primary legal basis of the recall. Those charges targeted the supervisors, along with current and former EDA board members, for an absence of due diligent oversight of the actions of former Warren County Economic Development Executive Director Jennifer McDonald in the final four months of 2018.

However, the fact those indictments were dismissed by Judge Albertson as non-criminal by Virginia Statutes, even dating to English Common Law under which they were filed, may complicate the petitioners’ argument.

Just two days before Friday’s hearing defense co-counsel Cornwell and Ham filed a Demurer with the court seeking dismissal of the petition. Grounds cited for dismissal include a lack of jurisdiction for the filing; a lack of legal authority for the supervisors to act directly to limit the activities of EDA staff; and “Legislative Immunity” precluding the Judicial Branch of State Government from a “quasi-criminal” investigation of a Legislative body such as the county supervisors regarding how they conduct their business.

It would appear that while the timing of the defense Demurrer filing might have precluded proceeding with arguments Friday, a December hearing date could see arguments on these crucial legal points of contention.

On October 28, Judge Albertson denied a petitioner’s motion to immediately remove the five sitting supervisors prior to any arguments on the legal dynamics of the Removal Petition.

Warren County’s incumbent supervisors continue to await a decision on a citizen-filed Removal Petition – for three of them it will soon be a moot point.

Targeted by the Removal Petition are Daniel J. Murray of the North River District, Thomas H. Sayre of the Shenandoah District, Tony F. Carter of the Happy Creek District, Archie A. Fox of the Fork District, and Linda Glavis of the South River District. As of the turn of the year in the wake of Murray and Glavis’s retirements and Sayre’s defeat at the polls in November, only Carter and Fox will be impacted by the Removal action.

See Related Stories:

County Supervisors removal petition filed with 941 signatures

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

Share the News:
Continue Reading

Crime/Court

Delays in EDA criminal cases due to transfer of prosecutorial authority

Published

on

On Thursday, November 21, four Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority criminal defendants saw preliminary hearings, and in one case trial dates over the objection of Donald Poe’s attorneys, continued to future dates. Those defendants were former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, her husband Samuel North, former EDA small business client B&G Goods principal William Lambert, and former EDA solar panel contractor Earth Right Energy principal Donald Poe.

A date of January 10, at 1 p.m. was set for motions hearings and possible trial date settings on joint defense-commonwealth motions in McDonald’s, North’s and Lambert’s cases. Only Poe co-counsel William Ashwell objected to the delays, noting his client was in a somewhat different position that the other defendants.

That position is trial dates on all four charges against Poe already set for December 6 (perjury to the grand jury) and three financial charges of obtaining or conspiring to obtain money by false pretenses set for a three-day trial January 22 to 24.

Ashwell told the court his client was “pretty anxious to clear his name” adding, “I think we need to get things going now.”

Noting the defendant’s objection, Judge Bruce D. Albertson included the Poe cases in the continuations granted Thursday to the 1 p.m. docket on January 10.

The Warren County Courthouse will see both new and familiar faces in coming hearings and trials related to the EDA financial scandal. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

As explained by Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton, primary among the reasons for those continuations is the naming of a new prosecutor’s office to handle the EDA-related criminal prosecutions. Layton has been leading the Special Grand Jury empaneled to investigate potential criminality tied to the $21.3 million dollar EDA civil litigation since former Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden left the office to assume a judicial appointment in Frederick County.

However, with a newly-elected Commonwealth’s Attorney, John Bell who was hand to observe Tuesday’s proceedings, poised to take office at the turn of the year Layton notified the court he was withdrawing as special prosecutor for the EDA grand jury investigation into EDA affairs.

And Bell told the court due to peripheral past legal representations or political affiliations, he would recuse himself from EDA prosecutions to “avoid any appearance of impropriety so the people of Warren County are assured there are no thumbs on the scales (of justice).”

Chief 26th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Albertson, himself a replacement after all Warren County Circuit Court judges recused or left for higher court appointments prior to pending recusals, accepted Layton’s recommendation of the Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to take over the EDA criminal prosecutions.

Rockingham Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael J. Parker was present to represent the office of Rockingham Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst. Courtroom discussion indicated Parker would take the point for Rockingham’s work on the EDA cases.

Related to various motions hearings scheduled for Thursday afternoon’s 4 p.m. docket, Layton noted the “voluminous material” related to the EDA cases and asked the court for “an extra period of time to get Mr. Parker up to speed.”

That voluminous material was referred to as a “terabyte” of digitized information ordered by the Virginia Supreme Court to handle what has been referred to in previous hearings as 700,000 to one million pages of related documentation.

Despite his counsel’s objection and Poe not joining the other defendants in waiving their rights to speedy trials, Earth Right Energy principal Poe will join the other three defendants in court for hearings on January 10 on the 1 p.m. docket.

Donald F. Poe outside the courthouse following an earlier hearing.

Judge Albertson continued Poe’s scheduled jury trial on his perjury charge from December 6, to the previously scheduled first day of an anticipated three-day trial on the EDA financial fraud charges, January 22, with the following dates available were that trial to go beyond one day.

Albertson also set a hearing for the aborted December 6 perjury trial date to set a new date for Poe’s now in limbo financial charges trial.

Albertson also granted North attorney Frank Reynold’s request for a Bill of Particulars on the three charges his client faces related to actions cited as occurring “on or about August 1, 2015” to be responded to by January 8, two days prior to the newly scheduled motions hearing date.

Reynolds, like Lambert attorney Phil Griffin, told the court he and his client did not want to have to navigate the perhaps digital planetary-sized “terabyte” of EDA financial fraud-related documentation for information on a limited, yet thus-far unspecified accusation against his client.

McDonald is facing 32 felony financial fraud indictments; her husband North three; Lambert three, and Poe four, including the perjury charge, related to information contained in the $500,000 County-EDA contracted Cherry Bekaert financial fraud investigation of EDA financial affairs during McDonald’s executive directorship of the EDA.

Jennifer McDonald on the job, here circa 2016 with then EDA Board Chair Patty Wines, during her decade long tenure as chief executive of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.

Share the News:
Continue Reading

EDA in Focus

EDA authorizes litigation to recover Workforce Housing parcel or its value

Published

on

Following an hour-and-a-half Closed Session Friday morning, November 15, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion to authorize litigation to sue Cornerstone, LP, LLC, its principals and affiliates to recover “EDA land improperly conveyed to Cornerstone without EDA authority or collect the full value of the conveyance and such other damages to the EDA”.

The land in question is the 3.5-acre Workforce Housing parcel sold to the Cornerstone group on November 28, 2018, at a price of $10 dollars.

After initially receiving the parcel as a $10 gift from the aunt and uncle of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, local realtors Mr. and Mrs. Walter Campbell, the EDA Board agreed to purchase the property for $445,000 in April 2017 after missing a previously undisclosed developmental deadline that would have enabled the Campbells to pursue tax credit compensation for the gift of the land to a public purpose.

It is believed that Cornerstone, LP, LLC, is a branch of regional developer the Aikens Group. Aikens was cited by former EDA Executive Director McDonald as a behind-the-scenes, private sector player in the Workforce Housing financial riddle from its inception in late 2014.

The property in question lies at the end of Royal Lane, stretching to the right toward Remount Road. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams.

When contacted in April about the transaction Gray Blanton, who signed the Deed of Sale to Cornerstone for the EDA as board chairman in November 2018, told Royal Examiner he had only seen the final signature page of the four page document. Blanton seconded the motion made by Greg Harold to authorize the litigation.

Local real estate attorney Joe Silek Jr., who represented the EDA due to the recusal of then EDA Attorney Dan Whitten for a potential conflict of interest as EDA and County Attorneys, told us in April there was no price on the deed of sale when it was forwarded from the EDA to the Winchester law firm of McCarthy-Akers for completion.

Asked why the EDA would agree to take a $444,990 loss or even a $651,690 if disputed EDA developmental and peripheral purchase costs are included, Silek said, “I don’t think they did,” and referred us to attorney Doug McCarthy of the McCarthy-Akers law firm for further information.

As we first wrote in April, as of publication there has been no response to a phone-message inquiry about the transaction from the attorneys who represented the buyer in the now legally-disputed sale.

Of the transaction, the initial March 26 filing of the EDA civil suit says, “When interviewed on December 6, 2018, Defendant McDonald continued to maintain that the Aikens Group would refund the Warren EDA the full cost of the Royal Lane Property and any improvements, when she knew said property had been conveyed by the Warren EDA on November 28, 2018 to Cornerstone for consideration of $10.”

That transaction came as scrutiny of McDonald’s executive leadership of the EDA was intensifying as the Cherry Bekaert financial fraud investigation progressed. Following several hours of closed session discussion of the Cherry Bekaert findings and her job performance on December 14, 2018, McDonald had her contract, check-writing and administrative authority over EDA bank accounts stripped by the EDA board.

Facing a second closed session on the same topics a week later, McDonald submitted her resignation by email, and according to the EDA lawsuit attempted to cap her financial liability to the EDA at $2.7 million dollars.

Then EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher and Executive Director Jennifer McDonald found themselves facing hard questions from two supervisors, Fox and Sayre, about how the Workforce Housing Project had evolved during a June 2017 joint EDA-County Board work session.

As previously reported, in initial defense motion filings McDonald’s now former civil case attorney Lee Berlik claimed his client was being vilified and scapegoated for past bad decisions of the EDA Board of Directors.

However, the EDA civil action alleges a lengthy pattern of gaps, conflicting or misinformation from McDonald to the EDA board regarding what is termed the “Royal Lane Property Embezzlements” among other allegations of financial fraud that have led, not only to civil liability claims against the former EDA chief executive, but also 32 felony financial fraud indictments from a Special Grand Jury empanelled to investigate potential illegalities tied to the EDA civil suit.

And now it seems the Aikens Group finds itself on the perimeter of that EDA civil litigation regarding what has been a twisting and often inexplicable, five-year saga surrounding the attempted transfer of the Campbells’ 3.5-acre Royal Lane parcel to a public use.

See if you can make any sense of this – on May 19, 2017, the EDA released this 383-page explanation of the Workforce Housing Project after Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger sought answers on the project’s shifting financial dynamics.

Also unanimously approved after the Closed Session, on a motion by Jorie Martin, seconded by Blanton, was authorization for Executive Director Doug Parsons to forward Adjusted Journal Entries developed by retired County Finance Director Carolyn Stimmel and Hottel & Willis’s Heather Tweedy to the Yount-Hyde-Barbour accounting firm for use in development of the EDA’s 2018 Audit Report; and on a motion by Harold, seconded by Tom Patteson, acceptance of the Commission Agreement for the sale of the EDA-owned McKay Springs property, subject to receiving the Agency Agreement within 14 days.

Open Session Business
The pending McKay Springs property transfer and a County Planning Commission Public Hearing two days earlier on Wednesday, November 13, were topics discussed During County Administrator Doug Stanley’s Report during the open portion of Friday’s meeting.

That open portion of the meeting was eventful as the full EDA Board received monthly reports and six-month Strategic Priorities Lists from the EDA’s Asset Management, Finance, Communications and Executive Committees; as well as the monthly report on County business; and Executive Director Parsons’ Strategic Priorities List.

Major topics included the status of the Afton Inn as far as the developer resuming work on site; the status of removal of the Earth Right Energy-installed solar panels on the EDA’s Kendrick Lane Office Complex to allow roof repairs to facilitate empty space rental marketing; and the status of resolving payment issues with the Town of Front Royal on the new Police Station across Kendrick Lane.

As part of the Asset Committee Report Jorie Martin told the board that there had been three replies on the solar panel RFP, with one of particular interest. That one was from a non-profit with the expertise to remove the panels, and then market them for resale at no cost to the EDA. Martin added that it was possible the EDA could even see some revenue from the arrangement.

The EDA is abandoning the idea pushed by McDonald to provide sustainable solar power to the EDA Office Complex, ostensibly as an incentive to help attract a high-end commercial client to the county, supposedly Amazon according to one former board member. Issues include a lack of individual unit metering equipment and the fact the Town has sole authority to charge for the provision of power inside the town limits.

Removal of the EDA Kendrick Ln. solar panels will not be as difficult or costly has first thought. It was discovered the panels are not bolted to the roof, and removal might even turn out to be profitable.

During discussion of the Kendrick Lane roof-solar panel situation it was noted that one positive was that the solar panels were not bolted to the roof in any way, and rather are just sitting on the roof on the panel row bases. Executive Director Parsons pointed out that it had been established that the roof damage did not come from the solar panel installation, but was a consequence of “faulty roof work ages back”.

Also during the Asset Committee Report Harold said the committee “was sad to report that the majority of current bad debt and aging receivables is owed by the Town of Front Royal for their municipal projects”. Primary among those projects is the $8 million to $11 million Town Police Station project financed through the EDA.

Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick was present and in response to a question told the EDA that “the Town is in receipt of the invoice that was most recently sent” regarding the police station and that it would be discussed at a coming council work session.

Tederick also said the Town had received an EDA FOIA request and that the Town Finance Director had scanned relevant material which should be forthcoming shortly. The Interim Town Manager said he had discussed with the Town Attorney setting up a conference call for 3 p.m. Monday to discuss Town-EDA issues.

The Town has filed civil litigation against the EDA to collect “as much as $15 million” in assets it believes were misdirected or lost by the Town during McDonald’s executive leadership of the EDA.
Talking to the press after the EDA went into Closed Session Tederick said he believed the referenced FRPD project invoice was for $8.7 million dollars, with assessed interest calculated at 3.5%, which he added, “differs from the agreed-upon terms the Town was originally offered by the EDA.”

How are we paying for this thing? – Someone may have been thinking at the Nov. 1, 2017 groundbreaking for FRPD headquarters, or not …

Tederick confirmed the Town’s perceived agreed-upon interest rate on the FRPD project involved New Market Tax Credit Program (NMTC) financing, which is believed to calculate at about 1% over the life of the bond payback.

“So it’s all coming to a head and we’re trying to figure out how to best move forward,” Tederick said. Asked if the Town and EDA were trying to make the financing dispute less adversarial, the Interim Mayor replied, “Make it less adversarial, of course. But we have to agree upon what we can agree upon. And what we can’t agree upon we have a judge to determine what the right numbers are.”

As Royal Examiner has previously reported, a council majority decided to gamble on a best case New Market Tax Credit scenario brought forward by McDonald during consideration of a bond issue on a number of Town or County Capital Improvement Projects. That NMTC Program would have offered a seven to nine-year interest free payback term over an estimated 20 or 30 year payback.

However, that gamble was made over the advice of then-Town Manager Joe Waltz, Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson and NMTC Regional Administrator People Inc. representative Brian Phipps.

Due to uncertainties with the NMTC Program’s future, as well as municipal competition for limited regional funds controlled by People Inc, Waltz, Wilson and Phipps all recommended to Council that a bank-offered, locked-in 2.65% interest rate over a 30-year payback term was the best bet because its favorable interest rate was locked in and the money was not subject to being lost in a municipal competition for funding.

People Inc. NMTC Program Administrator Brian Phipps tells Town Council that private-sector 2.65% interest locked in for 30 years sounds pretty good, without the gambling aspect of vying for the government funds involved. But a council majority decided to go the ‘casino’ option on a project that didn’t even qualify for the tax credit program.

It was also later established that the FRPD headquarters project didn’t qualify for the NMTC program because it was a capital improvement project that did not create jobs, a primary goal of that federal and state overseen program.

“Here comes the judge,” as comedian Flip Wilson used to say.

Watch the entire open session EDA Special Meeting, with the above-referenced discussions and reports, among others of high interest in the exclusive Royal Examiner video:

Share the News:
Continue Reading

King Cartoons

‘Tis the Season

video

Front Royal
35°
Fair
07:2116:50 EST
Feels like: 29°F
Wind: 8mph W
Humidity: 54%
Pressure: 30.39"Hg
UV index: 2
WedThuFri
39/20°F
39/26°F
40/36°F

Quotes

Upcoming Events

Dec
11
Wed
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 11 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, December 4 and Thursday, December 5: Gingerbread and Candy Canes will be the delicious theme of our stories, songs, and craft this week! Siblings welcome.[...]
Dec
12
Thu
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 12 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, December 4 and Thursday, December 5: Gingerbread and Candy Canes will be the delicious theme of our stories, songs, and craft this week! Siblings welcome.[...]
Dec
13
Fri
6:00 pm Holiday Open House @ Ruby Yoga
Holiday Open House @ Ruby Yoga
Dec 13 @ 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Holiday Open House @ Ruby Yoga
Ruby Yoga will host a Holiday Open House Friday, Dec. 13. Doors open at 6 p.m. with free gentle yoga starting at 6:20, followed by refreshments and door prize drawings.
7:30 pm Canticum Novum: Sing a New Song @ Front Royal Presbyterian Church
Canticum Novum: Sing a New Song @ Front Royal Presbyterian Church
Dec 13 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Canticum Novum: Sing a New Song @ Front Royal Presbyterian Church
The Blue Ridge Singers presents its 2019 Christmas concert titled “Canticum Novum:  Sing a New Song” featuring some of the finest Christmas choral music across the centuries at one of the most popular events in[...]
Dec
14
Sat
11:00 am Celebrate George Washington @ Samuels Public Library
Celebrate George Washington @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 14 @ 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Celebrate George Washington @ Samuels Public Library
December 14 is the 220th anniversary of George Washington’s death. Today we will learn more about this great leader of our country and celebrate his legacy. Refreshments will be served. For ages 7 to 18.[...]
1:00 pm “Clara, Little Mouse & the Golde... @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
“Clara, Little Mouse & the Golde... @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Dec 14 @ 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
"Clara, Little Mouse & the Golden Key" @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Join us for this original version of the timeless story ballet The Nutcracker Suite. Follow Clara and Little Mouse on a journey to find what the Golden Key unlocks… Christmas will never be the same[...]
Dec
15
Sun
4:00 pm R-MA Hosts Community Christmas C... @ Randolph-Macon Academy | Boggs Chapel
R-MA Hosts Community Christmas C... @ Randolph-Macon Academy | Boggs Chapel
Dec 15 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
R-MA Hosts Community Christmas Concert @ Randolph-Macon Academy | Boggs Chapel
The local community is invited to join the Randolph-Macon Academy family for an afternoon of holiday spirit with the R-MA Band and Chorus! The annual R-MA Christmas Concert will be held on Sunday, December 15th,[...]
Dec
17
Tue
4:30 pm Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 17 @ 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Tuesday, December 3: Kids will explore popular books and book series through science, games, food, and more! After reading a Christmas story, we’ll discuss giving and how it affects us and the people around us.[...]
7:30 pm Christmas Concert @ Boggs Chapel on the R-MA Campus
Christmas Concert @ Boggs Chapel on the R-MA Campus
Dec 17 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Christmas Concert @ Boggs Chapel on the R-MA Campus
Christmas Concert | Presented by the American Legion Community Band Tuesday, December 17, 2019, at 7:30 pm Boggs Chapel on the R-MA campus in Front Royal, VA
Dec
18
Wed
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 18 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, December 4 and Thursday, December 5: Gingerbread and Candy Canes will be the delicious theme of our stories, songs, and craft this week! Siblings welcome.[...]