Jennifer R. McDonald, executive director of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) was acquitted Wednesday (October 31) on a misdemeanor charge of filing a false police report during a Virginia State Police investigation in June of last year.
Judge W. Dale Houff, following a bench trial (trial without a jury), brought the hour-long hearing in the Warren County General District Court to an abrupt halt when, following a parade of about a dozen witnesses for the prosecution, he allowed a motion to strike (dismiss) the case by defense attorney David Crump immediately following the prosecution’s case.
The charge stemmed from an alleged rock-throwing incident at the 42-year-old McDonald’s home on Faith Way, Front Royal, on June 15, 2017 during which a “crumpled note” was left in front of the house containing two telephone numbers and a typed message, which was not read aloud in court, though the paper was passed back and forth between prosecuting and defense attorneys several times.
The issue was that McDonald had told Royal Examiner reporter Roger Bianchini of the rock being thrown at her house, shattering glass, and a note left on the lawn, some five hours before she reported the incident in a 911 call to Front Royal Police. Based on this information, the Virginia State Police, who were called in by FRPD to conduct the investigation, accused McDonald of filing a false report.
During cross-examination defense counsel Crump read from the transcript of Bianchini’s June 16, 2017 interview with FRPD in which he stated, “My train of thought derails frequently.”
Asked if he said that, Bianchini said, “Yes,” adding that the comment referred to “conversations that went off on multiple tangents.”
Judge Houff said there was no sense that McDonald would fabricate a report and there was no evidence that she did, and it was not believable that she would “set herself up” for a false report charge, a Class 1 misdemeanor. “The evidence is not sufficient,” he said.
After the hearing, McDonald, wearing a black two-piece suit, smilingly declined to comment on the outcome.
Crump, her attorney, said: “Justice was served.”
Culpeper, VA residents arrested after investigation by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force has concluded a lengthy investigation with the arrest of two Culpeper, Virginia, residents.
Daiquan L. Thompson, 24, and Octavia Richards, 45, were arrested by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force following a search warrant executed along the 300 block of Wine Street in the Town of Culpeper. As a result of the operation, 67 grams (670 pills) of pressed fentanyl were seized along with 2 firearms. The drugs seized have an approximate street value of $16,750.
Thompson was arrested and charged with one felony count of possession with intent to distribute schedule I/II drug, one felony count of possession of a firearm while in possession of schedule I/II drug, one felony count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and two felony counts of child endangerment. Richards was arrested and charged with one felony count of possession with intent to distribute schedule I/II drugs, one felony count of possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, and two felony counts of child endangerment. Thompson and Richards were transported to the Culpeper County Jail, where they were held without bond.
Thompson is a known gang member and is being investigated for violating his probation conditions.
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force comprises law enforcement personnel from the Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison, and Rappahannock Sheriff’s Offices, Culpeper, Warrenton, and Orange Police Departments and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office.
Judge ponders rulings in multiple defense motions to overturn civil case jury finding of liability in EDA financial scandal cases
After over five hours of arguments surrounding five EDA civil case defendants’ motions to overturn jury liability verdicts totaling over $14-million, Judge Bruce D. Albertson took those arguments under advisement Wednesday afternoon, November 30th. Some court officials anticipate rulings at some point in the coming week in the cases of April Petty ($125,000 compensatory judgement liability); William Lambert ($296,555.34 compensatory, punitive, & interest liabilities); Donald “Donnie” Poe ($604,973.12 compensatory, punitive, interest); Truc “Curt” Tran ($1,821,192.01 compensatory, interest); and Samuel “Sammy” North (approximately $893,000 compensatory, punitive, interest, & statutory conspiracy).
In addition to the above personal liabilities, Poe’s EarthRight Energy (ERE) company ($948,646.25 in compensatory, punitive, interest) and Tran’s ITFederal ($10,419,327.38 compensatory) were also handed down by Warren County Circuit Court civil case juries in recent months.
All but North’s trial were heard in July. North’s, also originally scheduled for July, was delayed to October by a later withdrawn bankruptcy filing. This week on the final day of November, attorneys for the defendants echoed arguments sometimes heard at trial during earlier motions for dismissal of cases or claims against their clients due to what defense attorneys asserted both then and now, was a lack of substantive evidence of collusion with EDA financial scandal central figure and former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald. Rather, some defense attorneys claimed their clients were unwitting victims of McDonald’s from various business or personal connections.
Those personal connections include North’s marriage to McDonald; Lambert’s former personal relationship with McDonald’s sister; what attorney William Schmidheiser called Petty’s casual acquaintance McDonald, acting as his client’s real estate agent in the sale of her home. On the business side, Poe’s ERE company was contracted through McDonald to perform various solar energy and energy maintenance projects for the EDA under what plaintiff EDA attorneys contended were false pretenses McDonald presented to her board of directors; and Tran’s ITFederal was recruited through the joint effort of McDonald and then Virginia Sixth District U.S. House Representative Bob Goodlatte to become the first commercial redevelopment client at the former Avtex Superfund site, also with what plaintiff counsel said were false contractual and asset information concerning ITFederal alleged to have been presented to the EDA board.
Several attorneys, most prominently Tran attorney David Jones Jr., also argued that several claims categories should not have applied to their clients at trial. Prominent among those were the “ultra vires” claim of profiting off the actions of an official acting outside the range of their legal authority, and associated claims of “conversion” and “unjust enrichment” being applied to their clients for actions of then EDA Executive Director McDonald. Consequently, Jones for Tran particularly and other defense attorneys argued that some jury instructions submitted were improper, creating an incorrect evidentiary scenario for those juries to deliberate on. So, procedural errors on bench rulings on evidence admissibility or jury instructions were claimed as grounds to overturn jury verdicts.
In Poe and ERE’s case, defense counsel William Ashwell also noted that some of the contracted work had been successfully completed by Poe’s company. He told the court that when payments were made by the EDA board to his client’s company: “The EDA eventually adopts her (McDonald’s) actions by their actions” and consequently his client is not the one who should be held liable for the return of money for work accomplished. Ashwell also sought to overturn any personal liability of Poe for payments made to his company.
In opening his arguments to overturn or limit Tran and ITFederal’s liability, Jones noted that he was “in the somewhat unenviable position of not being the trial attorney – Am I in the position of fresh eyes or of where fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” Jones wondered as he launched what would be an approximate hour of argument on his client’s behalf. During that hour Jones questioned the liability finding on a number of grounds and questioned whether ITFederal was, in fact, in breach of contract as claimed by the EDA in seeking recovery of the balance of the $10-million loan the EDA gave ITFederal for development at the former Avtex site.
Plaintiff counsel Cullen Seltzer and Karissa Kaseorg countered, as they had at trial, that McDonald’s assertions to her board about the source of funding for the ERE energy and electrical work being through grants that would compensate the EDA for its payments to ERE; or alleged government contracts held by Tran’s ITFederal company that were non-existent created the path for those payments, and a $10-million loan in ITFederal’s case, substantiating the juries findings of liability on ultra vires, conversion, and unjust enrichment, among other plaintiff claims.
In response to some of Jones’ arguments for reduction or dismissal of his clients’ liability, Kaseorg told Judge Albertson that the motions to overturn hearings should not be an opportunity for defense counsel to retry the case with a “what we wish we had done” at trial. Of Jones’ argument to dismiss based on the inclusion of the plaintiff’s “conversion” jury instruction, plaintiff counsel noted that the defense had agreed to the conversion jury instruction at trial.
In conclusion plaintiff EDA counsel asserted the judicial decisions from the bench at trial had been proper as to both evidence admissibility and jury instructions, and that those jury verdicts of financial liability based on both sides cases as presented at trial should stand as handed down by those five juries. And now we are awaiting a decision on how the court will rate its own performance at those trials based on the defendants’ challenges and the plaintiff’s counter-arguments in support of the judicial rulings made at trial.
Culpeper man arrested after lengthy investigation by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force has concluded a lengthy investigation with the arrest of a Culpeper, VA, resident.
On Monday (November 28), Daniel Ruiz-Torres, 29, was arrested by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force following a search warrant along the 200 block of Jenkins Avenue in the Town of Culpeper.
As a result of the operation, a small amount of cocaine was seized along with drug paraphernalia, packaging materials, scales, $8,844 in currency, and two vehicles. Ruiz-Torres was arrested and charged with one felony count of possession with intent to distribute schedule I/II drugs and one felony count of possession of a schedule I/II drug. Ruiz-Torres was transported to the Culpeper County Jail, where he was held without bond.
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force (BRNGTF) is composed of law enforcement personnel from the Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison, and Rappahannock Sheriff’s Offices, Culpeper, Warrenton, Orange Police Departments, and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office.
Charlottesville man charged with solicitation of minors
On Wednesday, November 9, 2022, Front Royal Police detectives initiated an investigation regarding the solicitation of minors in the Warren County/Front Royal area. Detectives started a proactive approach to apprehend individuals soliciting underage victims for sexual purposes.
An undercover operation ensued, and an adult male began soliciting one of our detectives, who he believed to be a female under the age of 15 years old, for photographs and sexually explicit material. The adult male suspect sent sexually explicit materials to the detective, who was posing in an undercover capacity as a juvenile. Some of the material sent by the offender was Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). The initial conversation was unsolicited and started by the offender in this case.
During the investigation, a designated meeting place was arranged within the Town of Front Royal, and the male traveled and met the undercover detectives posing as a juvenile female for lascivious intent.
Through the course of this investigation, police identified the suspect as 53-year-old Charlottesville, VA, resident Avery Wood. After meeting with the detectives, Wood was arrested on November 22, 2022, and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail. Wood went before the magistrate and was ordered to be held without bond. The court date for the listed offenses has been set for December 15, 2022, at 09:00 a.m. in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
The Front Royal Police Department is an active member of the Northern Virginia/DC Metro (NOVA/DC) Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which is coordinated by the Virginia State Police. We request anyone with information regarding the solicitation or exploitation of a minor contact Front Royal Police Department. Anyone with further information regarding this case, please contact Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Front Royal Police Department would like to thank the Frederick and Warren County Sheriff’s Offices for their assistance with this investigation and the successful apprehension of this individual.
Arizona man sentenced in southwest Virginia meth conspiracy
A defendant in a drug distribution organization that trafficked methamphetamine from Texas and Indiana into Southwest Virginia was recently sentenced in federal court on drug conspiracy charges, United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh and Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced.
Pedro Loza III, 28, of Bullhead City, Arizona, was sentenced to 72 months in federal prison this week. He was previously convicted of one count of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute and distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine and one count of possessing with the intent to distribute and distribute 5 grams or more of methamphetamine.
In all, five individuals were charged as being part of this drug trafficking conspiracy, four of whom have now been sentenced for their roles in the scheme. Paul Warren Rucker previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison in July 2022. Defendants Amber Lynn Tackett and Benjamin Alvis entered guilty pleas and are scheduled for sentencing in April 2023. The lead defendant, Alonso Cantu-Cantu, is scheduled for trial in March 2023.
This case arose from a series of indictments stemming from an ongoing methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy operating primarily in the Smyth County, Virginia area. In total, 26 defendants have been charged in connection with the investigation.
This investigation was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Bristol, Virginia Office, with assistance from the Smyth County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office. Numerous other agencies also provided assistance throughout the investigation, including the Drug Enforcement Administration in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Birmingham, Alabama, the Washington County Virginia Sheriff’s Office, the Abingdon, Virginia Police Department, the Rockingham County Virginia RUSH Drug Task Force, the Rockingham County Virginia Sheriff’s Office, the
Harrisonburg, Virginia Police Department, the Bessemer, Alabama Police Department, the Virginia Department of Corrections, the Virginia Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Unit, and the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority.
Special Assistant United States Attorney M. Suzanne Kerney-Quillen, a Senior Assistant Attorney General assigned to the Virginia Attorney General’s Major Crimes and Emerging Threats Section, prosecuted the case for the United States.
Investigation remains ongoing into shooting incident at UVA
The criminal investigation remains ongoing into the tragic shootings that claimed the lives of three University of Virginia (UVA) students and injured two others on the evening of Nov. 13, 2022. Christopher D. Jones Jr., 22, of Petersburg, Va., had his first appearance in Albemarle County General District Court on Nov. 16, 2022 on three felony counts of 2nd degree murder, two felony counts of malicious wounding, and five felony counts of the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Jones is being held at the Charlottesville-Albemarle County Regional Jail without bond.
The investigation confirms that Jones had traveled with other UVA students on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, to Washington, D.C. to attend a theater performance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Following the play, the students and a professor ate dinner in the District. The professor and 22 students returned to Charlottesville in a chartered bus, arriving at UVA at approximately 10:15 p.m. that same day.
The chartered bus pulled to a stop at Culbreth Garage on The Grounds. As the students were getting up to exit the bus, Jones produced a weapon and began firing. As Jones exited the bus, he fired additional rounds and then fled the scene on foot. Jones left the area in his black Dodge Durango.
At approximately 11 a.m. on Nov. 14, 2022, Henrico County, Va. Police apprehended Jones without incident. The officer observed Jones’ SUV and initiated a traffic stop in the 5700 block of Edgelawn St. in the eastern area of the county.
Investigators are still actively piecing together Jones’ movements between the time he fled the shooting scene and was apprehended in Henrico County. At this stage of the investigation, state police is not in a position to comment on Jones’ motives behind the shootings.
Devin Chandler, 20, of Virginia Beach, Va., and D’Sean Perry, 22, of Miami, Fla., succumbed to their injuries at the scene. Lavel Davis Jr., 20, of Ridgeville, S.C., was transported to UVA Medical Center, where he later died from his injuries sustained in the shooting. Their remains were transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner for autopsy and examination.
A 19-year-old student from Baton Rouge, La. and a 19-year-old student from Houston, Texas were also shot. They both were transported to UVA Medical Center for treatment of life threatening and non-life threatening injuries, respectively.
During the course of the investigation, a handgun was recovered in relative proximity to the shooting scene. No firearms were recovered inside the bus. A search warrant, executed by investigators on Jones’ residence in Charlottesville, resulted in the recovery of a rifle and a handgun. All firearms have been turned over as evidence to the ATF for processing.
The investigation remains ongoing at this time with the assistance of the University of Virginia Police, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Albemarle County Police, Charlottesville Police, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Office of the Virginia Attorney General, ATF and FBI.