Things appear to continue to be turning in a positive direction for the Warren County Economic Development Authority (WC-EDA) in the wake of the recent sale of the Afton Inn for redevelopment by the 2 East Main LLC investment group. On the heels of that sale, authorized at a Special Meeting of February 12 and finalized a week later, the WC-EDA held its monthly meeting by way of the now familiar virtually connected ZOOM format the morning of Friday, February 26.
Two things stood out during the open session sandwiching a 57-minute closed session. The first was the welcoming of Town Manager Steven Hicks shortly after the 8 a.m. meeting start. It was the first appearance of a town manager with an accompanying update on Town business at an EDA Board of Directors meeting in about 18 months.
That traditional line of communications was terminated during the tenure of former Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick as the town government took on an increasingly adversarial and litigious stance with the EDA as a revamped EDA board worked to right its ship in the wake of the $21-million-plus financial scandal alleged to have developed during the tenure of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.
EDA civil litigation gets reboot
The second positive note came post closed session during Board Chairman Jeff Browne’s Executive Committee Report. Browne acknowledged a decision by Harrisonburg-based U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Rebecca B. Connelly returning consideration of exactly what assets Jennifer McDonald can claim as part of her bankruptcy filing to the state court level.
“The bankruptcy court has remanded her particular case to state court to assess damages, at which point damages are assessed it will go back to the bankruptcy court to decide whether or not it should go back to the state courts or be handled in the bankruptcy court,” Browne told his board.
Contacted after the meeting, Browne elaborated on the implications of Judge Connelly’s ruling. He explained it will allow the EDA’s civil litigation against McDonald to re-start to determine exactly what EDA assets McDonald may have misappropriated and how they may have been used to purchase properties or other tangible assets. Her surviving real estate company MoveOn8 is also part of her bankruptcy filing, he noted.
When the state court findings are returned to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Harrisonburg, Judge Connelly will determine what assets McDonald can legitimately claim as her own that are subject to bankruptcy claims and asset distribution, versus what assets held by her or her real estate company the EDA would have civil claim to as restitution for her alleged criminal acts of embezzlement and misappropriation of EDA funds to her own use.
A virtual Town-EDA ‘lovefest’
Back on the Town-EDA relations front, EDA Board Chairman Browne welcomed Hicks by virtual connection, offering him the opportunity to give his report prior to adjournment to the closed session. And while an opening portion of that report was acknowledgment of the town council’s decision to move forward with creation of its own EDA with Hicks as executive director, that there was a renewed sense of Town-EDA cooperation was soon apparent.
“As town manager I’m here to help in any way I can,” Hicks told Browne and the four-member EDA Board quorum present virtually (Browne, Harold, Pattison, Wolfe), before reporting on the status of the Town’s FY-2022 Budget process.
“I just want to congratulate you on your new position. You must have found the secret to a 48-hour day,” Browne told Hicks at the conclusion of the town manager’s report. “I just want to tell you for our board, that anything we can do to help in the areas you’re focused on: redevelopment, tourism, retention of businesses are all good things that we look forward to working with FREDA (Front Royal Economic Development Authority) on.
“We would like to work with you and coordinate with the Town. I think that we can do a lot to help economic development for the entire area. So, we appreciate you’re stepping up and taking on what will be a challenging task,” Browne added of Hicks new dual role.
“Will do – I’ll definitely stay in contact and share everything as much as I can with you and Doug (EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons) and Ed (Warren County Interim County Administrator Ed Daley). So yea, sounds great,” Hicks replied.
At that point EDA Board member Jim Wolfe, who has taken point in his board’s work on development of short and long-term Strategic Planning on economic development and job creation, joined the conversation. Wolfe offered to get a copy of what the WC-EDA has done on that front recently to Hicks by Monday.
“Then you and I can sit down and talk about it at some point. And if any other board members want to join me … So, I want to make sure that the … Town has our plan and use that for a touch point for how you coordinate on different projects,” Wolfe said of developing a unified plan of action community wide.
“I’d appreciate that,” Hicks replied, perhaps seeing his “48-hour days” reduced in some measure by that level of County EDA involvement with his work on the Town side. Continuing in that vein of cooperation, Hicks added, “Again, I just wanted to call in (on ZOOM) and touch base with you all and be as transparent as I can. And always reach out to me when you need anything, and I’ll do the same.”
“Good, thank you so much,” Browne replied to the new attitude being reflected out of Front Royal Town Hall as Hicks signed off from the meeting.
EDA moves on line of credit extension, continued County financial support and Baugh Drive HVAC repairs
Following a 4-hour Closed Session at its monthly meeting on May 21st, the Front Royal-Warren County Board of Directors passed two resolutions and one motion:
On a motion by Jorie Martin, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the EDA Board unanimously approved the following resolution:
RESOLUTION OF THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE TOWN OF FRONT ROYAL AND THE COUNTY OF WARREN, VIRGINIA, APPROVING AN EXTENSION OF THE EXISTING LINE OF CREDIT
WHEREAS, the Industrial Development Authority of the Town of Front Royal and the County of Warren, Virginia (the “Authority”) has requested the extension of its existing line of credit (the “Line of Credit”) with First Bank and Trust (the “Lender”) and such extension has been agreed to by the Lender in a commitment letter dated May 11, 2021 (the “FB&T Commitment”) a copy of which is on file with the Authority.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE TOWN OF FRONT ROYAL AND THE COUNTY OF WARREN, VIRGINIA:
1. The Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Authority, either of whom may act, is hereby authorized and directed to execute and deliver the FB&T Commitment which extends the maturity date of the Line of Credit from June 30, 2021, to September 30, 2021.
2. This resolution shall take effect immediately.
And also on a motion by Jorie Martin, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the EDA Board unanimously approved the following resolution:
RESOLUTION OF THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE TOWN OF FRONT ROYAL AND THE COUNTY OF WARREN, VIRGINIA, APPROVING AN UPDATED SUPPORT AGREEMENT WITH THE COUNTY OF WARREN, VIRGINIA RELATING TO A FORBEARANCE AGREEMENT AND APPROVING AN EXTENSION OF SUCH FORBEARANCE AGREEMENT
WHEREAS, the Industrial Development Authority of the Town of Front Royal and the County of Warren, Virginia (the “Authority”) has requested the continuation of assistance from the Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) of the County of Warren, Virginia (the “County”) by entering into an updated Support Agreement, to undertake a non-binding obligation to appropriate moneys to the Authority in connection with the Forbearance Agreement, dated March 10, 2020 (the “Forbearance Agreement”) between the Authority and First Bank (the “Lender”) relating to monthly debt service payments of the Authority due to the Lender under the EDA Loans (as defined in the Forbearance Agreement) during the 2022 Fiscal Year and the extension of such Forbearance Agreement from June 30, 2021, to June 30, 2022.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE TOWN OF FRONT ROYAL AND THE COUNTY OF WARREN, VIRGINIA:
1. In consideration of the Authority’s undertakings with respect to the Forbearance Agreement, the Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Authority, either of whom may act, is hereby authorized and directed to execute and deliver the Support Agreement and to extend the Forbearance Agreement from June 30, 2021, to June 30, 2022. The Support Agreement shall be in substantially the form presented to this meeting, which is hereby approved, with such completions, omissions, insertions, or changes not inconsistent with this resolution as may be approved by the Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Authority, in their sole discretion, the execution thereof by the Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Authority to constitute conclusive evidence of his or her approval of such completions, omissions, insertions or changes.
2. The Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Authority, either of whom may act, is authorized to extend the Forbearance Period (as defined in the Forbearance Agreement) from June 30, 2021, to June 30, 2022, and to approved documentation of such extension.
3. This resolution shall take effect immediately.
Finally, on a motion by Tom Patteson, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the EDA Board unanimously approved a motion to authorize the Chair to sign an agreement with AirServe to replace Rooftop Unit #1 and repair Rooftop Units #4 and 5 at 426 Baugh Dr. for $18,796.
The EDA Board of Directors will have their next regular monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, June 25, 2021, at 8 a.m.
(From a release by the WC EDA)
EDA vacancies filled; supervisors forward resolution urging action on EDA criminal prosecutions
The final items on the Warren County Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening agenda were two Economic Development Authority matters. The second of those was appointments to fill the two vacant seats on the EDA Board of Directors. Those vacancies were created by the supervisors’ majority decision to make Ed Daley’s interim county administrator’s appointment more lengthy than originally anticipated when the retired Frederick County-Winchester area municipal manager was tapped from the EDA Board following the forced resignation of long-time Administrator Doug Stanley, and by the amount of out-of-state work, Melissa Gordon has been engaged in recently.
Appointed to fill those seats were Scott Jenkins and Robert Hencken.
Jenkins and his wife Lisa are proprietors of Mountain Home Bed & Breakfast on the county’s south side and are active in tourism promotion endeavors locally. Hencken has been a member of the county’s Broadband Committee. Further information on the appointees will be provided when available from the County.
The pace of criminal justice
Preceding those appointments was the approval of a Resolution expressing a collective discontent at the pace at which the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal case is proceeding. Following John Bell’s 2019 election, in early 2020 his office recused itself collectively from those cases due to personal or professional connections leading to potential conflicts of interest. Criminal indictments dating to Brian Madden’s tenure as Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney were eventually dropped by the Special Prosecutor’s Office in Rockingham County to avoid case dismissals due to the volume of material – over a million pages of documentation – leading to a permanent dismissal of cases on defense motions related to a prosecutorial failure to meet speedy trial standards.
As it stands, new old indictments can be re-filed or new ones filed when prosecutors are ready to move toward trial. However, another delay occurred when the Special Prosecutor’s Office turned the case over to federal authorities in the Western District of Virginia. The consequent lag time in a renewal of criminal prosecutions related to the $26-million dollar-plus EDA financial scandal and civil litigation has frustrated some citizens, and now it seems, those citizens’ elected officials.
The “Resolution Seeking Justice For The Citizens Of Warren County” was passed on a unanimous voice vote on a motion by Delores Oates, seconded by Walt Mabe.
Following an introductory paragraph, a six-paragraph series of sentences beginning with “WHEREAS” traces the EDA’s mission of promoting local economic development; former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s role in a position “of public trust” in that endeavor; the allegations that “from at least 2016 until 2018, McDonald, along with various others, engaged in a variety of schemes to unlawfully take millions of dollars in money and property from the EDA for her own personal benefit”; the criminal charging and dismissals described above; concluding with the fact that “currently, no criminal charges are pending against McDonald.”
The Resolution then concludes: “Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved By The Board As Follows:
1. The Board requests that a criminal prosecution be instituted as soon as possible against McDonald and any other parties who aided or conspired with McDonald to steal EDA funds or property.
2. The Board authorizes and directs the County Administrator to transmit a copy of this resolution to Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Daniel P. Bubar, Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell, Congressman Ben Cline, Senator Mark Warner, Senator Tim Kaine, State Senator Mark D. Obenshain, Delegate C Todd Gilbert, Delegate William D Wiley, Delegate Michael J. Webert, and all local media.”
Followed by acknowledgment the Resolution is considered immediately in effect upon its adoption on May 18, 2021.
Intent of Resolution
Royal Examiner contacted Board Chairperson Cheryl Cullers several days after the resolution’s passage to explore the process of mixing politics and law enforcement, as the resolution seems to do in ordering distribution of it to elected officials at the state and federal level with its “as soon as possible” assertion. Cullers said rather than politicization of a law enforcement endeavor, the resolution’s intent was largely informational.
“I think with this the intent was to let people know that we do want to see justice for them in this case with the small amount of encouragement we can give, rather than to tell law enforcement how to do its job,” the Warren County board chair asserted. She pointed to the lengthy delay in re-establishing criminal prosecutions, as noted above the criminal cases have passed through the hands of three different prosecutorial agencies, finally being passed from the state to federal level from late 2019 to early 2020.
Cullers said that while she has not experienced much direct feedback from constituents, she is aware of social media expressions of frustration at the lack of action on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal litigation since the original indictments were dropped by the Special Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg to assure they could be re-filed when prosecutors were ready to proceed to trials against multiple defendants.
But when might that be after over a year of no visible action at the federal level?
With the May 18th passing of the “Seeking Justice” resolution that is now, not only a matter of citizen but official county concern as well. Tasked by the county supervisors with distribution of the resolution to state and federal elected officials and the media, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley agreed with Cullers’ assessment, adding a subtle political push to the equation.
“I think the intent is to assure that the case is proceeding, and is not put in the inactive case file at the federal level,” Daley told Royal Examiner on Thursday afternoon, as the staff was preparing the resolution’s distribution documentation.
The full text of the resolution is available here.
Those two EDA-related matters begin at the 2-hour-and-13-minute mark of the County meeting video.
Following Joint Closed Session with County, EDA authorizes $9-million civil settlement negotiation with former executive director
The Board of Directors met with the Warren County Board of Supervisors in a joint meeting at their Work Session on Tuesday, May 11. Following an approximately 90-minute Closed Meeting, on a motion by Greg Harold, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the EDA Board unanimously approved the following resolution:
RESOLVED, that the Sands Anderson, P.C. law firm is authorized to enter into such agreements and make such court pleadings on behalf of the Industrial Development Authority of the Town of Front Royal and the County of Warren, Virginia (“EDA”) as may be necessary to effectuate in favor of the EDA a resolution of the EDA’s claims against Jennifer McDonald, MoveOn8, LLC, and DaBoyz, LLC, which resolution shall include provisions (i) that any judgment against Jennifer McDonald, MoveOn8, LLC, and DaBoyz LLC shall be the joint and several liability of all three entities, (ii) that any judgment against Jennifer McDonald, MoveOn8, LLC, and DaBoyz, LLC shall not be dischargeable in bankruptcy, and (iii) that any such judgment be for no less than $9,000,000.
The EDA has successfully proved in civil court that Ms. McDonald and the two corporations associated with her owe money to the EDA, and by extension, to the citizens of our community. This resolution, resulting in a significant judgment in favor of the EDA, once properly approved and entered by the courts, will represent an important milestone in the EDA’s effort to recover losses it has incurred in this matter. The judgment, if approved by the courts, will not be dischargeable in bankruptcy and these defendants will be liable for it until it is paid.
The Board understands that the citizens of Front Royal and Warren County expect accountability and restitution by any and all parties who were involved in misconduct or other unlawful takings from the EDA. This resolution, with support from the Warren County Board of Supervisors, is a step forward in that direction.
The EDA Board of Directors will persist in seeking redress for losses incurred by the EDA. Just as importantly, the EDA will continue moving forward, working diligently to bring jobs and investment to Front Royal and Warren County.
The EDA Board of Directors will have their next regular monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, May 21, 2021, at 8 a.m.
EDA announces 1-year lease with SYSCO on Baugh Drive warehouse
In a special meeting, the Warren County/Front Royal Economic Development Authority on April 30, 2021, has leased the 426 Baugh property to Sysco until May 2022. The monthly lease is $28,800 per month.
Earlier the EDA had made arrangements to sell the former Atlantic Skyline Building at 426 Baugh Drive for the full asking price of $5,750,000 to Parallel Virginia, LLC, a pharmaceutical processor of medical cannabis. The sale was contingent upon the conditional approval of the company’s application for a pharmaceutical processor permit in Health Service Area 1 by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy – that decision that was expected in March 2021 apparently had been postponed.
EDA ups ante in civil litigation versus McDonald – without defense objection
Could the Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) and its former executive director, Jennifer McDonald, be headed toward a settlement of the EDA’s multi-million dollar civil litigation against her and her two real estate LLCs, MoveOn8 and DaBoyz? That would appear to be a possibility in the wake of a “Stipulations” agreement hearing Friday morning, April 9, in Warren County Circuit Courtroom A.
After the adjournment of the 9 a.m. docket hearing to deal with remote phone connection issues for other defendants’ attorneys not present for the two-pronged April 9 hearing, Judge Bruce D. Albertson reentered the courtroom at 9:25 a.m. with the remote connection issues resolved. EDA lead civil attorney Cullen Seltzer of the Richmond law firm of Sands Anderson then read the five-point “Stipulations” submission to the court as McDonald and her attorney Peter Greenspun listened at the defense table.
The first of those stipulations set an amount of $62,315,315.51 as the EDA’s claimed damages in the civil case against McDonald and her two real estate companies alleged to have been used to move EDA assets to her or co-defendants’ personal benefit. It is worth noting that the original EDA civil litigation filing was in the $21-million range, later being amended with added defendants to near $28 million.
The second and third stipulations note that the McDonald-LLC defendants “take no position on the basis for” that plaintiff-claimed amount; nor do they admit to “any wrongdoing” regarding the EDA’s claim of damages.
It is the wording of the final two stipulations approved by the court that may hint at negotiation between the plaintiff and defendant:
“The Defaulted Defendants (McDonald, MoveOn8, and DaBoyz) have endorsed an order providing money damages judgment in the amount of $62,315,315.51 in favor of the plaintiff (the ‘Money Judgment Order’),” Stipulation 4 reads, followed by this:
“No sooner than 60 days from April 9, 2021, Plaintiff’s counsel may tender to the Court the Money Judgment Order if the Defaulted Defendants and the Plaintiff do not sooner enter into an agreement satisfactory to the parties. The Defaulted Defendants do not oppose the Court’s entry of the Money Judgment Order once tendered pursuant to this paragraph.”
Defense attorney Greenspun and his client left the courtroom after the five minutes it took for the “Stipulations” submission to be read to the court by EDA counsel and for Judge Albertson to accept them, as indicated above, without objection from the defendant or her counsel, as the second part of the morning’s hearing began. That hearing was on a “Protective Order” request by defendant April Petty’s attorney Bill Shmidheiser to prevent volumes of his client’s bank records not relevant to the EDA case against Petty being posted on a secured database accessible by all the associated defendants, 15 in the first amended complaint and nine more added later.
Shmidheiser cited 3 pages related to a $41,000 check deposit regarding one real estate transaction as relevant to the case out of an estimated one thousand pages of Petty’s bank records from at least six accounts reviewed by the plaintiff attorneys and posted to the database.
EDA co-counsel Sean Hutson argued that the defendant should not be the one to determine the relevance of her own documents, that other defendants’ counsel should. After he polled four defense attorneys connected to the hearing remotely and getting four “no objections” to Petty’s counsel’s request, Judge Albertson granted Petty’s requested exclusion of apparently unrelated bank records from the case database.
Following adjournment after that 20-minute hearing, we asked EDA lead counsel Seltzer about the implications of the Money Judgment Order “Stipulations” agreement approved by the court earlier. However, he declined to discuss details of the status of an active case on the record.
So, we soon tried EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne with whom we’d briefly discussed the morning’s hearing following adjournment of an 8 a.m. Emergency Meeting of the EDA Board earlier that morning. No action followed a 50-minute closed session. During the brief open session, Browne explained the “emergency” designation simply meant the meeting had been called within 24 hours of its convening.
While also reluctant to discuss the still-active EDA civil litigation, Browne did observe that the entering of a signed agreement by the involved parties citing a 60-day window to reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion was a positive sign that discussion would take place. Of the potential of such discussion, Browne observed, “If we can avoid trial and save tons of money by coming to an agreement it would be a positive development. I hope it works out.”
County updating equipment, rewriting IT software in wake of system ‘intrusion’
During his update on County business at the virtual meeting of the Warren County-Front Royal Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Friday morning, March 26, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley addressed the status of the County’s software situation in the wake of the early March discovery of what has been termed an “intrusion” of that system. Daley has fallen short of calling the incident a “hack” due to an absence of discovered consequences such as stolen files or manipulation of existing files or systems.
However, the consequences which began with a nearly three-week halt in use of all county officials and staff emails due to the County server being taken down as a security precautionary measure, continues to be felt. As previously reported, the local IT system intrusion was part of a larger “intrusion” of software at various unspecified locations across the country. It’s source and purpose continues to be a matter of investigation from the federal level down.
A day prior to Daley’s report at the EDA’s monthly meeting, Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall’s March 25 County “Situation Report” also began with an update on the post software “intrusion” consequences:
- Warren County Email Update
- Warren County, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services are still experiencing significant computer/email issues. The County is working diligently to restore full computer and email service to all personnel.
- Please note that any emails sent to County personnel at warrencountva.net, warrencountysheriff.org, or warrencountyfire.com may not be received until all email services are fully restored.
A clue to that restored service came Friday during the interim county administrator’s report to the EDA. Daley told the EDA board that 150 new laptop computers were slated to arrive Tuesday (March 30). Contacted late Friday afternoon, Daley told Royal Examiner by phone that it was anticipated all County emails would be back online at the beginning of the coming week, possibly coinciding with the arrival of the new computers and a rewrite of the County IT network. The system overhaul is to assure whoever was behind the intrusion no longer has access to the system, Daley explained. In a late update Monday morning, Daley said it now appeared the computers would not arrive until Thursday, delaying the restored email use until later in the week.
“We’re just busy buying computers and throwing computers out and wondering why we still have 2007 computers… – It’s a new experience every day,” Daley began his report to the EDA board Friday morning.
“Well, we wish the County well – it’s a horrible problem,” EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne told his former fellow EDA Board member and chairman. EDA officials later told Royal Examiner the separate EDA server had not been impacted by the County intrusion, though a downed 10-year-old router had temporarily taken the EDA system offline for about a day this past week.
As noted in our original story on the hack – “A new municipal ‘normal’ – large scale software ‘intrusions’ and targeting an international human organ harvesting business?!?” – Daley said that while the beginning date of the intrusion hadn’t been established, it was verified it did not involve or impact election data from last November.
Daley told us that discussion of acquiring upgraded technology for the County was already underway when the intrusion was discovered March 7 to 12. In fact, the old County Information Technology was only capable of support of Windows 7, which will soon be non-serviceable as Window 10 and beyond continue development.
“So this gave us a reason to upgrade now,” Daley told Royal Examiner of the County IT software intrusion. One sign of the upgrade will be an eventual switch from .net to .gov in the County network, including staff and other official emails.