HARRISONBURG , VIRGINIA – A federal grand jury returned a six-count indictment this week charging five individuals in connection with heroin trafficking from Maryland into Shenandoah County, Virginia that caused one fatal and one non-fatal overdose, United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced today.
In an indictment returned under seal on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 and unsealed this week after arrests were made, the grand jury has charged the following:
Craig Allen Kidwell, 52, and Norman Lynda Kidwell, 54, both of Mount Jackson, Va., were each charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 100 grams or more of a substance containing a detectable amount of heroin resulting in death and resulting in serious bodily injury and one count of distribution and possession with the intent to distribute resulting in the death of J.H. and the serious bodily injury of J.W.
James Harold Lichliter, 52, of Mauretown, Va., Stacy Allen Marston, 42, of Woodstock, Va., and Jonathan Dale Neice, 42, of Woodstock, Va., were each charged with one count of distribution and possession with the intent to distribute resulting in the death of J.H. and the serious bodily injury of J.W.
“Over the last two years, more Americans have died from fatal opioid overdoses than the total number of troops killed during the Vietnam War,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated. “In order to mitigate this public health crisis, we will aggressively prosecute street dealers and corrupt health-care providers whose unlawful activities directly result in harm to others. I am particularly grateful for the hard work and determination of our state and local partners in Shenandoah County in bringing everyone involved in this deadly distribution chain to justice. I also appreciate the valuable assistance provided by our federal partners in Maryland in this case, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland and the Drug Enforcement Administration.”
“The resulting indictments should serve as a warning of what will happen to those who make it their business to exploit and profit from the members of our community. We will remain relentless with our local partners in holding drug dealers accountable for poisoning our citizens,” stated Special Agent in Charge Jesse R. Fong of the Drug Enforcement Administration Washington Division
According to the indictment, beginning around June 2017 a Maryland-based drug-trafficking network began selling controlled substances to Virginia-based drug traffickers, who, in turn, transported those drugs to Shenandoah County for redistribution.
Defendants Craig Kidwell and his wife Norma Kidwell are alleged to have repeatedly traveled from their home in Shenandoah County to Maryland to obtain heroin from the Maryland-based drug-trafficking organization. At times, the heroin Craig Kidwell and Norma Kidwell obtained from their Maryland-based source was mixed with other drugs, such as fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl.
After obtaining heroin, Craig Kidwell and Norma Kidwell transported the drugs back to Shenandoah County where the drugs were redistributed to others, including, but not limited to, co-defendants Lichliter, Marston, and Neice, who redistributed the drugs to others around Shenandoah County.
As claimed in the indictment, as a direct result of the defendants’ drug distribution activities, two overdoses occurred, one of which resulted in the death of victim J.H.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Virginia State Police, Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, and Woodstock Police Department with the assistance of the Shenandoah County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. Assistant United States Attorney Grayson A. Hoffman will prosecute the case for the United States.
A Grand Jury Indictment is only a charge and not evidence of guilt. The defendants are entitled to a fair trial with the burden on the government to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
RSW superintendent explains McDonald transfer to Fairfax jail
On Friday, Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail Superintendent Russ Gilkison confirmed the transfer of high-profile inmate Jennifer McDonald to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center four days earlier, on Tuesday, June 11. McDonald was arrested by Virginia State Police on May 24 on four felony fraud-embezzlement charges related to the financial investigation of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.
The former EDA executive director has twice since been denied bond, being deemed a flight risk by Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. After 10 years heading the EDA, McDonald resigned under increased financial scrutiny from her board of directors on December 20, 2018. According to EDA officials in her resignation email she admitted liability for the return of $2.7 million in assets to the EDA. However subsequent EDA civil litigation filed March 26 now seeking recovery of $21.1 million dollars alleges McDonald’s role in the loss of much more than her admitted liability.
Gilkison said the move was made to normalize McDonald’s jail experience.
“This will allow her to get into the general inmate population. She’s been in protective custody here due to the high-profile nature of her case,” Gilkison told Royal Examiner of the isolated nature of McDonald’s confinement so far.
The RSW superintendent said he had been in touch with McDonald’s criminal attorney Peter Greenspun for about a week prior to the move. Gilkison said the Fairfax City-based Greenspun supported the move and is now in much more convenient proximity to his client while she is incarcerated.
A hearing in which McDonald is slated to enter pleas in her criminal cases is scheduled for July 17 in Warren County Circuit Court.
Asked about costs to RSW of McDonald’s move to another facility, Gilkison said the Fairfax jail is not charging RSW for the transfer.
“It’s called a courtesy hold and we all do it for each other,” Gilkison said of the transfer of inmates for various reasons between area jails. “We would pay for any medication or medical costs but they aren’t charging us to house her.”
Asked if the move could indicate coming arrests of alleged co-conspirators in the EDA financial scandal that has shaken this community, Gilkison said only that he had heard the same rumors that many have about sealed special grand jury indictments, adding, “but not from reliable sources.”
Front Royal Police detail another pedestrian-fatal South Street accident
Information released by the Front Royal Police Friday, June 7, indicates that the 65-year-old female Front Royal resident killed Thursday, June 6, on South Street, was legally crossing the street within one of the Town’s newer, painted pedestrian crosswalks.
The FRPD press release reads in full:
“On June 6, 2019, at 10:28 p.m., the Front Royal Police Department responded to a report of a pedestrian versus vehicle accident on South Street. A 2019 Buick 4 door, driven by Herman Melvin Vohs, Jr., 75-year-old Front Royal resident, was traveling westbound on South Street when he struck Ethel Elaine Blackwell as she was crossing the street. Blackwell, 65, a Front Royal resident, was pronounced deceased at the scene by medics. Preliminary investigation into the fatal accident indicates that Blackwell was in the crosswalk at the intersection of Acton Street at the point of impact.
“No further information will be released at this time, pending further investigation. Once all information is collected, the case will be staffed with the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office.
“If you have any information related to this incident, please contact Traffic Enforcement Officer J. Noland at 540-635-2111 or email@example.com.”
Town Council discussion surrounding its STOPS (Smart Towns Observe Pedestrian Safety) Program implemented in the wake of three pedestrian deaths within a one-year period a couple years ago indicates pedestrians have the right of way to moving traffic while in those painted, designated crosswalks.
However, Ethel Elaine Blackwell’s death yesterday points to ongoing dangers for pedestrians on high-traffic volume streets, particularly during rush hours or after dark, with or without marked crosswalks.
South Street and North Shenandoah Avenue at town entranceways populated by commercial strips in proximity to residential neighborhoods have been the two most dangerous roads for town pedestrians.
How this most recent pedestrian fatality will impact future council decisions on crosswalk implementation with or without accompanying signage or pedestrian-activated stop lights remains to be seen.
Roles of McDonald, EDA Board & Goodlatte described at EDA hearing
The level of authority given former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald to pursue client contact leads and a consequent lack of oversight from her board of directors was a primary issue in testimony and closing arguments on Friday, May 31.
In fact, some professional tension was palpable between McDonald defense counsel Jay McDannell and lead EDA attorney Cullen Seltzer as they summarized the cases they had presented over 2-1/2 days leading to closing arguments beginning at 12:45 p.m., Friday afternoon. The result of that third and final day of the EDA civil suit motions hearing was previously reported in Royal Examiner, below:
In beginning his rebuttal to the plaintiff attorney’s closing statement McDannell referenced what he termed “vitriolic attacks on my client”. They were attacks he said he had tried not to respond in kind to – “That ends today” he told the court.
And he wasn’t kidding – McDonald’s attorney called the plaintiff case “craven and stupid” adding, “They put the cart before the horse” in an attempt to cover what he called “a failed filing” of the EDA $17.6 million civil action against nine defendants alleged to have engaged with McDonald in a wide, if compartmentalized conspiracy to embezzle or misdirect millions of dollars in EDA assets.
“The largest claim is a breach of contract claim for a contract that has never been breached – and it is against someone else,” McDannell noted of the $10 million loan the EDA secured from United Bank for ITFederal LLC and its CEO Truc “Curt” Tran.
In fact, a significant portion of former EDA board member Ron Llewellyn’s testimony, which was by far the lengthiest of four current or former board members called to testify Friday, addressed the process and rationale in acquiring that loan.
A nine-year board member prior to his resignation effective March 23, Llewellyn told the court that the ITFederal project “was considerably different than any other project we ever worked on … We were all excited about the first Brownfield site project,” Llewellyn noted of the first commercial client drawn to a planned 147-acre business park on the former 467-acre Avtex federal Superfund site in the Town of Front Royal.
Llewellyn testified he had concerns about the project early on due to an inability to find any substantive information about the company and its alleged $140-million or so in annual federal government contracts online. However, he noted that the EDA’s executive director always assured him she had verified the validity of the information about ITFederal and its government contracts.
“Did you ask how she verified it?” McDannell pressed Llewellyn on cross examination.
“No, not precisely,” Llewellyn admitted.
“Maybe because it was brought to us by the congressman due diligence wasn’t done. I couldn’t find anything online but Jennifer always had an explanation, I thought was through the congressman,” Llewellyn said.
“So it got credibility from Congressman Goodlatte – what would you say the impact of that was?” McDonald’s attorney asked.
“More than it should have,” Llewellyn testified about three-and-a-half to four years down the road from then U.S. Congressman Robert Goodlatte’s championing of ITFederal in 2014-2015 as a $40-million investor who would bring 600-plus high-paying tech jobs to this community.
In fact, Llewellyn recalled a conversation with Goodlatte at the October 2015 ITFederal ribbon-cutting here launching the idea of a $10 million loan to Tran’s company. Llewellyn said he, McDonald, then-EDA Board members Patty Wines, who was board chair, and Jim Eastham who was in banking professionally, were in the group with whom Goodlatte first broached the ITFederal loan idea.
Llewellyn testified that McDonald reported back that when first offered the loan, Tran had balked. However, the EDA decided to continue pursuing the loan after Goodlatte explained he wanted to be able to promote the Avtex Brownfield site “to other prospects by saying, ‘We not only got you this nice piece of land but financing for your project too’.
“So Jennifer went back to Tran and explained that Goodlatte said it needed to be done anyway (whether he needed it or not), and he says, ‘Okay’,” Llewellyn said of the process he recalled achieving the ITFederal bank loan.
What Llewellyn didn’t explain, and wasn’t really asked to at this hearing level, was why the EDA board would agree to extend a 30-year payback on a $10-million loan to Tran that the EDA has a 7-year balloon payment due to First Bank & Trust of Abington on. For you non-bankers out there, on the surface, those conflicting schedules mean the EDA must pay the loan back to the bank in full after seven years, while Tran has another 23 years to pay the balance on the $10 million back to the EDA. Talk about economic development working for YOU!
However, EDA Attorney Dan Whitten explained to Royal Examiner that the EDA has the option of renegotiating the monthly amount of Tran’s payback; and will likely attempt to refinance its loan payment to First Bank & Trust after those seven years. So if things go well the EDA may be able to continue to have Tran’s payments cover the cost of a refinanced bank loan. Whitten said the discrepancy likely occurred because the EDA-Tran terms were signed in September 2015 when the Town bridge loan was made to the EDA, and the EDA-First Bank & Trust terms were signed three months later when the bank loan was realized in December 2015.
And on the bright side, as Town Councilman Eugene Tewalt likes local media to stress, the Town of Front Royal DID get its twice-extended to three-months $10-million “bridge loan” to the EDA and Tran back in full when the loan through First Bank & Trust of Abingdon was accomplished. However as we also recall, the Town did lose out on two months of interest totaling around $8,000 because the term of the “bridge loan” was supposed to be a month and the bridge loan arrangement only included one month’s payment equal to what the Town had been collecting in monthly interest on those $10-million dollars in an investment account.
But back to the civil litigation hearing’s closing arguments of May 31, 2019: citing EDA “board failings of oversight” McDannell told the court of his clients’ culpability, “Her actions are attributable to them – not that she did everything right, but did she misunderstand the authority her board had given her?” McDannell asked rhetorically with a clear indication of his thoughts on an answer.
However in the plaintiff’s closing statement delivered first, Seltzer pointed to the testimony of the four former and current EDA board members heard that day. They were asked in to testify about Defense Exhibit 8 offered the previous day to illustrate board approval of a McDonald purchase of up to $2.5 million for potential use as an industrial cattle farm operation by a Tran company, Front Royal Farms LLC. Testimony indicated the planned Tran operation would produce beef to be sold in the Far East, particularly to Vietnam, Tran’s native country.
Former EDA Treasurer William Biggs, current Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond, current Front Royal Vice-Mayor William Sealock, and Llewellyn all testified that they had not previously seen the Closed Session, Confidential Resolution authorizing McDonald to spend up to $2.5 million on a property for the cattle ranch land purchase on Trans’ behalf. That was the defense exhibit EDA Attorney Dan Whitten described during his Thursday testimony as a “fabricated document” produced by McDonald.
All four past and present EDA board members said Friday that while it appeared their signatures were on the document, they had not previously seen that particular resolution. They also verified Whitten’s testimony of the previous day that such a resolution would not be signed in closed session or likely be marked “Confidential” as it was.
The quartet of EDA board members also expressed varying degrees of knowledge or a lack thereof about EDA board discussion of Tran’s prospective Front Royal Farms operation. However, all agreed whatever discussion had occurred was far from the authorization of millions of EDA dollars to be committed to the purchase of land for such an endeavor.
Previous hearing testimony indicated that those parcels referred to as “the Buck Mountain properties” were sold back to the original owner William Vaught Jr. a month or so after purchased by McDonald real estate company DaBoyz LLC at a $600,000 loss.
“Even after she left (the EDA) she continued to conceal against those board members we heard from today. She betrayed that trust in the most pernicious ways,” Seltzer told the court in summarizing his case for attachment of $3.17 million of McDonald or her real estate companies’ assets.
Of Defense Exhibit 8, the EDA attorney called it “unbelievable, bare-faced contempt”, not only of her former board members but of the court in its attempt to render a judgment on the freezing or releasing of McDonald assets related to the civil litigation.
“She has attempted to deceive the court – I’ve never seen anything like that in a courtroom,” Seltzer said of the introduction of an apparently fraudulent document in support of a defense motion not to enjoin defendant assets.
The Sands-Anderson attorney made it clear he was not implicating his legal adversary in that deception – “He has been used by his client to perpetuate shocking deceit,” Seltzer told the court.
However, McDannell disputed that assessment, noting his client’s agreement to withdraw the document and her voluntary assertion that two properties under her control were being held in a “constructive trust” for the EDA.
He also pointed out to the court that his client had not tried to convert her real estate assets into cash and flee prior to facing the civil and criminal charges now hanging over her head, those latter charges leaving her incarcerated as a flight risk.
As reported in our above-linked initial story of the court ruling, Judge Athey took a middle ground in attaching some McDonald cash and real estate assets and not others, on the latter front leaving those co-owned with other family members alone, and on the former leaving her funds to pay for her defense against the felony criminal charges she faces.
See Related Story:
Some McDonald assets frozen, jointly-owned exempted in EDA civil case
It was somewhat of a mixed message handed down by Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. following nearly three days of a motions hearing on the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority civil litigation. That litigation seeks recovery of a minimum total of $17.6 million from nine defendants – kind of like the federal Mueller indictments from the Russia probe, a mix of human and corporate entities.
At primary issue was a plaintiff request to freeze $3.56 million dollars in assets of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. EDA lead attorney Cullen Seltzer noted that in the wake of information from the previous day that requested levy had been reduced to $3.17 million dollars. Seltzer apparently was referencing McDonald defense attorney Jay McDannell’s assertion from his client that two real estate parcels in possession of McDonald real estate companies were being held in “a constructive trust” on behalf of the EDA.
That assertion goes to the heart of the defense presented on McDonald’s behalf during the motions hearing, which may be a clue to her defense at trial. That defense, addressed by McDannell during his closing argument Friday afternoon, is that his client may have misinterpreted exactly how much authority to initiate real estate transactions on the EDA’s behalf her board had granted her.
Testimony from several current and former EDA board members Friday indicated that the amount of trust and confidence they had placed in their executive director often led to initiatives being undertaken and reported and/or approved later as necessary.
However, several of those EDA board members also testified they had never authorized the executive director to unilaterally transfer the large amounts of money involved in some of the real estate transactions in question.
Simple misunderstanding with a laissez-faire board of directors or something more nefarious? Stay tuned as the case moves toward a July 17 hearing.
As for the court’s motions ruling of Friday, May 31, as he hinted he would during the hearing, after closing arguments Athey granted the plaintiff request for a freezing of real estate or bank accounts under sole control of McDonald or her two real estate companies, while leaving those she owns jointly with her husband or parents unattached as potential collateral against damages being sought.
That same principal was used by Athey in attaching levies on a number of automobiles – those jointly owned with relatives were not attached, while those in her name alone were.
In addressing the bank account issue the judge said he thought it important to leave McDonald, who as of May 24 is charged with four felony criminal counts related to the civil litigation, access to personal resources with which to present a defense against the charges against her.
In approaching his ruling on specific McDonald, DaBoyz and MoveOn8 LLC assets, the judge went through the specific EDA projects cited in the plaintiff response to the defense demurrers and motions. Athey noted that such hearings place the court in a difficult position because it faces what is essentially a mini-trial before discovery and all relevant evidence is before it.
After ruling the plaintiff had met the initial burden proving the basic validity of its complaint with the adjustments made in response to the initial defense motions for added specificity, Judge Athey moved through each EDA project cited to have been involved in embezzlement or misdirection of its assets:
- Workforce Housing – plaintiff likely to succeed in presenting its case.
- Afton Inn – not enough evidence yet presented by plaintiff, not included in determining judgment.
- Skyline Criminal Justice Training Academy – likely to succeed, included.
- ITFederal $10 million loan – not likely to succeed, not included.
- Earth Right Energy contracts – cannot find evidence likely to succeed at this juncture, not included.
- Unlawful Town, County funds to McDonald-owned/controlled real estate – likely to succeed, included.
- As to the specific involved real estate, the judge did not include in the plaintiff attachment McDonald and her husband’s Faith Way Drive home, her mother’s home or a day care property.
- Properties attached against movement included 1321 Happy Creek Road and 2951 Rileyville Road in Page County.
Athey noted that he would not likely preside at the next hearing in the case on July 17 due to his September 1 departure for a seat on the Virginia Appeals Court. To accommodate the judge who takes over the case, Athey ordered a transcript of this week’s motion hearing put in the court file.
See other detail of Friday’s hearing in an upcoming Royal Examiner story, including closing arguments and the testimony of current and former EDA board members William Biggs, Ron Llewellyn, Bruce Drummond and William Sealock, called to question Defense Exhibit 8 referenced in yesterday’s motions hearing story.
All did testify that they had not signed the “Confidential” Closed Session Resolution document in question, despite McDonald attorney McDannell’s attempt to head that testimony off by withdrawing the disputed document from evidence. Noting the exhibit had already been introduced and commented on by a previous witness, Athey denied McDannell’s request to withdraw the document.
EDA Attorney accuses former executive director of forging document
A bombshell dropped on the second day of motions hearings on the freezing of defendant assets in the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s civil suit seeking recovery of a minimum total of $17.6 million from nine defendants. At the center of that recovery effort is former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and two of her real estate companies, among several people and Limited Liability Companies (LLC’s) tied to those people.
That bombshell was an accusation by EDA Attorney Dan Whitten that a defense exhibit presented on McDonald’s behalf indicating EDA Board of Directors approval of a 2016, $2-million dollar transfer to its executive director to enact a land purchase was a forgery.
“I think this is a fraudulent document produced by Ms. McDonald,” Whitten told McDonald attorney Jay McDannell as he was questioned about the defense exhibit. Whitten observed that the board resolution authorizing an apparent wire transfer of funds to McDonald’s control was ostensibly approved and signed in closed session.
Whitten noted that such a binding financial resolution cannot be approved and signed in closed session, as it would constitute a violation of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) standards – “I was there and that did not happen in closed session … I believe this is a fictitious document created by Ms. McDonald,” Whitten told her attorney.
The “September 2016 – $2 million purchase” is cited in the civil complaint as one of McDonald’s unauthorized uses of EDA assets for personal gain. The complaint notes a check for $94,595 was drafted to McDonald real estate company DaBoyz LLC at the September 2016 closing with TLC Settlements.
Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. overruled plaintiff counsel Cullen Seltzer’s objection to the document’s introduction as an exhibit following Whitten’s assertion of his skepticism about its validity.
“There are a lot of people on here who are alive to say whether it is real,” Athey observed of the signature list.
Following that ruling Seltzer asked the court to direct McDonald’s counsel to cite “exactly where” the document came from. After an initial hesitancy telling the judge he did not know the precise origin of the document, McDannell told the court “from my client – she gave me a pile of documents and it was in there with them.”
Whitten’s stunning assertion of a forged document introduced by defense counsel led to a flurry of activity during a subsequent recess, leading to a recalling of former EDA Board Chairman and Vice Chairman Greg Drescher and the contacting of other surviving members of the EDA Board of Directors whose signatures are on the resolution. Those members include current Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond, former Treasurer William “Billy” Biggs and former members Ron Llewellyn and William Sealock, the latter now Front Royal’s vice mayor. Two other members whose names are on the document, then Chairman Patty Wines and Jim Eastham are deceased.
Plaintiff counsel said it would attempt to contact those surviving members during an adjournment in the hearing. Following that adjournment Seltzer told the court he had contacted the EDA members in question but they would only be able to testify that afternoon through a phoned-in connection to the courtroom.
At the closing of the day’s hearing shortly before 5 p.m. Judge Athey instructed plaintiff co-counsel Seltzer and Lee Byrd to produce Drummond, Llewellyn, Sealock and Biggs for testimony on the document at 9 a.m. Friday morning. Told Biggs had expressed concerns about appearing due to the problems walking he cited in resigning from the EDA board last year, as well as memory issues from a stroke suffered several years ago, Athey said he would work to accommodate Biggs’ condition and minimize the time he needed to spend at the courthouse Friday in urging the attorneys to try and convince him to appear.
However Drescher was already on the witness list and was back in short order to testify as to his knowledge of the document. Athey ruled that plaintiff counsel could not discuss the disputed document with Drescher prior to his testimony.
After covering several other topics, McDonald’s counsel arrived at the Closed Session Resolution authorizing the $2-million transfer.
Like Whitten, Drescher said the document was the familiar EDA Resolution document.
“It looks like your signature,” McDannell observed.
“It does,” Drescher replied.
“Does that look like the way your write dates?”
“Do you have any reason to doubt its authenticity,” McDannell asked Drescher.
That question led to a lengthy pause as Drescher perused the one-page resolution document – “No,” Drescher replied as he scratched his head and cast a tight-lipped look the plaintiff attorney’s way.
Seltzer revisited Drescher’s assessment on cross examination. He noted the “CONFIDENTIAL” designation on the document and its wording asserting the closed session resolution held the same legal weight as other board resolutions.
“I don’t recall that ever happening,” Drescher replied.
“Do you have any memory of this one,” Seltzer asked Drescher of the resolution in his hand.
“Do you recall the EDA board ever approving Ms. McDonald’s purchase of a $2.5 million dollar farm for Curt Tran?”
“I don’t,” Drescher answered.
Earlier defense argument and witness questioning indicated what was termed “the Buck Mountain” property purchases involving William Vaught Jr., McDonald’s DaBoyz LLC real estate company, and TLC Settlements closing company had been made as a potential site for an industrial farming operation for Front Royal Farms LLC, an entity created by ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran. Tran and his ITFederal LLC are two other pivotal EDA civil suit defendants.
Asked if these additional factors altered his perception of the validity of the defense exhibit, Drescher said, “I guess I would, I don’t, I guess I would.”
The hearing reconvenes at 9 a.m. Friday in Warren County Circuit Court.
Earth Right Energy and Donald Poe reach agreement on levies and costs
FRONT ROYAL – Attorneys for defendants and the plaintiff in the “Warren EDA” civil suit seeking joint recovery of a total of $17.6 million in allegedly misdirected or embezzled Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority assets faced off on motions arguments Wednesday.
At issue were a slew of defense motions, including but not limited to a request for a Bill of Particulars further specifying individual defendant liability; quashing of levies against defendant assets; suspension of plaintiff discovery; a stay or quashing of the civil case pending resolution of a special grand jury investigation into potential criminal behavior tied to the civil case.
The hearing is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Thursday morning, apparently as the Special Grand Jury empaneled to explore potential criminality connected the EDA civil litigation reconvenes across the hall to hear more testimony. Three days of grand jury testimony last week resulted in four felony charges against the pivotal figure in the EDA civil litigation, former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.
After four days in RSW Regional Jail, including one in the hospital for chest pains, following her Friday, May 24 arrest, McDonald was denied bond as a flight risk in a hearing Tuesday afternoon in the same, smaller Warren County Circuit courtroom in which Wednesday’s motions hearing was heard by Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr.
One result was achieved prior to the hearing’s conclusion. Following the lunch break attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants Earth Right Energy Solar Commercial LLC (ERE) and one of the company’s principals, Donald Poe, announced an agreement on one aspect of the defense filings.
That agreement is that the requested plaintiff levy or freeze on ERE and Poe assets will be dismissed and the company and Poe will carry the burden of their own legal costs and fees. Following the afternoon adjournment Sands-Anderson attorney Cullen Seltzer, representing the EDA, declined comment on how that agreement had been reached. Poe, who was accompanied by his wife, was the lone defendant present for the hearing. They left with their attorneys following court acceptance of the agreement.
The hearing began shortly after 9:30 a.m. and was adjourned at 4:17 p.m. with only one witness having testified. That witness was Warren County and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten. The bulk of the nearly two hours of afternoon testimony was comprised of Jennifer McDonald attorney Jay McDannell’s cross-examination of Whitten.
Through a recounting of the content of various plaintiff exhibits by Whitten, McDannell attempted to show that while Whitten as EDA attorney may not have been aware of certain contractual or real estate transactions undertaken by McDonald in her role as EDA executive director, certain members of the EDA board including its various chairs in recent years, past Treasurer William Biggs and Whitten’s predecessor Blair Mitchell may well have been.
Testimony from former EDA Board of Directors Chairman and Vice-Chairman Greg Drescher may kick off Thursday’s hearing. Drescher was present outside the courtroom waiting to testify most of Thursday afternoon and during part of the morning session.
Drescher is also Superintendent of Warren County Public Schools. A contract alleged to be improper and unapproved by the EDA board or public school administration for installation of solar panels on county public schools by Earth Right Energy is part of the plaintiff complaint against the defendants. Drescher should have an interesting perspective on that contract from both sides of the equation.
As he was closing shop for the day, Athey asked McDannell if he needed his client transported from RSW Jail to testify Thursday. McDonald’s attorney said he would meet with his client following adjournment of Wednesday’s hearing, but added he did not anticipate that would be necessary.
See more on the motions hearing and the court ruling on those motions anticipated Thursday in an upcoming Royal Examiner story.