Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe says he was blindsided by information that Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden has recused himself from any possible prosecution relating to an “Investigation Concerning Hollis Tharpe” – the informational heading at the top of Madden’s August 30 notice of recusal.
In that notice Madden states that he is “so situated with respect to conducting an investigation and determining whether to file charges against the above named individual and to prosecute the same if filed, so as to render it improper for (him) to act in his official capacity as Commonwealth’s Attorney in any further official duties as required in said matter …”
Madden could not be reached for further comment on the basis of his recusal.
Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Marc Abrams was appointed by the court to replace Madden in the matter should charges be filed from the investigation. Contacted by phone on Friday, September 7, Abrams declined comment on the nature of the investigation or whether the Front Royal mayor was its primary target.
In fact, Abrams told this reporter, “I was waiting for a call from an investigator to give me some information on the case – I thought maybe you were him.”
For his part, Mayor Tharpe denied any wrongdoing past or present and expressed frustration at a process that saw him alerted to the situation by the media.
“I have no clue, none whatsoever – and I can’t find anything out. I don’t know if it has something to do with the EDA or Mr. Egger,” Tharpe said in a phone interview on Friday, September 7.
Mr. Egger is Mark Egger, father of former Front Royal Town Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger. Mr. Egger has continued to publicly confront local officials at the town and county levels over allegations of improprieties in Economic Development Authority business dealing raised by his daughter prior to her resignation to marry and move from the area in June 2017.
EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, who is Tharpe’s cousin, was charged by Virginia State Police investigators in June with one misdemeanor count of filing a false police report related to an alleged incident of vandalism at her home in June of 2017. That incident report occurred about one month after a reported break-in at the EDA headquarters off Kendrick Lane in Front Royal. A trial date of October 31 has been set in Warren County General District Court in McDonald’s misdemeanor case.
On Friday Tharpe expressed frustration at an inability to gain any information on the investigation “concerning” him as stated in Madden’s recusal filing.
“I can’t find anything out – no one has called; no one has threatened to take me to court. If someone would pick up the phone and call me, I could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – but I guess the system doesn’t work that way,” Tharpe lamented of the informational vacuum he is operating in.
“It’s just baffling – I’m absolutely clueless. I don’t do murder; I don’t write bad checks; I haven’t had any dealing with the EDA and Jennifer McDonald – I don’t have any loans with the EDA; I don’t shoplift; and I don’t do, I don’t mess with drugs – we know people who have lost kids to addiction,” Tharpe continued as he tried to fathom the nature of any potential criminal investigation into his behavior.
Knowing that any investigation into a local public official would be turned over to the Virginia State Police by local authorities, Royal Examiner contacted the VSP office in Culpeper. State Police press liaison Les Tyler offered “No comment” and referred us to the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
Attorney General Mark Herring’s media contact Michael Kelly replied by e-mail that the office does not generally comment on investigations, even to confirm or deny their existence.
Tharpe is running unopposed for reelection as mayor on this November’s ballot.
A search of court records indicates a lone 1995 assault and battery conviction in Tharpe’s past. When that issue came up during his first run for public office this reporter contacted Tharpe, his wife and sister-in-law, the latter who filed the charge that conviction was based on. She told this reporter that she had been in a fragile emotional state after exiting an abusive relationship. Tharpe and his wife took her in at the time and when his sister-in-law lost her balance on a ladder helping with housework, Tharpe, who was holding the ladder, braced her fall with what she initially considered inappropriate or aggressive contact.
She expressed regret for filing the charge and said after the fact, with time to heal from her abusive relationship she believed she had overreacted to the incident.