An emotional Hollis Tharpe let one of his attorneys speak for him in the wake of Special Prosecutor Heather Hovermale’s request that Judge William W. Sharpe dismiss the misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution charge against him Monday afternoon. It was a request Judge Sharpe granted.
“Based on this testimony the Commonwealth believes it cannot go forward,” Hovermale said after posing several questions to Cynthia Bailey, operator of a massage parlor on the 300 block of Biggs Drive in Front Royal. Bailey responded to each question, including whether she knew Tharpe or if he had ever touched her in a way she did not invite, asserting her Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate.
As noted by her attorney David Downes prior to her questioning by the special prosecutor, the 55-year-old Bailey is facing two misdemeanor and two felony charges related to the operation of her massage parlor under the banner of Blue Valley Services.
Prior to questioning Bailey, Hovermale told the court prosecutors initially believed Bailey would be a cooperating witness, but later learned through her attorney that she planned to exercise her Fifth Amendment right if called as a witness in the Tharpe prosecution. Hovermale noted that the Commonwealth’s case against Tharpe revolved around Bailey, whom she observed was the only person present to hear the alleged solicitation request by Tharpe.
The whole hearing lasted 10 minutes, ending at 3 p.m., Monday afternoon, July 15.
Tharpe initially stopped outside the second-floor Warren County Circuit Courtroom B to address media present, but then quietly turned away arm in arm with his wife Debbie, saying, “I’m a little emotional right now,” as tears welled in his eyes and the couple moved away for some privacy.
Beau Bassler and David Hensley represented Tharpe. As Hensley returned to the courtroom for another case, Bassler commented on the outpouring of support his client had received from old friends and new – “Hundreds, thousands of people have sent prayers to him; they believe in him. He is a man of faith and that faith has taken him far. His wife, family and friends have all stood by him.”
Bassler noted his client’s resignation as mayor of Front Royal in the wake of the charges – “He stepped down so as not to be a distraction to the conduct of town government. Fortunately now the distraction in his life is over.”
“I guess it is appropriate at this time to announce I will be on the ballot for the November 5th election,” Tharpe did manage to say outside the courtroom. He said he had turned about 190 signatures in to the Voter Registrar to get on the mayoral ballot in November, 125 signatures are required to be put on the ballot.
After being indicted on the one misdemeanor count of solicitation by a Warren County Grand Jury, perhaps ironically whose foreman was now Interim Front Royal Mayor Matthew Tederick, on April 15, Tharpe initially announced he would place himself on administrative leave. But four days later on April 19 Tharpe said he would resign as mayor effective May 2. Tharpe explained his decisions as not wanting the charge against him to distract town government from the conduct of its business pending a resolution of his case.
At the time Tharpe called the misdemeanor charge against him “embarrassing” and “baseless”. He admitted to visiting the massage parlor, but for what he said were legitimate massages on his aching 67-year-old body.
Asked Monday if he now regretted stepping down as mayor, Tharpe said no. But he later added outside the courthouse, “They can’t take the mayor’s job away from me, the people gave it to me with 95% of the vote. Tharpe ran unopposed in his last election for a term slated to run to 2020. Interim Mayor Tederick has said he is not interested in seeking election to a full term.
Tharpe attorney Bassler praised the special prosecutor for her actions at Monday’s hearing. “Heather Hovermale is a fair prosecutor, a prosecutor of integrity. Instead of prolonging this to torture someone, in the face of developments in the case she let it go.”
A Virginia State Police press release announcing Tharpe’s pending indictment on April 12 indicated Tharpe’s charge stemmed from an investigation launched at the direction of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
That there was an investigation into Tharpe went public on August 30, 2018, when Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden filed notice he would recuse himself from any possible prosecution relating to an “Investigation Concerning Hollis Tharpe”. Special Prosecutor Hovermale works out of the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office of Marc Abrams, which was handed the case following Madden’s recusal announcement.
Had Bailey testified against Tharpe during Monday’s hearing, arguments on a change of venue request by the prosecution would have been heard. However in the wake of Bailey’s invocation of her Fifth Amendment right, the change of venue request became a moot point.
Removal Petition hearing on County Board continued to December
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Delays in EDA criminal cases due to transfer of prosecutorial authority
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.
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.
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.
UPDATE: Local school contractor employee arrested on child porn charges
An employee of ABM Service Company, a contractor for custodial services for Warren County Public Schools, was arrested in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 9, and charged with two counts of child pornography. Specifically, on the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail website the charges were cited as “Obscenity – Child Porn – Take part, film child porn, age <15, offender 7+ years”.
Robert Daniel Heishman, 27, was booked into RSW Regional Jail at 5:26 AM Saturday and was being held without bond pending a court hearing according to the RSW Jail website.
Attempts to verify details of Heishman’s employment with the school system administration prior to publication were unsuccessful.
Melody Shepard, Assistant Superintendent of Warren County Schools said that WCPS is co-operating with the investigation.
This story will be updated as additional information becomes available.
Cyberstalking indictment highlights the dark side of social media contacts
The indictment filed October 15 (2019) against a 19-year-old Odessa, Texas man accused of cyberstalking and making social media threats against the family of a 16-year-old Linden girl who was found dead not far from her Apple Mountain home 12 days after going missing the evening of April 26, 2018, show the dark underbelly of social media use to dark and pathological ends.
While Adrian Raul O’Dell is charged on four counts related to online threats and harassment of Sarah Rose Genari’s mother, father, sister and brother occurring between June 2018 and June 2019, the indictment indicates O’Dell’s claim of driving the 16-year-old Warren County girl two thirds of the way across the country to suicide through their social media contacts prior to her disappearance and the May 8, 2018, discovery of her body in a heavily wooded area just off the road not far from her home.
SRG, as Sarah Rose Genari is referred to in the indictment, died of what was ruled by the state coroner’s office as a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“From on or around September 2017, to on or around March 2018, SRG had an online relationship with defendant ADRIAN RAUL O’DELL, with whom she communicated about, among other topics, depression and suicide,” the indictment states. It continues to describe several subsequent online and social media interactions in which O’Dell references himself in the third person or uses Facebook alter egos to direct credit for SRG’s death to “Adrian O’Dell”.
“In or around June 2018, defendant ADRIAN RAUL O’DELL sent an email to the WCSO using a Gmail account, email@example.com. In the email, defendant told a WCSO investigator that he knew who drove SRG to suicide and that the person was ‘Adrian,’ who lived in Odessa, Texas … In or around June 2018, defendant ADRIAN RAUL O’DELL, using Amino, an online social media application, made posts and messaged others also using Amino in which he claimed responsibility and took credit for SRG’s death,” the indictment continues.
The indictment also describes a November 29, 2018, “anonymous tip” to the FBI stating that a suspect named Adrian O’Dell of Odessa, Texas “has willingly admitted to killing (SRG).”
In August 2018, just three months after Sara Genari’s death, O’Dell is described establishing contact with the Genari family through Facebook Messenger, asking if they were related to the deceased girl.
By December 2018, O’Dell is said to have made contact with the family and friends of SRG through a Facebook account named “Amanda Williams” in which screenshots of Snapchat messages in which Snapchat user “EN stated how he killed SRG.”
The family did not respond and/or blocked the “Amanda Williams” account, the indictment states.
O’Dell then is alleged to have used other Facebook identities to contact Genari’s family and friends, two under the name “Tim Johnson” in which O’Dell began sending profanity-laced, “gangsta”-tinged lingo berating and threatening family members and bragging about causing the girl’s death.
“…I’m glad I called that hit out on her, I’m glad I killed her … was fun to do. Posting about me on here?? You dumb af hoe I’ll put a 5k bag on your head and have you dead just like I did your … daughter I know your exact address hoe Go ahead and press charges and try and arrest me. You better hope they do or its ur a** I’ll come to Virginia and blow up yo sh*t … I made his daughter take y’all gun for some fun. Guess I am Satan …Give me two months and y’all gonna be in a coffin … Don’t mess with gang sh*t bruh You’ll end up like your daughter … Post about me again and I’ll show you wtf happens,” was part of a December 20, 2018 message to Genari’s mother.
On December 28, 2018, he wrote Genari’s sister, “… that’s why we … killed her, Adrian and all of us. You think you guys are gonna catch us, y’all won’t bruh …a whole a** police investigation. Y’all Stoopid! I guess we will just keep getting away with it …”
I guess “he” and “they” guessed wrong.
“The subscriber information for the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses associated with the above accounts and messages – i.e. <firstname.lastname@example.org; Amino; FBI Tip; and Facebook accounts for ‘Adrian O’Dell’, ‘Amanda Williams’, and ‘Tim Johnson’ – correspond to defendant ADRIAN RAUL O’DELL’s residence in Odessa, Texas,” the final evidentiary paragraph of the indictment reads leading into the five counts O’Dell was arrested on.
“Cyberstalking and communicating threats through social media are serious federal crimes and prosecuting them is a priority of this office,” U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen stated in the Western District of Virginia, Harrisonburg Division press release on the O’Dell indictments, adding, “I am grateful for the hard work of the FBI and the Warren County Sheriff’s office in identifying this defendant and bringing him to justice.
“This case is important to us because a young girl’s family, while still mourning her death, was re-victimized with the messages sent by the accused. We are grateful for the assistance of the FBI El Paso Division’s Midland Resident Agency and the United States Attorney’s Office during the course of this investigation.”
The Western District press release on the O’Dell arrest notes that Assistant United States Attorney Kate Rumsey will prosecute the case for the United States.
Evidentiary issues delay Michelle Henry hearing to January 23
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton and Michelle Henry co-counsel David Hensley and Ryan Nuzzo were granted a joint motion to continue a scheduled preliminary hearing to January 23, at 8:45 a.m.
Judge Bruce D. Albertson granted the continuance after Layton agreed with Hensley’s observation that complications in digitizing the voluminous amount of materials related to the EDA financial fraud investigation and Special Grand Jury documentation leading to criminal indictments related to that investigation had prevented Discovery Motion materials from yet being made available to the defense.
“We have nothing to review, none whatsoever,” Hensley told the court.
Layton told the court that progress had been made in the digitization process the Virginia Supreme Court has suggested to deal with an unusual amount of evidence and documentation related to the EDA criminal and civil cases. However, he observed that, “Unfortunately we are in an unusual situation with a great deal of Discovery material.”
Estimates of the involved material in previous hearing discussions has ranged from 700,000 to one million pages; an amount that has drawn the attention of the Virginia Supreme Court according to Warren County Circuit Court Clerk Janice Shanks.
“We are in rare waters,” Judge Albertson observed of the evidentiary situation.
He ruled that both sides, including legal staffs and the defendant, could have access to available Special Grand Jury transcripts related to the two felony embezzlement charges former EDA Administrative Assistant Henry faces. However the judge told the attorneys that while those Special Grand Jury materials could be reviewed, they could not be copied and must be kept confidential within the legal teams working the case.
In seeking a date for the continued hearing, Albertson noted he would be in Warren County January 22nd through 24th for a three-day trial on the EDA-related criminal charges against Donnie Poe. Henry’s hearing, during which a trial date may be set in her cases, was set prior to the start of Poe’s trial’s second day.
Henry was arrested on June 24 on two felony counts of embezzlement for the “unlawful use, disposal, conversion, embezzlement of property of the EDA”. Her arrest came exactly one month after her former boss Jennifer McDonald’s first arrest (May 24) on what has since climbed to 32 felony indictments against the former EDA executive director related to financial fraud allegations.
Dates attached to the Henry’s warrants are for actions occurring between October 1 and December 30, 2016 and September 1, 2014 to December 30, 2016. Henry was cited for involvement in dispersal of assets tied to the B&G Goods retail operation in the old Stokes Mart building that the EDA purchased in 2014, as well in a possible scheme related to the building’s purchase.
“MCDONALD is suspected of colluding with HENRY, LAMBERT, and possibly POE to acquire the Stokes Mart property under false pretense to facilitate several different embezzle schemes of which payments herein as repairs and maintenance for B&G or paid directly to LAMBERT are approximately $21,000,” CPA fraud investigator Cherry Bekaert wrote in its EDA financial investigation report.
Texts between Henry and McDonald that are part of the Cherry Bekaert report on its investigation of EDA financial affairs indicate discussion between the two of investment stakes in the B&G Goods business.
Due to judge transfers and recusals Henry spent a month in jail before Albertson, the chief presiding judge of Virginia’s 26th Judicial District took over the bulk of EDA cases. On July 23 Albertson granted Henry a $2500 secured bond on the two charges against her.
EDA hearings done for the day – Let’s go get McDonald again
Maybe that’s the reason the larger Warren County Circuit Courtroom “A” wasn’t available to move into to accommodate the full house in diminutive Courtroom “B” for the EDA criminal and County Supervisors Removal Petition hearings Monday morning – new indictments brewing from the EDA Special Grand Jury that often meets in the larger Courtroom A.
According to the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail website former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald was arrested Monday afternoon on four new felony indictments related to the EDA financial scandal.
She was arrested by the Virginia State Police and booked at 1:25 p.m., an hour-and-25 minutes after the Removal Petition Show Cause Hearing adjourned at noon to close the day’s open court proceedings regarding the EDA. She was released just over an hour later at 2:26 p.m. on what appeared to be a $5,000 secured bond.
If our memory serves us that is McDonald’s third arrest, raising the number of financial felony charges she faces to 32. She was arrested on four initial counts on May 24, saw that number climb to 14 while incarcerated without bond as a flight risk. She was eventually granted bond by new presiding Judge Bruce D. Albertson on July 31. Albertson took over EDA cases as Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. left for the Virginia State Appeals Court.
The 42-year-old McDonald was arrested on 14 new charges on August 23, the same day her husband Samuel North and business partner Donald Poe were arrested on related charges, Poe for the second time after first being charged on three counts in the EDA case on July 23. After spending the weekend in jail, all three were bonded out Monday, August 26.
On Monday, October 28, McDonald was out on a $50,000 secured bond on the 28 previous charges she has been arrested on. Noting the fluid nature of the Special Grand Jury investigation regarding his client, at an earlier hearing McDonald’s criminal attorney Peter Greenspun had asked for some arrangement to prevent repeated, prolonged incarcerations for every new charge levied against his client.
Perhaps that ability to post a smaller, secured bond to obtain immediate release is that arrangement.
The new charges are Fraud, Uttering; Larceny – Embezzlement – $200 plus; Money Laundering – Financial Transaction from known felony activity; and Fraud – Obtain money by false pretenses, $500 (or more).