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He’s back: Hollis Tharpe’s solicitation charge dropped – will run for mayor

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Flanked by colleagues Bill Sealock and Letasha Thompson, then Mayor Hollis Tharpe listens as former Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger addressed council on March 25 regarding past mistakes on the EDA front. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

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 converses with constituent following March 25 meeting – could a reprise of such mayoral conversations be on the horizon following Monday’s developments?

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.”

Front Royal mayor poised for indictment on sexual solicitation charge

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.

As press releases fly, plot thickens in Tharpe sex solicitation case

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.

Trial date of Oct. 25 set in Tharpe solicitation case – prosecution seeks change of venue

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Crime/Court

Roy’s Express in Front Royal robbed

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On February 21, 2020, the Front Royal Police Department responded to Roy’s Express, located at 239 North Royal Ave, Front Royal, for a reported robbery. Upon arrival, it was determined that a white male had entered the store and demanded money from the clerk. The suspect took an undisclosed amount of cash and fled the store on foot. No weapons were displayed during the incident.

The suspect is described as a tall, thin, younger white male. The suspect was last seen running in the area of Chester Street. The Front Royal Police were assisted at the scene by Frederick County Sheriff’s Office K9 tracking team. The suspect has not yet been located. The investigation is on-going.

Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Waller at 540-636-2208 or by email at lwaller@frontroyalva.com.

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Crime/Court

Open air fire causes wildfire, occupant charged

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Photo / Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services

Just after 2:00 pm on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, Warren County Fire and Rescue units were dispatched to the 1800 block of Oregon Hollow Road for a reported brush fire which was threatening multiple structures.

Units quickly arrived on the scene to find approximately 3/4 of an acre of wooded area involved in fire with the fire spreading away from any structures. Firefighters were able to quickly control the blaze before any structures were damaged. It was determined that the fire was caused by an open air fire spreading to the wooded area when winds increased.

The occupant of the home where the fire started was issued a summons by the Virginia Department of Forestry for violation of VA Code 10.1-1142. The occupant faces being guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor and may be liable for the full amount of all expenses incurred in suppressing the fire.

This incident should serve as a reminder as to why the 4pm Burn Law is in effect between February 15th and April 30th.

Briefly, the 4pm Burn Law regulates the open air burning before 4pm and after midnight. This law was adopted to reduce the number of wildfires during this period of risk associated with weather conditions that include elevated winds, lower relative humidity, and dryer forest floor fuels.

For more information on the 4pm Burn Law, visit www.dof.virginia.gov/fire.

Units on the call:

  • Engine 1
  • Brush 8
  • Brush 9
  • Brush 10
  • Tanker 3
  • Tanker 8
  • Tanker 9
  • Ambulance 4
  • Fire Marshal 1
  • Forest Warden 1 (Department of Forestry)
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Suspect arrested and charged for fraudulent use of stolen debit card

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Jessica Nicole Shell. Photo courtesy of RSW Regional Jail.

On January 14, 2020, the Front Royal Police Department initiated an investigation into fraudulent use of a stolen debit card. The stolen card was used at BB&T, Target and 7-11. Jessica Nicole Shell was identified as the suspect and warrants were obtained for §18.2-192 Credit Card Theft and §18.2-178 Obtain Money by False Pretenses.

On February 10, 2020, Shell was arrested by the Hardy County Sheriff’s Office in West Virginia where she was detained until extradited on February 13, 2020. Ms. Shell was transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail and is currently being held without bond. The court date for these offenses are set for February 25, 2020, at 9:00am, in Warren County General District Court.

Anyone with further information in reference to this case is asked to contact Front Royal Police Detective L. Waller at 540-636-2208 or lwaller@frontroyalva.com.

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Crime/Court

Front Royal man arrested and charged with larceny at Peebles Department Store

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James Lathon. Photo courtesy of Front Royal Police Department.

On Tuesday, February 11, 2020, James Lathon, 56, of Front Royal, was arrested and charged with §18.2-95 Grand Larceny, §18.2-96 Petit Larceny 3rd+ offense, and §18.2-103 Concealing or taking possession of merchandise. This is in connection with an ongoing investigation of several larcenies that were reported at the Peebles Department Store located at 425 South Street in Front Royal. The Regional Manager of Peebles made contact with the police department after his employees observed the same individual enter their store on 3-4 different days and walk out with unpaid merchandise.

Mr. Lathon was arrested and transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail and is being held without bond. Mr. Lathon was additionally charged with a violation of his probation. The court date for these offenses is set for February 25, 2020, at 10:00am, in Warren County General District Court.

Anyone with any further information in reference to this case is asked to contact Front Royal Police Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at mramey@frontroyalva.com.

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Juveniles charged in dumpster fire incident, officials warn of youth fire setting behaviors

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On Thursday, January 2, 2020, at 12:57 am, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services was dispatched to the area of 40 Crescent Street for a reported dumpster fire.

Units arrived on scene to find a garbage dumpster significantly involved in fire. Crews were able to quickly contain the fire, there were no reported injuries. The cause of the fire was investigated by the Warren County Fire Marshals Office which determined the fire to be caused by an intentional act.

A joint investigation conducted between the Fire Marshal’s Office and the Front Royal Police Department Criminal Investigations Division determined that the fire resulted from the actions of two juveniles. After consultation with the Warren County Commonwealths Attorney’s Office, petitions have been sought for these two juveniles in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Anyone with further information pertaining to the fire incident is encouraged to contact Fire Investigator Austin Cucciardo at acucciardo@warrencountyfire.com or (540) 636-3830, or contact Detective Dave Fogle at dfogle@frontroyalva.com or 540-636-2208.

This type of incident should serve as a reminder that youth fire-setting behaviors put our community at risk. If a child you care about has played with matches, lighters, fireworks, candles, etc. or has set a fire, or has shown a curiosity of fire that worries you, the Department of Fire and Rescue Services Youth Fire-setter Intervention Program may help. The Youth Fire-setter Intervention Program provides a simple risk assessment for youth to help understand their situation. It also provides fire safety education for the child and other family members. Everything is confidential and intended to help keep your family safe from fire. This is not a punitive program; rather a program to prevent a tragic incident from occurring. The goal is to help families learn about the dangers of fire setting and provide assistance and support to families with fire-setting concerns.

Anyone who feels they have a juvenile that can benefit from participation in this educational program is asked to contact the Department of Fire and Rescue Services Youth Fire Setter Intervention Program at 540-636-3830.

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Alford pleas, dropped charges end ‘bawdy house’ saga with no jail time

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After about 20 minutes of attorney and attorney-client discussion outside the Warren County General District Courtroom after the scheduled 2:30 p.m. starting time Wednesday afternoon of a motions hearing in the cases against Cynthia Atkinson Bailey and three family members accused of offering prostitution services out of a Front Royal massage parlor, a plea agreement was announced.

Bailey took an Alford plea to two misdemeanor charges, one of prostitution and of operation of a “bawdy (defined as gross, indecent or overly graphic) house” and had the remaining felony charges against her dropped by the Commonwealth. In an Alford plea a defendant pleads guilty without admitting guilt, only that the prosecution may have enough evidence to convict. Felony charges dropped included pandering or making money from prostitution; and cruelty to children, involving a teenage niece answering the phone and scheduling appointments for the Blue Valley Services business.

Noting that Bailey, 55, has no previous criminal record, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Matt Beyrau informed Judge W. Dale Houff that Bailey would be sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $500 on each guilty plea, with all jail time and $400 on each count suspended. Bailey will also be on unsupervised probation for 12 months.

A similar agreement was then announced for Bailey’s daughter Brandy Nicole Atkinson, who had a misdemeanor prostitution charge amended to disorderly conduct, also a misdemeanor. She received the same suspended sentence, fine agreement and 12 months of unsupervised probation as her mother.

From left, Cynthia Atkinson Bailey with children Brandy and Jesse Atkinson outside the WC Courthouse following an earlier hearing on their cases – Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

Bailey’s son Jesse Thomas Atkinson and Brandy Atkinson’s fiancé Joshua Allan Stamper had peripheral charges to the bawdy house operation dropped by the prosecution. It was noted that Stamper was incarcerated on unrelated charges at the time his trio of co-defendants were arrested on May 15, 2019. Defense counsel indicated Stamper, who appeared in court in orange and white striped jail clothes, was still serving a two-year sentence on that unrelated conviction.

Cynthia Bailey and Jesse Atkinson were represented by David Downes; Jonathan Silvester was counsel for Brandy Atkinson and Stamper. Had the plea agreement not been reached, defense attorneys were prepared to argue for exclusion of much of the prosecution’s evidence in the case.

Background
So, with a whimper, not a bang, ends the massage parlor/bawdy house saga that embroiled and led to the resignation of Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe last May; and led to some testy press release exchanges between Bailey attorney Downes and the Winchester Special Prosecutor’s Office and Front Royal Police Chief.

Tharpe was indicted on a solicitation of prostitution charge on April 15, 2019, a month before Cynthia Bailey and her family members’ May 15 arrests. According to an FRPD press release issued on May 16, the arrests were the result of an ongoing investigation that began in late January of 2018.

Tharpe’s April 15, 2019 Grand Jury indictment, ironically signed by Tharpe’s eventual successor as Interim Mayor Matthew Tederick as grand jury foreman, references a May 31, 2018 incident in which Tharpe allegedly offered “money or its equivalent to another for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts … and thereafter did a substantial act in furtherance thereof against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth …”

On March 25, 2019, Mayor Hollis Tharpe, center, listened with council colleagues Bill Sealock and Letasha Thompson as former Councilwoman Bebhinn Egger asked town officials to learn from their past mistakes regarding the EDA. Ironically, the following day the EDA civil litigation was filed. And six weeks later Tharpe would resign under a legal cloud.

Queried after his interim mayoral appointment, Tederick called his grand jury role in Tharpe’s situation a coincidence, noting he received the grand jury assignment before the Tharpe case was brought forward.

Cynthia Bailey was initially arrested one week after the referenced Tharpe massage parlor incident, on June 7, 2018 on a charge of prostitution. That charge was dropped by the Commonwealth on October 2, 2018.

Tharpe’s misdemeanor solicitation case was eventually dismissed at the request of Special Prosecutor Heather Hovermale during a July 15, 2019 hearing due to Bailey’s invocation of her Fifth Amendment right to not self-incriminate due to the related charges hanging over her head.

Prior to that Downes and Hovermale and eventually the Town Police Chief whose officers were involved in the investigation of the Blue Valley Services operation, had engaged in dueling press releases. Downes first expressed the opinion the prosecution against Bailey was retaliatory in nature because of law enforcement’s interest in the then mayor of Front Royal and Bailey’s uncooperative stance regarding that investigation. That led to official denials by the involved prosecutor’s office and law enforcement.

For his part, Tharpe admitted visiting the massage parlor operated by Bailey at 312 Biggs Drive. However, the 67-year-old Tharpe told this reporter he visited Biggs Drive for legitimate massages on his aging and aching body. Tharpe lost a November 2019 special election attempt to regain his mayoral seat in a two-way race with Councilman and former Mayor Eugene Tewalt.

Front Royal mayor poised for indictment on sexual solicitation charge

Massage parlor defense counsel cites ‘retaliation’ over targeting of Tharpe

Winchester prosecutor’s office responds to Downes press release

He’s back: Hollis Tharpe’s solicitation charge dropped – will run for mayor

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