Judge allows Shaw-Sayre communications Discovery, but not third-party
FRONT ROYAL – Attorneys for Jennifer McDonald, Tom Sayre and one involved third party argued motions related to plaintiff Discovery filings and responses in Warren County Circuit Court late Wednesday morning. The motions involve McDonald’s $600,000 defamation lawsuit against Sayre filed in February.
Five months earlier in September 2018 while McDonald was still EDA executive director, Sayre filed a $25,000 defamation suit against McDonald. Both suits revolve around the name “Tom” accompanied by Sayre’s phone number found in McDonald’s yard following a reported vandalism on her property on June 15, 2017.
At issue Wednesday were responses or a perceived lack thereof to plaintiff McDonald attorney’s request for social media and other electronic communications records of Sayre and that third party, Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw.
Sayre’s and Shaw’s first names, as well as Sayre’s phone number and other names and numbers were on a crumpled note pointed out by McDonald to Warren County Sheriff’s Office investigators responding to her report of a rock-throwing vandalism at her home at 9:02 p.m. Thursday, June 15, 2017.
The note portrays a multi-person conspiracy surrounding, not only incidents alleged to have occurred at McDonald’s Faith Way, county home in the May-June 2017 timeframe, but also an alleged May 18, 2017 break-in at the Kendrick Lane EDA office in Front Royal. The latter was a scene at which there was no forced entry apparent. The latter was a scene at which there was no forced entry apparent, and only three staff members, McDonald, Missy Henry and Marla Jones with keys.
On Halloween Day 2018, McDonald was acquitted of a misdemeanor charge of filing a false police report in the June 2017 vandalism incident in what some cynical observers have called a “Trick or Treat” – as in no available corroborating or motive evidence being presented – prosecution. The case was developed by the Front Royal Police before being turned over the Virginia State Police, based on information received in an already scheduled FRPD interview, at 10:30 a.m. Friday morning, June 16, 2017, with this reporter. That information was that McDonald told Bianchini about the vandalism during a lengthy 3 p.m. meeting in her EDA office the afternoon of June 15, about five to six hours before she reported it occurring.
Among the records McDonald attorney Lee Berlik was seeking in Discovery were three months of social media, online messaging and text communications – May 1 to July 31, 2017 – between Shaw and Sayre, Shaw and Mark Egger, Shaw and a colleague at Royal Examiner (who do you think) and Shaw and Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden.
After much discussion and Shaw attorney David Downes invoking of the press privilege of source protecting, Judge Athey allowed discovery of any Shaw-Sayre communications, but not that of Shaw with a private citizen (Egger), a colleague at work (Bianchini) or the commonwealth’s attorney (Madden).
“Communications with the plaintiff are one thing … but where you cross the Rubicon is requesting communications with other parties. I understand your point that she may have been an accessory but her communications in her professional capacity” with third parties were off limits, Athey told Berlik in prefacing his decision in apparent agreement with Downes that media has a professional right to keep some source communications private in the conduct of their profession.
As for the apparent conspiracy alluded to in the note containing Sayre’s phone number, as well as that of former Town Manager Michael Graham and the names “Tom”, “Norma Jean”, “Matt” and “the Examiner”, Berlik admitted some question exists when he told the court, “Whether it is authentic or not remains to be seen.”
What Berlik did not admit was his client’s connection to any such questions.
In fact, in prefacing his dismissal of the misdemeanor filing a false police report charge against McDonald on October 31, 2018, Judge W. Dale Houff commented, “There is something horribly wrong about the note.”
Following his Discovery Motions decision Athey questioned attorneys on the trial date for the Sayre-McDonald defamation case scheduled in General District Court downstairs. Told August and that both sides have indicated an appeal of the verdict is likely, Athey set a hearing date for the McDonald defamation case on the Motions Date of September 18, at 9 a.m. The judge indicated the likelihood of setting a trial date on the McDonald lawsuit then and observed the two cases could potentially be joined at that point.
The alleged conspirators’ “note” with its names and numbers appearing to implicate “Tom”, “Norma Jean”, “Matt”, Graham’s 202 phone number, and even “the Examiner” is likely to play a big role in both trials.
The note and vandalism it is allegedly tied to, among other incidents of trespass and vandalism at McDonald’s home and the EDA office complex came at a time Royal Examiner staff, then-Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger (Mark Egger’s daughter), and others eventually including Sayre and county board colleague Archie Fox were raising questions about the validity of multiple EDA projects being forwarded by McDonald as EDA executive director.
Shaw, particularly, was deep into an investigation of large amounts of cash being used by McDonald in her personal real estate business transactions. Those real estate transactions, along with questioned EDA projects like ITFederal and Workforce Housing among others, lie at the heart of the EDA civil litigation now seeking recovery of $21.1 million in allegedly misrepresented, misdirected or embezzled assets.
Arrested by VSP on May 24, McDonald is now jailed without bond as a possible flight risk on four felony financial criminal charges, two of Fraud, Obtaining Money by False Pretenses in excess of $200; and two of Larceny-Embezzlement in excess of $200. Those appear related to the EDA civil suit “Afton Inn Embezzlements” allegations of falsifying work invoices to pay off credit card debts. The evidence on those charges appear fairly cut-and-dried evidentiary-wise compared to some other allegations in the EDA litigation.
The Special Grand Jury
However, as the civil defamation motions were being argued Wednesday on the second floor of the Warren County Courthouse, the Special Grand Jury convened to investigate potential criminality tied to the EDA civil litigation was meeting for what appears to be the first of several days of witness testimony this week.
Speaking of social media, the rumor of additional indictments being imminent have been floating on social media for weeks since those initial four indictments were handed down on May 24. One large question connected to any next round of sealed grand jury indictments is whether they will simply pile more on to McDonald’s legal plate, or add additional defendants into the mix.
Not directly related to the above question but more on the familiar faces sightings ledger, one encountered on the second floor of the Warren County Courthouse after the adjournment of the defamation hearing belonged to former County and EDA Attorney Blair Mitchell. Mitchell, who retired in April 2017, told media present he had testified for about an hour before the special grand jury but declined to elaborate on the nature of the questions he was asked.
But noting his retirement date and corresponding EDA business of the previous years, we can probably make an educated guess at some of those questions relating to Mitchell and McDonald’s interactions on projects cited in the Cherry Bekaert accounting investigation of EDA finances over the past decade. High on that list may well be Leach Run Parkway Easements, myriad other real estate transactions, not to mention the advent of the ITFederal and Workforce Housing Projects – (Come on, TELL US, Uncle Blair!!!)
Former Priest sentenced to 8 years in long-standing sexual abuse case
In an important turn of events that highlights the long arm of justice, former priest Scott Asalone has been sentenced to eight years in prison for a sexual abuse crime that occurred almost four decades ago.
The sentencing took place at Loudon County Circuit Court, marking an end to a case that revolved around the sexual abuse of a minor in 1985 by Asalone, who was a priest at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Purcellville, Va. at that time. Asalone, who is now 66, was 29 years old then, and the victim was a 14-year-old child. In addition to the eight-year sentence, Asalone has been mandated to register as a sex offender for life and is prohibited from having any contact with the victim.
Attorney General Jason Miyares called the sentencing a testament to “long, overdue justice” for the victim. “Today’s sentencing brings overdue justice to the brave victim who came forward and told their story. My office will continue to prosecute child offenders aggressively,” Miyares said. He encouraged anyone who has been a victim of clergy abuse to report it to the Virginia State Police or local law enforcement.
Asalone, a Asbury Park, NJ resident, was indicted by a multi-jurisdiction grand jury in March 2020. He was arrested in New Jersey on March 14, 2020, extradited to Virginia, and remained on bond pending trial. On December 12, 2022, Asalone pleaded guilty under the Alford rule in Loudon County Circuit Court to felony carnal knowledge of a minor between 13 and 15 years of age. Asalone was removed from public duties in 1993 and was dismissed from the Order of Capuchin Friars in 2007.
The case was led by Chief Prosecutor Phillip Figura and Assistant Attorney General Alyson Yates of the Office of the Attorney General’s Major Crimes and Emerging Threats Section.
This case reminds us that no individual is above the law, and justice, though sometimes slow, can and will catch up. It stands as a beacon for victims, offering reassurance that their stories matter and that bravery in coming forward can lead to justice.
Hit-and-Run incident involving pedestrians sparks urgent call for information
The Virginia State Police are reaching out to the public for their assistance in solving a hit-and-run incident that occurred on Saturday, June 3, in Clarke County. This alarming incident took place at a local McDonald’s parking lot, leaving two pedestrians injured. With an ongoing investigation, authorities are urgently appealing for any information that could help identify the driver responsible for this reckless act.
At approximately 10:45 am, Trooper S. Stinnett swiftly responded to a distress call reporting a hit-and-run accident at the intersection of Route 340 (Lord Fairfax Hwy) and Route 50 (John Mosby Hwy). According to eyewitnesses, a maroon or red-colored SUV was backing out of a parking spot when it collided with two pedestrians. Shockingly, the SUV driver fled the scene without rendering aid or providing identification.
Law enforcement authorities have provided a description of the hit-and-run driver, who is believed to be an adult female with blonde or light-colored hair. She was last seen wearing blue jeans and a white or light-colored shirt. The vehicle in question is a maroon or red-colored SUV of unknown make and model, possibly exhibiting damage on the driver-side rear.
Fortunately, the pedestrians, a 42-year-old female, and a 2-year-old male, sustained only minor injuries in this terrifying ordeal. Medical professionals promptly attended to them at the scene, ensuring their well-being. Nonetheless, the traumatic experience underscores the urgency of finding the responsible driver to prevent such incidents from occurring again.
To aid in the investigation, Virginia State Police are urging anyone with information related to the incident or the maroon SUV and its driver to come forward. If you witnessed the crash or have details that could assist in identifying the individual responsible, please contact the authorities at 540-662-3313 or dial #77 from your cell phone. Alternatively, you can send an email to email@example.com. Every piece of information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, could be vital in solving this case.
Tragedy strikes Shenandoah County: Motorcycle rider dead, car driver charged with DUI, involuntary manslaughter
In a tragic turn of events, a two-vehicle crash in Shenandoah County resulted in the death of a motorcyclist and left another driver seriously injured. The Virginia State Police are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident.
The collision, which occurred on Sunday, May 28, took place around noon on Route 11, also known as Old Valley Pike, just north of Mooreland Gap Road. According to reports, a 2013 Ford Edge, traveling southbound on Route 11, veered across the centerline, resulting in a head-on collision with a 2008 Harley-Davidson motorcycle traveling in the opposite direction.
The motorcyclist, identified as Bradley L. Painter, 57, of Mount Jackson, VA, was declared dead at the scene, succumbing to injuries sustained in the crash. Authorities confirmed that Painter was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
The driver of the Ford, 28-year-old Jony Salazar Ortiz from New Market, VA, sustained serious injuries in the crash. Emergency responders transported Ortiz to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital for treatment. Police confirmed that he was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the incident.
In a subsequent development, Ortiz was taken into custody and is facing severe charges related to the crash. Authorities have charged him with one felony count of driving under the influence leading to involuntary manslaughter and one misdemeanor count of driving without a valid operator’s license.
Ortiz is currently being held without bond at RSW Regional Jail.
The Virginia State Police are actively investigating the crash. More information will be released as the investigation continues, and anyone with further information is urged to contact the local authorities. The incident serves as a sobering reminder of the critical importance of responsible driving and the tragic consequences that can result from negligence on the road.
Joint Task Force Apprehends Child Pornography Suspect in Linden, Virginia
In a successful multi-jurisdictional operation, a Linden man was arrested on May 25th following an extensive child pornography investigation. John P. Farley Jr., 70, of the 900 block of Northern Spy Drive, Linden, was arrested and charged with 16 counts of child pornography-related offenses.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division (CID), upon receiving information from the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) Police, conducted a search warrant at Farley’s residence in March 2023. During this operation, several electronic devices from Farley’s home office were seized and handed over to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Digital Forensics Unit for detailed examination.
Upon scrutiny, it was revealed that out of a total of 68 flagged items, 16 met the strict definitions of child pornography under Virginia state law. These items were carefully assessed by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Hajduk, leading to the formal charges under Virginia Code § 18.2-374.1:1 against Farley.
This collaborative effort showcases the crucial role of cross-jurisdictional operations in combating internet crimes against children. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office is a dedicated member of the NOVA/DC Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, an initiative coordinated by the Virginia State Police.
This case underscores the effectiveness of collective efforts across multiple law enforcement bodies, with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office acknowledging the pivotal assistance from the MWAA Police and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.
As the fight against child exploitation continues, the public is urged to contribute any relevant information. For any details related to this case or the potential exploitation of minors, please contact Investigator Hajduk at the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at (540) 635-7100 ext. 2223 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Law enforcement agencies stress the importance of community engagement in identifying and detaining child predators, maintaining that collective vigilance plays a critical role in preserving the safety and welfare of our children.
Blue Ridge Task Force strikes major blow to local drug trade
A resident of Rappahannock County, Eric L. Butler, 45, has been arrested following a six-month-long investigation led by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force.
The Task Force executed a search warrant on Butler’s Brinkley Lane residence on Thursday, May 25. The operation led to the seizure of substantial amounts of illicit drugs, including 100 grams of cocaine, 20 grams of heroin, and 100 grams of marijuana. The drugs seized have an estimated street value of around $18,000.
Law enforcement officers also confiscated $21,792 in currency, a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe, and seven firearms during the raid.
Butler is now facing multiple felony charges related to drug trafficking and illegal firearm possession. Specifically, he has been charged with two counts of possession with intent to distribute a schedule I/II drug, one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, one count of possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/II drug, and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Following his arrest, Butler was transported to the RSW Regional Jail, where he is currently being held on a secured bond.
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force, which led the investigation and subsequent arrest, is a coalition of law enforcement personnel from several local Sheriff’s Offices, Police Departments, and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The Task Force includes members from the Rappahannock, Fauquier, Orange, Madison, and Culpeper Sheriff’s Offices; the Culpeper, Warrenton, and Orange Police Departments; and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office.
This operation underscores the ongoing efforts by local and state law enforcement agencies to tackle drug trafficking and associated crimes in Virginia. The successful arrest and charges brought against Butler represent a significant victory in these efforts. Residents are encouraged to report any suspicious activities to their local law enforcement agencies, as community involvement plays a crucial role in maintaining a safe and drug-free community.
Landlord-Tenant dispute escalates into gunfire at Shenandoah Farms residence
A long-standing dispute took a dangerous turn early this morning as shots were fired at a Shenandoah Farms residence. Local authorities were summoned to 100 block Mountain Laurel Lane following reports of a heated altercation involving a firearm. The address was previously known to the deputies due to an ongoing conflict between the landlord and the tenants.
Upon arriving at the scene, deputies gathered evidence, including eyewitness accounts and a cell phone video captured by a bystander. The investigation revealed that 68-year-old Alan Wayne Forney allegedly fired a 12-gauge shotgun into the air and above the head of another individual, Jessie Lake, during the heat of the argument.
Forney was promptly arrested on charges of brandishing and recklessly handling a firearm and subsequently transported to the Rappahannock/Warren/Shenandoah Jail. A 12-gauge shotgun believed to be used in the incident was collected from the scene as evidence.
As the investigation continues, officials are encouraging anyone with additional information to come forward. Contact Deputy Doffermire at 540-635-4128 with any relevant details that could aid in the investigation.
This incident serves as a chilling reminder of the potential escalation of ongoing disputes and the role of the community in ensuring safety.
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