As noted in our story on the Town of Front Royal’s $12 million amendment to its June 21 civil suit for recovery of lost assets through fraudulent financial activity within operations of the Town-County Economic Development Authority, a motions hearing in the EDA’s $21.1 million civil suit was removed from the Warren County Circuit Court docket on Wednesday, July 17.
The EDA civil motions hearing joins Jennifer McDonald’s scheduled July 15 plea hearing in awaiting appointment of another 26th District Judicial District judge to replace two Warren County Circuit Court judges, Clifford L. Athey Jr. and William W. Sharp.
Athey, who has heard all the civil and criminal case hearings stemming from the EDA financial fraud investigation, is phasing out of local court duties as he prepares to join the Virginia State Appeals Court on September 1.
On July 12 Sharpe submitted a written recusal from all EDA-related cases due to his knowledge of so many involved players, including defendants and potential witnesses. That knowledge, Sharpe wrote, comes from past professional and personal associations. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton noted some of the personal associations date to Sharpe Front Royal Rotary membership. Primary EDA defendant Jennifer McDonald held the annual Rotary president’s chair, circa 2016-17.
It remained unclear Wednesday if McDonald’s former EDA Administrative Assistant Michelle “Missy” Henry’s second scheduled bond hearing would again be continued due to the absence of a judge either eligible or familiar enough with the case to render a bond decision. Circuit Court Clerk Janice Shanks has told media that it appears Judge Athey has handed the county circuit court bench over to Judge Sharpe. However, she also observed that Athey was expected to be at the courthouse Friday, July 19, when Henry’s second bond hearing is scheduled.
Athey has twice denied McDonald bond, citing her as a flight risk if she has access to even a tenth of the money cited in the EDA civil suit which seems to revolve around her actions or assertions to the EDA Board of Directors. But while McDonald is believed to have moved several million dollars to her own benefit, Henry’s charges related to the Stokes Mart buildings purchase and a B&G Goods EDA small business loan appear to involve considerably less money being directly accessed by Henry.
“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. A $36,000 small business loan is also referenced in that section of the EDA fraud report, though it appears one of McDonald’s real estate companies paid that loan off.
Henry was arrested on two felony counts for the “unlawful use, disposal, conversion, embezzlement of property of the EDA” on June 24, exactly one month after McDonald’s arrest on the first four of what currently stands at 12 felony financial charges related to fraudulent use of EDA assets. In Athey’s absence from court on June 25, retired substitute Judge Thomas Horne deferred a decision on Henrys’ bond request due to his unfamiliarity with the case.
At that June 25 hearing Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton argued that like her former EDA boss Jennifer McDonald, Henry should be denied bond. He pointed, not only to her believed involvement in the Stokes Mart/B&G Goods situation, but her normal administrative assistant’s role in aiding McDonald with wire transfers. Layton did acknowledge that Henry has yet to be charged related to McDonald’s alleged wire transfer frauds. Layton called the existing two charges against Henry “a betrayal of the public trust”.
“The prosecution is trying to shoehorn her on to collateral charges against the other, main defendant,” attorney Ryan Nuzzo said in rebutting Layton’s portrayal of his client on June 25.
Nuzzo also pointed to Henry’s long and broad community ties. Defense counsel noted that the dates of the charges related to the B&G Goods transactions at the base of his client’s case were between October 1 and December 30, 2016 and September 1, 2014 to December 30, 2016.
“These are very old actions …If she was a flight risk she would have fled by now,” Nuzzo told the court.
Stay tuned to see if anyone is available to re-listen to those arguments and render a decision on Henry’s bond status this Friday, July 19.
Roy’s Express in Front Royal robbed
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 email@example.com.
Open air fire causes wildfire, occupant charged
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)
Suspect arrested and charged for fraudulent use of stolen debit card
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Front Royal man arrested and charged with larceny at Peebles Department Store
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 email@example.com.
Juveniles charged in dumpster fire incident, officials warn of youth fire setting behaviors
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (540) 636-3830, or contact Detective Dave Fogle at email@example.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.
Alford pleas, dropped charges end ‘bawdy house’ saga with no jail time
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.
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.
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 …”
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.