Connect with us

Local News

Kristie Atwood vs. Warren County Building Department

Published

on

Victor and Kristie Atwood talk to their attorney David Silek on the phone. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

After some exchanges in a “loud tone” over the phone with Ms Atwood’s attorney David Silek over not properly notifying him of the hearing, the meeting was started. Two Board members, George Cline and  David Buracker recused themselves and stepped down from the platform. After nearly an hour of discussion, the appeal was postponed until July 18, 2019.

The Royal Examiner’s camera was there:

Here’s the report from ABLE Building Inspection:

First, David P. Rushton from ABLE provided a summary list for the appeal session on a few of the report item numbers that he believed would be of concern to David Beahm County Building Inspector.  Mr Rushon stated that Mr. Beahm would not interested in cosmetic or aesthetic concerns as a building official, that he would be primarily concerned with construction deficiencies and possible code violations. Rushon said, “Of course, Mr. Beahm will have his own thoughts about the issues in your home. This is just my idea of the issues that may be of concern to him”.

These numbers reference the main report provided below:

2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 31, 33, 37, 38, 40, 41, 43, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61, 63, 69, 70, 76, 79, 80, 82, 84, 85, 87, 88, 89, 90, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 106, 111, 116, 118, 119, 120 and 125.

This is the first report provided by ABLE Inspection on September 11, 2017:
Time Start: 9:45 AM Time Finish: 6:15 PM
Weather: Cloudy, temperature about 65⁰ F.

Click here to download photos.

General Notes
A. Directions, e.g. front, rear, left and right, are as viewed from the street facing the front of the house.
B. The inspection was limited by belongings and storage in the home and garage.
C. This report was prepared with the following information:
i. Meeting with Kristie Sours Brown on September 20, 2017,
ii. Copy of construction plans provided by Ms. Sours Brown,
iii. Copy of construction plans files and approved by Warren County, VA,
iv. LP SmartSide Install Instructions Strand,
v. LP SmartSide Trim and Soffit Install Instructions, and
vi. The 2009 Virginia Residential Code.
D. The final building inspection was issued on July 18, 2016.
Contract Administration
1. The construction contract was issued by Buracker Construction, LLC, and signed by Martha A. Buracker. Buracker Construction, LLC, is not registered as a licensed contractor in Virginia.
2. The building permits for the construction of the home were issued by the Warren County Building Department on or about July 22, 2017 to the applicant, Buracker Construction, LLC, a business entity that does not have a valid contractor’s license.
3. The construction contract calls for written and signed change orders for all contract changes. There were numerous plan and material specification changes through the course of the contract. No written changes orders were provided by Buracker Construction, LLC.
4. The construction contract specifies an initial draw payment, a payment when the house is one half complete and a final draw upon completion. Overages or refunds were to be adjusted at closing. Eight actual draws were provided during the course of construction.
Structure and Framing
5. The garage roof trusses are not 12 in 12 pitch as shown on the building plans. OSB flooring was installed on the roof trusses for storage accessed by pull down stairs into the garage. Per information from Ms. Sours Brown, the attic storage room and stairway shown in the original plan were to be installed with conventional framing. The finishes for the garage storage room were the only items that were to be deleted from the construction specifications. All other construction in this area was to remain as originally specified. No change orders were provided to document this construction change.
6. Diagonal bracing is recommended for the garage roof truss system and the upper, main attic conventional framing system.
7. The upper roof framing is 16” on center. 24” on center was specified for the framing in the plans.
8. There were signs of moisture through the foundation walls in the cold cellar. The foundation insulation installed on the inside of the basement walls limited the inspection of these walls for moisture penetration concerns.
9. Cardboard was visible under the cold cellar roof structure steel pans. This may cause settling of the concrete slab above and be an attractant for termites. The cardboard should be removed and metal shims or non-shrink grout installed in any openings created by the cardboard removal.
10. The joist hangers are missing fasteners and adhesive at the basement stairway.
11. The floor and roof support beam bearing is inadequate at the right side porch. The design size of this beam should be confirmed by a registered design professional.
12. The post for the porch roof is not properly supported on the beam below the porch floor.
13. The support for the ends of the diagonal beam under the front deck is inadequate.
14. Joist hangers are missing at the diagonal beam at the front right corner of the porch floor.
15. The porch posts have no restraint against vertical uplift or horizontal forces at their connection to the patio slab.
16. The porch posts have structural screws installed diagonally as restraint against vertical uplift at the lower connections to the deck. Are these screws rated for uplift in this installation? Evaluation by a registered design professional is recommended.
17. The porch posts and diagonal bracing are secured to the roof beam with finish nails. No structural fasteners are visible in these connections. Evaluation by a registered design professional is recommended.
18. One support post was cut too short for the beam under the front porch. Shims were installed under the beam. These shims were not installed vertically and will shrink allowing the beam to settle more at this post than the others.
19. The access to the rear attic is not a minimum of 20” wide.
20. A ceiling joist is cut with no header at the fireplace chimney through the rear attic.
Exterior
21. The installation of the exterior LP Smartside siding and trim materials does not comply with the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
22. The concerns with the LP Smartside installation are:
a. Flashing is missing at the horizontal siding joints on the gable ends,
b. Some fasteners do not appear to be galvanized or stainless steel in an exterior installation,
c. The fastener installation for the trim does not comply with the manufacturer’s nailing instructions,
d. The fasteners for the trim were not installed flush but were overdriven in past flush,
e. 1” minimum space was not provided between the concrete patio, the siding and trim,
f. The required 3/8” space at butt joints in the siding and at joints between the siding and window and door trim, and inside and outside corner trim has not been provided,
g. The cut ends of the siding and trim have not been sealed,
h. The siding and trim joints have not all been caulked,
i. A minimum clearance of 6” between the siding and grade has not been provided,
j. The siding projects past the corner trim on the garage,
k. The siding trim is in direct contact with the stone veneer of the fireplace chimney, and
l. The gutters do not terminate at least 1” away from the siding. The siding and trim installation problems will affect the manufacturer’s warranty on the products.
23. The porch guardrail posts do not extend through the decking and are not fastened to the structure except with diagonal finish nails. Finish nails are not considered to be structural connectors in guardrail applications. The wood members of the guardrail have shrunk and are no longer tight. The guardrail should be designed to withstand 200 pounds of horizontal force at any location and 50 pounds of horizontal force per linear foot of railing.
24. The porch floor trim boards are loose and twisting.
25. Siding batten spacing is 24” apart. Ms. Sours Brown was shown several houses by Martha Buracker and was told that the siding and trim installation would match that of the other houses. The example houses had the battens spaced 16” apart per Ms. Sours Brown.
26. Board and batten siding was not installed on the right garage gable wall. Horizontal siding was installed on this gable wall.
27. The aluminum cap trim is not cut tightly to the wood posts. The gaps have not been caulked.
28. The aluminum trim is wavy and loose.
29. The cap trim repair where the posts were relocated on the rear and right side porches does not match the other trim.
30. The aluminum trim is buckled and dented on the garage door frames.
31. The flashing is lifted and loose at the chimney.
32. The stone veneer and mortar on the chimney is bleeding onto the chimney and the adjacent roof shingles. The stone veneer is bleeding onto the porch floor.
33. Head flashing was not found above the front circle head window. Water stains are visible in the interior finishes around this window.
34. The pre-finish on the LP siding has been damaged in numerous locations.
35. The touch ups of the LP siding paint do not match the original finish.
36. Sealant is missing on the left side of the right front dormer.
37. The stair stringer attachment at the both porch steps is inadequate. The front porch steps are settling and pulling away from the porch. Metal stair hangers are recommended. This is a safety concern.
38. No foundation was provided at the stair stringers to support the stairs.
39. The front porch steps do not flare out as specified in the construction contract addendum.
40. Some fasteners in the cedar porch posts and trim appear to be corroding prematurely. Stainless steel or double dipped galvanized fasteners are recommended with cedar due to the natural acids in the wood that contribute to its’ weather resistance.
41. No foundation to frost line was found below the rear patio slab that was poured between the basement cool storage room and the garage.
42. The right side porch floor does not overhang the concrete block foundation wall. Water is running from the floor and wall above down the foundation wall. The parging on the wall is subject to freeze/thaw damage in this area.
43. No drain holes were found at the base of the masonry wall on the rear porch.
44. The cap has not been installed on the right side rear porch wall.
45. The front entry door latch is broken.
46. The master bathroom exterior door knob handle is loose and comes off.
47. The master bathroom exterior door deadbolt does not lock.
48. The rear porch has no screened in section as shown in the plans.
49. The rear porch has no bay style bump out for the roof and floor as shown in the plans.
50. No windows were installed in the garage upstairs gable end walls.
51. The basement entry door lock is damaged.
52. The basement door threshold has not been secured or sealed to the concrete floor.
53. The rear garage entry door threshold has not been secured or sealed to the floor.
54. The rear porch concrete slab projects past the end of the side deck.
55. The rear left corner of the patio by the garage is settling excessively.
56. Grading and drainage at the front does not slope away from the foundation a minimum of 6” in the first 10’ especially under the front porch.
57. The stone veneer is set tightly to the roof shingles at the chimney. A minimum space of 1” is recommended in these intersections. Weep screeds were not found at this location.
58. Kick out flashings are missing at the breezeway roof into the garage and house walls.
59. The openings in the basement foundation wall at the door and windows have not been covered with stucco. The stucco mesh does not extend over the joints between the foundation wall and wood frame. This joint will crack immediately and re-crack after every repair.
60. The rear entry door is scratched.
61. A concrete form board has not been removed outside the basement entry doors.
62. The contract plans call for cedar ceiling on the porch. Vinyl ceiling panels were installed.
63. The dirt and masonry demolition and construction debris was pushed over a hill. It does not appear to be buried. Large pieces of concrete and concrete block are visible in the debris.
64. The driveway does not have the final grading completed. The front lawn drains across the driveway causing erosion and chronic maintenance in this area.
65. Final grading, seeding and straw cover were completed but the grass failed to grow. The final grading was not completed per the discussion between David Buraker, George Cline, the excavating subcontractor, Vincent Atwood, Jr.and Kenny Sours, Kristie’s father. The yard has areas that remain wet in spring and wet weather.
Roofing
66. The left side porch roof shingles are stained from the air conditioning condensate draining onto the shingles. Replace the stained shingles is recommended.
67. The roof flashing has been sealed with roof cement at the lower ends of the front dormers.
68. The downspout is dented at the front left corner of the garage.
69. A roof/ wall vent has not been installed at the front porch per the plans.
Plumbing
70. The plumbing vent pipes should be supported every 4’ through the main attic and pitched to drain down into the drain system.
71. The tub faucet spout is loose in the upstairs right bathroom.
72. The front shower handle is loose in the master bathroom.
73. An access panel was not found for the tub motor.
74. The toilet seat is broken in the master bathroom.
75. The laundry and whirlpool tub plumbing are located on exterior walls and subject to freezing.
76. A tempering valve was not found for the master bathtub. This is a potential scald hazard.
77. The two stage toilet in the powder room does not refill properly.
78. The upstairs bathroom toilet was running during the inspection. It needed the handle to be jiggled to stop the water flow.
79. The basement floor drain is not accessible under the heat pump air handler. This is a maintenance concern.
80. The frost-free hose bib near the basement entry door freezes in winter. The bib is not pitched to drain water down and out of the fixture.
81. The foundation drain outlet is damaged and restricted in the right side yard.
Electrical
82. A single, small gauge copper wire is running through the garage attic to the electrical panel. This may be a bonding wire for the whirlpool tub. Small gauge wires are required to be protected with running boards when installed across framing members through an accessible attic.
83. The electrical panels were installed in the side wall of the garage rather than in the basement per plan/contract reference.
84. A GFCI receptacle is recommended in the basement for the water conditioning equipment.
HVAC
85. The exterior fireplace glass doors were binding and not closing. The fireplace doors shattered during the third use of the fireplace.
86. The fireplace in family room is different manufacturer and model than shown on the receipt from Acme Fireplaces.
87. Family room fireplace damper is damaged and not closing tightly.
88. The interior of the family room fireplace is damaged and bent at the damper/ chimney pipe connection at the top of the firebox. This is an unsafe condition (fire hazard).
89. The family room fireplace refractory lining is significantly damaged and cracked.
90. Significant smoke evidence and heat damage is visible on the exterior metal and stone veneer of the family room fireplace.
91. The glass doors are not installed on the family room fireplace. The doors were damaged during the second use of the fireplace.
92. The family room fireplace chimney system does not match fireplace itself but is made by a different manufacturer. Metal fireplace and chimney systems are tested and listed as complete systems. This is an inappropriate installation and an unsafe condition.
93. There is less than the 2” required minimum spacing between the living room fireplace metal chimney system, the roof framing and fiberglass insulation in the attic.
94. The upstairs heat pump primary condensate drain in the attic discharges through the attic side wall and onto the porch roof below. The condensate drain line should be brought down through the interior of the home and discharge into the sump pump or outside onto the ground.
95. The insulation is incomplete at the refrigerant line to the air handler in the attic.
96. The flexible duct in the basement was not fully extended. This is a manufacturer’s installation instruction and system efficiency concern.
97. The heat pump disconnects are located behind the exterior equipment. Access to the disconnects is restricted.
98. The wood fired boiler noted in the extra cost addendum was not installed.
Interior
99. The stair riser heights differ by more than 3/8” from the house into the garage. The top riser height exceeds 8 ½” measured to the top of the door threshold.
100. The attic pull down stairs are missing fasteners to secure the stair frame to the garage ceiling framing. This is a safety concern.
101. The attic stairs, wood corner trim and plastic access panel breech the fire separation between the garage and the attic. This is a fire safety concern.
102. The access to the rear portion of the upper attic should be at least 20” wide.
103. Have the garage roof trusses been designed to accommodate anticipated storage loads?
104. 7/16” thick oriented strand board has been installed for storage across the garage ceiling trusses spaced 24” apart. This material is not intended for use as flooring. It may break under storage or personnel loads creating a safety concern.
105. No shelving was installed in the basement or garage.
106. Firesafing material has not been installed in the following locations:
a. At the fireplace chimney firestops in the attic, and
b. The electrical cables into the attic (visible above the main panel), and
c. At the tub drain in the basement.
107. The interior drywall finishing and painting is incomplete at the upstairs left bathroom and the upstairs family room wall. Touch up of all drywall and paint was to be provided by Buracker Construction LLC per Kristie’s conversation with Martha Buracker.
108. A square shoe molding has been installed throughout the house at the base moldings on the hardwood and tile floors. This square profile is difficult to clean. A ½ x ¾” tapered shoe molding is typically installed at this location.
109. The entry foyer wood floor is stained in front of the powder room wall from a toilet that was stored on the wood floor.
110. The ceramic tile is loose at the rear of the master bathtub platform.
111. The master walk-in closet does not have adequate space between the rods and shelves to hang clothes and walk between the clothes.
112. Several windows are stuck and/or binding. Adjustments are recommended.
113. Three pocket doors were specified in the contract. No pocket doors were installed in the home.
114. The tile work in all the bathrooms was repaired several times during the final completion of the home. The tile in the master bath shower is misaligned and out of square. The niche in the shower wall has a joint at the sill that will permit water to enter the wall behind the tile.
115. The root cellar in the basement measured 6 x 6 ½’. The contract calls for a 6 x 8’6” room.
116. The door thresholds were not cut out in the basement interior walls. This is a trip hazard.
Kitchen, Baths, Insulation and Ventilation
117. The insulation has been displaced in the garage and upper attics. This lessens the performance of the insulation and increases the heating and cooling costs of the home.
118. The bathroom fans from both upstairs baths vent into the upper attic. Exterior terminations are required for both fans.
119. No exterior termination was found for the master bathroom exhaust fan.
120. Insulation is missing on both attic hatches and the bathroom bay cantilever.
121. The floor is loose in the kitchen cabinet mounted over the refrigerator.
122. The right side of the kitchen cabinet over the refrigerator is damaged by a nail.
123. An anti-tip bracket should be installed on the kitchen range. This is a safety concern.
124. The flexible dryer vent is restricted behind the dryer.
125. Foam insulation is exposed on the basement wall behind the heat pump air handler. Foam insulation should be covered per the manufacturer’s requirements.
126. Foam insulation should be installed on the ceiling and walls of the root cellar and covered with 1/4” tile backer board to provide a non-combustible, water and mold resistant finished surface.
If you have any questions about the above information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Sincerely,
David P. Rushton
President
ABLE Building Inspection, Inc.
(540) 636-6200
Virginia Licensed Home Inspector
New Residential Structures License #3380 000161 NRS

Click here to download photos.

Board of Building Code Appeals

Pursuant to Section 36-105 of the Code of Virginia, there shall be established within each local building department a local board of Building Code appeals which hears and determines appeals from any order, requirement, decision, or interpretation made by the Building Official or his agent in the administration or enforcement of the Virginia Statewide Building Code. Any person aggrieved by the local building department’s application of the Building Code or refusal to grant a modification to the provisions of the Building Code may appeal to the local board of Building Code appeals.

Share the News:

Local News

SamiCon 2019

Published

on

SamiCon 2019. First Place winner was Kelly Clark, left. Susan, Connor and Mason Clark. Mason won 2nd place in the 12 and under group.

Samuels Public Library’s own mini Comic-Con celebrates reading and technology literacy at the library, in our community, and beyond through comics, graphic novels, manga, anime, gaming, and computer technology. This is the culminating event of Library Card Sign-up month.

This year’s theme was Lord of the Rings! Cosplayers, programs gaming, crafts, maker space, scavenger hunt, inside vendor fair, local talent, costume contest – there was something for everybody.

The Royal Examiner was there too. Watch as we traveled around the Library and spoke to vendors, cosplayers and don’t miss the costume contest at the end. Congratulations to Kelly Clark for First Place in the costume contest.

The community came out and supported this event. To name a few:

Conquest Technologies
Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum
Boy Scout Troop 53
Samuels Library S.T.E.M.
C & C Frozen Treats
Mama Lucie’s Kitchen
Batman & Friends
501st Legion
Front Royal Joker & Harley Quinn
Ghostbusters Tri-State
Rebel Legion
Allied Communications
Alvasari Wargaming
BattleGrounds Fitness / Crossfit Front Royal
cloutriGS
Communty Table
Connie’s Creations
Digital Bookmobile by OverDrive
Empathy Studios
Escape211
Front Royal / Warren County Tree Stewards
Historical Miniature Gaming Society
Infotech
The Kiln Doctor
Northern Virginia Academy of Ballet
Pagemaster Books
Ravyn Raver
River & Peak Outfitter
Simply Stitched Crochet
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Steven Reinagel, Author & Game Designer
Stoneworks
Strokes of Creativity
Warren County Fire & Rescue
Wild World Designs

Share the News:
Continue Reading

EDA in Focus

EDA Reform Committee receives audit update; reviews properties

Published

on

Fork District Supervisor and EDA Reform Committee Chairman Archie Fox mulls the Sept. 12 committee agenda while Town Council Clerk Jennifer Berry preps for the start of the meeting. Photo by Kim Riley. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

FRONT ROYAL — The Reform Committee of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) learned during its September 12 meeting that the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 audit of the authority’s financials — which currently are at the center of a major fraud and embezzlement scandal — should be ready by year’s end.

EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons told committee members that in-house accountants are finished reviewing the proposed adjusted journal entries on the asset side of the balance sheet done by investigative public accounting firm Cherry Bekaert, and now are working to finish the adjusted entries for debt on the capital side of the balance sheet.

“It’s going to be their best effort to represent what has happened,” Parsons said. “We are hopeful by September 27 that they’ll have everything ready to go … for the audit,” which will be completed by the EDA’s auditing firm, Yount Hyde and Barbour (YHB).

The EDA Board of Directors first will need to sign off on what gets submitted by the accountants to YHB, which will conduct the audit and inform the EDA about its current financial standing.
Fork District Supervisor and EDA Reform Committee Chairman Archie Fox asked whether, at the end of the audit, the members would know if the EDA was solvent. “Is that a fair question?” he asked.

“We have cash,” answered EDA Board Chairman Ed Daley, “but we’re like the federal government. If somebody called the federal government and said, ‘We want you to pay all of your bills today,’ the federal government’s in trouble; they can’t do it. We’re in that type of a position where what we owe, our liabilities, exceed our assets, but we have cash.”

In fact, according to Parsons, the EDA is $41.9 million in debt with roughly $1.8 million in the bank.

Front Royal Town Councilman Jacob Meza, another reform committee member, asked what the plan is for getting the EDA back to a normal operating level.

Parsons said EDA properties will be sold in order to recover as much taxpayer money as possible, and funds should be recouped through lawsuits. He said most of the EDA’s debt is covered.

“The First Bank and Trust IT Federal Loan, for example, is covered by Mr. Tran’s payment. From cash flow we’re covered on that loan and that’s big; that’s a pretty good-sized loan and that’s a huge payment. Thank goodness he’s making his payments faithfully,” said Parsons.

Going forward, Daley said that one of the future conversations to be had by the EDA Reform Committee must regard the role the EDA should play in the acquisition of properties “and how speculative, if you will, we should be.”

He suggested that the EDA, Town Council and Warren County Board of Supervisors come up with a recommendation around that idea.

During his updates, Parsons also provided committee members the status of several EDA properties, including 404 Fairground Road.

“We’ve been marketing that property and we have a fully signed and executed letter of intent to sell that property and we’re working with the client on a sales contract,” Parsons said, adding that the buyer wishes to remain anonymous until the contract and subsequent sale are finalized.

A potential buyer also exists for the EDA’s warehouse at 426 Baugh Drive, where Parsons said, “We have a very interested party that we are in negotiations with at this time.”

It’s an entirely different situation for the EDA’s properties at 506 and 514 E. Main Street, which are the old Stokes Mart and nearby apartment building, which remain on the market.

“We thought we had a buyer, but they backed out,” said Parsons. “We will continue to market those two properties.”

Meza asked if there’s a strategy that the EDA has adopted to select certain properties for sale and for what reasons.

“If I had a magic wand,” Parsons said, “the ones I’d want to sell first and foremost would be Stokes Mart and the apartment building, which the EDA has no business owning, in my opinion.”

And while 404 Fairground Road is a fine property, Parsons explained it also isn’t in the realm “of what EDA should be owning and marketing in an effort to create new jobs and bring in a new tax base.”

Comparatively, Parsons said that the EDA’s 426 Baugh Drive is “exactly the kind of property the EDA should own and I’m glad that we do; of course the idea there is to bring in a major employer to make a significant contribution to the tax base so we’re actively marketing that property. We have the ability to be a little discerning about who we sell it to and make sure we get the most bang for our buck.”

Daley added that it’s very important to the EDA Board that the Baugh Drive property is bought for its intended use, which should be “some type that’s going to develop jobs and the tax base.”

Meza said it seems that the EDA has put its properties into two categories — to get rid of the ones that it shouldn’t hold on to and to identify the most strategic properties to market to companies. He also asked if there’s another category, like one that’s designed to maintain EDA solvency by just selling off properties and keeping the monies.

While that is part of the overall strategy, Parsons said “it’s not a desperate fire sale for all of the properties.” Instead, there’s a “sliding scale” of priorities or more of a willingness to be more discerning about who buys the properties. “You can only sell them once,” he said.

Other EDA Reform Committee members present Thursday were Town Attorney Doug Napier, County and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten, County Administrator Doug Stanley and Council Clerk Jennifer Berry.

Watch the Royal Examiner video to hear the discussion between Whitten and Meza about whether the EDA can be dissolved or file for bankruptcy. Hint: Bankruptcy for such an authority as the EDA isn’t legally permitted, according to Whitten.

Share the News:
Continue Reading

EDA in Focus

Exploring Warren County’s EDA financial scandal – How did it happen?

Published

on

The Warren County Courthouse continues to be ground zero for legal consequences of the EDA financial fraud investigation. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

As the final weeks of the summer of 2019 arrive in the northwestern Shenandoah Valley, one small-town, rural community remains conflicted, perhaps even collectively traumatized by a financial scandal that has carried the names Front Royal and Warren County across Virginia and occasionally beyond into major media markets across the country.

In September, less than six months after civil litigation was filed seeking recovery of millions of dollars of allegedly misdirected economic development assets there have been:
– forty-one criminal indictments served against five defendants related to alleged financial fraud within the local Economic Development Authority;

– four surviving EDA civil defendants and their companies have been sued for the return of up to $21 million dollars of those economic development assets;
– a long-time, generally well-thought-of sheriff is dead, possibly on the eve of himself being criminally indicted after being named one of the EDA civil suit defendants;
– the Town of Front Royal has filed a civil suit against the EDA and its former executive director that has climbed from an initial $3 million figure to as much as $15 million;
– a Special Grand Jury looking into potential criminality surrounding all of this has asked for a six-month extension to March 31, 2020, to continue its work begun in early April.

We must remember that everyone who has been charged civilly and/or criminally will have their day in court with an opportunity to give their side of the story and claim misunderstanding or innocence. But human nature being what it is, fingers have been pointed – sometimes rationally, sometimes not – and an ongoing, collective query remains on the lips of a community – whoever and however, how and why did it happen?

“We’re here tonight because there was a catastrophic failure that allowed criminal embezzlement and rampant mismanagement to flourish,” recently-elected EDA Board of Directors Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne said on behalf of the EDA to open the August 27 joint meeting of County, Town and EDA boards and staffs.

That is the short answer.

“None of us ever want to see that happen again. The failures can be grouped into two categories … failed procedures and failed oversight,” Browne added of the outline for a path forward.

EDA Vice Chairman Jeff Browne, at far right end of the not-quite-round-table meeting of County, Town and EDA officials on Aug. 27 – Browne’s opening statement outlined the primary institutional failures that facilitated what has developed into a multi-million dollar municipal and economic development scandal.

What led to those catastrophic failures of people and processes will take a bit longer to unravel.

While ultimate legal responsibility will be the province of the civil and criminal court systems, likely even at the federal level on the criminal side, there can be little doubt that large amounts of money designated for public use related to economic development in Front Royal and Warren County were moved haphazardly with little, if any consideration to due diligence. LINK-Criminal and non-criminal dereliction of public duty: Where might they apply in the EDA financial scandal?

One can only wonder where the pertinent question that might have prevented it all was from a total of 19 elected and appointed board members from the Town, County and EDA over the past five-plus years. It wasn’t a difficult question – “Is what I’ve been told to justify a large investment of public funding, let’s say $10 million, verifiably true?”

Oh, that’s right – that question WAS asked three years ago.

In October 2016 Bébhinn Egger, far right, confronted EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald about claims being made about the business model of ITFederal and its contract base, as well as the apparent presence of an EB-5 Visa funding stream to ITFederal. McDonald was sparse on detail in response to those questions. However, Egger’s colleagues seemed uninterested in answers.

However when first posed in mid-2016 by a lone municipal voice, Town Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger, as well as the Royal Examiner news staff, it was initially ignored and/or vilified by every other involved public official.

The vilification was that “negative press” was threatening the successful conduct of EDA business, particularly ITFederal business. It is a business now asserted in court filings as having fraudulently received the largest single chunk, $10 million, of EDA assets being sought for recovery in the EDA civil litigation.

But three years ago then Councilman Bret Hrbek, a recent if unsuccessful applicant for a seat on the EDA board of directors, seemed to speak for a distinct town council majority of five and the mayor when he suggested that the question about the truth of what was being presented to this community about ITFederal was counterproductive.

Why?

Because that “negative press” being generated by Bébhinn Egger and Royal Examiner about the ability of Truc “Curt” Tran and his ITFederal LLC to live up to the promised $40 million investment creating 600 high-paying tech industry jobs in this community had led the ITFed CEO to consider taking his ball and going home – or rather to take his LLC trumpeted as the first commercial redevelopment client at the Avtex Brownfield site, and go elsewhere.

Councilman warns ITFederal CEO may bail over questions

But would that have been such a tragedy – particularly before the Town offered its initial one-month, twice-extended $10-million “bridge loan” that enabled the EDA to finalize its $10-million
loan to ITFederal through First Bank & Trust?

From left, Bret Hrbek, Gene Tewalt and Bébhinn Egger at late November 2016 council meeting; Hrbek was the harshest council critic of Egger’s or media questions about the ITFederal project, warning at that meeting that those questions might cost the town and community the ITFederal project.

According to documentation in the Cherry Bekaert EDA financial fraud investigation, Tran listed ITFederal assets of $2,020,000 as collateral for the $10-million bank loan facilitated through the EDA. But $2,000,000 of that amount was the value of the 30-acre property at the Avtex site/Royal Phoenix Business Park which the EDA “gifted” behind closed doors to Tran for $1 – yes, one dollar American – after public discussion of a $2-million dollar sale price.

Red Flag?

Royal Examiner thought so in its first month of existence when it broke the news of that one-dollar, 30-acre gift to ITFederal leading to a year’s delay in approving the transaction by federal oversight authorities.

Feds OK ‘Dollar Special’ on first Avtex property sale

As noted in the linked October 27, 2016, Royal Examiner story, approval from the U.S. Justice Department to remove the ITFederal parcel from a bankruptcy court-ordered $2.06 million lien on the Royal Phoenix/Avtex property came on September 23, 2016. That was just over a year after the request to allow the one-dollar sale was sent out by then EDA/County Attorney Blair Mitchell on September 18, 2015. The stated rationale was that facilitating the ITFederal project with a give-away of land valued at $67,000 an acre would jump start other full-price purchases at the site.

“This 30 acres has been sold for $1.00 in order to get a developer to come in and begin the process of other buyers,” Mitchell wrote, adding, “The EDA already has a buyer for a 3-acre parcel to sell at $67,000 per acre, so selling this parcel as a way of breaking the ice will pay off in the long run. While the $1 will not be used to pay down the $2,060,000 lien, sales proceeds from future sales will be applied toward the paydown of the secured debt.”

Three years later we see how that plan worked out:
1/ no three-acre sale to CBM Mortgage at Royal Phoenix;
2/ no other land sales at Royal Phoenix;
3/ no $40 million investment or any jobs created by ITFed at the Royal Phoenix site.

Well ITFederal remains on the 30 Royal Phoenix acres gifted to it by the EDA for a dollar, but the $40 million investment and 600 jobs seem to have hit the highway, along with our Sixth District Congressional representative credited with bringing the project here.

In fact per the ongoing sweetheart agreements he was dealt by the EDA, it appears Tran may invest about $2 million to create an unoccupied 10,000 s.f. building at his “get the redevelopment ball rolling” gifted acreage with no further obligations other than that he have a certificate of occupancy issued by the middle of 2020 and continue to make monthly payments for the balance of 30 years on that $10 million bank loan through the EDA.

And the Cherry Bekaert investigation verifies what Royal Examiner and Bébhinn Egger were saying at the time – that there was no evidence the $140-million dollar federal government contract ballyhooed by Tran, his D.C. political sponsor Robert Goodlatte and EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald as the basis for ITFederal’s investment here ever existed.

A ‘Perfect Storm’ of silence raises questions about 1st Avtex client

The Perfect Storm of Silence, Part 2: a cattle ranch, $10-mil & …

How did it happen – not just the ITFederal and Workforce Housing debacles that first attracted this media outlet and Councilwoman Egger’s attention – but all of it, the 16 specific project allegations cited in the Cherry Bekaert working papers report and summary?

Work on Afton Inn redevelopment across the street from Town Hall stopped after the project was cited as a means of embezzling EDA assets in the March 26 EDA civil suit. Town officials have reported the 2 E. Main St. development group unnamed in the financial scandal, as anxious to get the project going again.

Those projects in order of their listing in the Cherry Bekaert summary are: Workforce Housing Project/Royal Lane Property; Afton Inn Property Improvements; Criminal Justice Training Academy; Bargain Land Sale and Issuance of $10,000,000 Loan to ITFederal; Payments to or on Behalf of ITFederal; Payments to Earth Right Energy; New Market Tax Credit Projects; Leach Run Parkway Easements; Wetland Credits; New Hope Bible Church; 999 Shenandoah Shores Road; Payments to (McDonald) Relatives; USDA Intermediary Relending Program; Stokes Mart/B&G Goods; Payments to Known and Suspected (McDonald) Business Partners; USDA Rural Business Enterprise Loans.

How could personal and procedural checks and balances collapse so catastrophically for such a length of time, in so many directions?

“I had no reason not to trust her,”

If Jennifer McDonald’s late January 2018 story to Royal Examiner about a 3-year run of luck at Charles Town’s Hollywood Casino slots didn’t raise alarm bells with EDA and municipal colleagues, it did among those in the community with some background in the gambling industry. Rather than win about $2 million over 3 years by spending a maximum of around $6,000 annually, Virginia State Police say she netted a three quarters of a million dollar loss.

“I had no reason not to trust her,” is a comment offered by more than one EDA or municipal official in explanation of the lack of due diligence performed on project proposals and financing or the purchase and sale of properties through the EDA on the word of its former executive director. LINK-Hitting it BIG at Charles Town’s Hollywood Casino – a local success story
Perhaps it is that personal comfort and familiarity – “I had no reason not to trust her” – born of long-time social, professional and organizational ties that gives us a clue at a root cause of that “catastrophic failure” of procedures and oversight cited at this story’s outset.

It is a familiarity born of business and legal transactions, organizational memberships, not to mention in many cases political party affiliations. In Warren County those political affiliations are almost exclusively on the Republican side of the political aisle, from local to state and federal levels. And that is not to point a finger at one party or the other, but rather just to acknowledge the local political landscape.

Were there to be only Democrats in electoral and judicial office here, the situation would be the same – “I know you; we have common interest and cause, why would I not trust you?”

McDonald did double duty as Front Royal Rotary Club President, circa 2016-17.

It is such personal or professional familiarity that has forced the eventual recusal of all the county’s circuit court judges from hearing EDA legal matters at an evidentiary level. Chief 26th Judicial District Judge Bruce D. Albertson, now hearing EDA civil and criminal cases in place of Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr., has indicated he will soon appoint another judge from outside the county to take over the EDA Special Grand Jury bench as Athey heads to the Virginia State Appeals Court.

It is that small town “everyone knows everyone” personally, organizationally, professionally and politically that can contribute to that apathy toward fundamental organizational due diligence, if not worse.

From left, South River Supervisor Linda Glavis, School Board Chairman Cathy Bower, Warren County Middle School Principal Amy Gubler and School Superintendent and EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher listen as Robert Goodlatte speaks at the July 31, 2017 WCMS ribbon cutting.

Why would anyone in local elected or appointed office here not trust then-U.S. Sixth District of Virginia Republican Congressman Robert Goodlatte’s 2014-15 assertion that ITFederal would invest $40 million dollars and create 600-plus high-paying jobs here based on a $140-million federal government contract there was no evidence existed?

Why?

Share the News:
Continue Reading

Local News

Rollback of Wetlands Protections undermines Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

Published

on

The non-partisan, environmental watchdog group that alerted the public to dangerous levels of E Coli contamination in the Shenandoah River in 2017 has released a critical appraisal of new Trump Administration roll back of one aspect of Chesapeake Bay watershed protections.

Is the Shenandoah River safe for recreational use?

The Town of Front Royal’s work in recent years on improving its wastewater treatment facility and processes was mandated in part by the Shenandoah River Basin being included in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed impacted by regulatory protections at federal and state levels. In addition to helping clean up local waterways, the end result of those regulations is protection of the Chesapeake Bay and its billion dollar annual fishing industry.

So, while yesterday’s release doesn’t involve wetlands in the Shenandoah Valley, we are connected in the end result of negative impacts on regulatory protections of the Chesapeake Bay and consequent negative impacts on the seafood we, the nation, and likely a good bit of the world, eat from it.

Environmental Integrity Project Executive Director Eric Schaeffer – Courtesy Photos EIS-Tom Pelton-Ari Phillips-US Fish & Wildlife Service

On Thursday, September 12, Environmental Integrity Project Executive Director Eric Schaeffer issued the following statement regarding the Trump Administration’s new “Waters of the U.S. Rule,” which was finalized Thursday, September 12:

“This regulatory rollback by the Trump Administration is a clear setback for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup because it threatens to strip federal protections from some wetlands in our region that provide important water pollution filtration services. Specifically, the change could eliminate federal protections from 34,560 acres of scattered wetlands called ‘Delmarva Potholes’ on the Eastern Shore that help reduce the runoff of farm fertilizer into the Bay.”

‘Delmarva Pothole’ wetlands play a filtration role for the Bay in providing a habitat for amphibians, birds, and other wildlife that help stem farm runoff pollution from the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries feeding it. Pictured are wetlands near Damsontown Rd. in Ruthsburg, Md.

The press release continues to explain and map out the so-called “Delmarva Pothole” wetlands and their role in providing watershed protections to the Chesapeake Bay.

“A December 2018 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, titled ‘Undermining Protections for Wetlands and Streams’ mapped the location of these Chesapeake wetlands at risk in the Trump Administration rollback. Although seldom discussed, 4,950 “Delmarva Potholes” wetlands cover 34,560 acres of Eastern Shore farmland in Maryland and Virginia. That acreage is the equivalent of 54 square miles of wetlands – a landmass almost the size of Washington, D.C. – that provide important habitat for amphibians, birds, and other wildlife and perform filtration services to keep farm runoff pollution out of the Chesapeake Bay.

Map showing the Delmarva Peninsula, in Maryland and Delaware, including individual Delmarva Bays that were identified using lasers from airplanes (Light Detection and Ranging or LiDAR imagery). Gray areas represent zones where LiDAR data were not available. From “Distribution, Morphometry, and Land Use of Delmarva Bays,” by D. E. Fenstermacher and colleagues published in the journal Wetlands on October 8, 2014.

“Delmarva Potholes are non-tidal wetlands in low-lying areas that are not usually connected on the surface to rivers or streams. Their waters often connect beneath the ground, or through ditches, to nearby streams and waterways, especially in rainy seasons. In appearance and formation, Delmarva potholes are often oval-shaped depressions carved out by the wind in past centuries. Historically, 119,000 acres of these ‘Delmarva potholes’ existed on the Delmarva Peninsula. But over the last three centuries, farmers drained more than two thirds of them to convert them to cropland. The remaining patches of Delmarva pothole wetlands — an endangered species, of sorts — are now usually wooded patches with wet soil surrounded by acres of corn and soybean fields.”

‘Delmarva Pothole’ wetland border development off Camp Road, south of Denton, Md.

Schaeffer is a former Director of Civil Enforcement at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

For more information on EPA’s action today, visit EPA’s “Waters of the US” webpage here: https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-us-army-repeal-2015-rule-defining-waters-united-states-ending-regulatory-patchwork

For a copy of EIP’s analysis of the impact of the rollback on the Chesapeake Bay region, visit: https://www.environmentalintegrity.org/news/report-details-impact-on-the-chesapeake-bay-of-trumps-proposed-rollback-of-wetlands-regulations/

(The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, that protects public health and the environment by investigating polluters, holding them accountable under the law, and strengthening public policy.)

Share the News:
Continue Reading

Local News

Community game center comes online – InfoTech’s new tournament center

Published

on

Everyone loves to plays. Photos courtesy of InfoTech.

On September 12th, which was also coincidentally “National Gaming Day,” Front Royal’s Community Gaming center opened its doors.

Announced at last week’s regular Town Council Meeting by Interim Mayor Matt Tederick, the center is an example of the entrepreneuring spirit here in Front Royal. Kevin and Trudy Rogers, who some may know as the owners of the InfoTech Cellphone Repair store on Main street, started down the road of this project when they hosted a game tournament for fun in their store earlier this summer. When asked what gave them the idea to host this game tournament, Trudy responded “I decided when I was playing games with my son, something we like to do in our free time, and he told me about these Fortnite tournaments and it intrigued me. I just thought the idea of people coming together to have fun playing games was really cool.”

The success of this tournament, which brought out more than a dozen kids, inspired the couple to expand it into a business. Trudy’s love for gaming and the social experience it can offer moved her to create a tournament center in the backroom of the InfoTech store. After completely remodeling the room to encompass dozens of monitors and a top-of-the-line WIFI station, she dedicated the room to her grandmother who loved gaming as much as Trudy does; calling it the EMR Cave. They finished construction at the end of August, only a few months after the first successful tournament.

Some people would question the usefulness of this center, such as concerned parents who worry that their kids play to many video games. Trudy responded to these objections by reminding those at the open house that the center exists to bring the kids out of their rooms to meet and make friends with others. “Wouldn’t it be better to see the people you play with face to face? The answer is a resounding yes! It’s good for the kids.”

The EMR Cave will be open for use to any group that wants to use it. Tourney Gaming will be hosting monthly tournaments with a $20 buy in. Players can also rent out the room for 2 hours for $140 and bring friends or even throw a party. The first tournament will be a Fortnite tournament held September 21st at 2 P.M. with a free trial for a solo Apex Legends match afterwards.

Tournament’s will work as a “bring your own console” because Trudy want’s to let players play with their own settings. However, if a player for some reason can’t bring their own, they do have Xbox’s available for use. The center also has rental headsets and controllers, everything a gamer would need to play well.

Trudy’s long-term goals for the center include installing Virtual Reality (VR) consoles, as well as expanding tournament games to any competitive shooter out there. Businesses can also sponsor tournaments, bringing in the kids and advertising directly to them.

If you want to learn more about the Tourney Gaming Center, visit their website at www.tourneygamer.com

Share the News:
Continue Reading

Local News

A Place to Be

Published

on

On the Saturday of the 5th annual Appaloosa Festival an organization called “A Place to Be” presented the healing power of music. This is not just some good feeling, soul-searching activity.

Music therapy is a medical and psychological science based on the clinical use of music interventions. It helps clients to carry out goals within a therapeutic relationship between a them and the therapist. “A Place to Be” uses music to treat anything and everything, from stroke survivors to those on the autistic spectrum. Having started in Middleburg and expanded to four Inova hospitals, they are well credited in their treatments. Music Therapy is now accepted as a discipline alongside other paramedic professions such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and psychology in paramedic services and special education services provided by health and education authorities.

“A Place to Be” gathered in the workshop at Appaloosa to teach kids about Music Therapy. Photos by McCarthey Andrews.

At an interview with Music Therapist Brad Hassan, he explained exactly how music is used in some treatments. “In music there is tension and release, so we create tension with rhythm which motivates the patient. Rhythmic music helps people move more fluidly, singing supports speech recovery, preferred music can change affective states, associations can engage memory, all to help patients overcome their obstacles.” The effects of the treatment are incredible. Just one example was Ms. Dionna who suffers from a stuttering speech impediment, but after treatment was able to confidently stand on stage and sing beautifully.

Ms. Dionna performing on stage, showing how music therapy has helped her overcome her struggles.

Another example of music therapy’s treatment is the artist Daniel Derrico. Daniel suffered from a speech impediment most of his life, and it had started to become crippling when it prevented him from going to school or even communicating simple ideas. However, after participating with “A Place to Be,” not only did he overcome his impediment in simple tasks, Daniel also became a successful singer and songwriter. At Appaloosa he sang on stage in front of thousands without a single stuttered word. He still partners with and advocates for “A Place to Be” to help support others in overcoming their struggles.

Daniel Derrico, a member and advocate of “A Place to Be,” showing that a disability doesn’t have to get in the way of your dreams.

To learn more about “A Place to Be” and what music therapy can do, visit their homepage at: http://www.aplacetobeva.org/music-therapy.

Share the News:
Continue Reading

King Cartoons

Front Royal
70°
Clear
06:5519:19 EDT
Feels like: 70°F
Wind: 1mph SW
Humidity: 65%
Pressure: 30.09"Hg
UV index: 0
SunMonTue
min 61°F
90/64°F
76/56°F

Upcoming Events

Sep
16
Mon
7:00 pm Faith and Science Presentations ... @ Warren County Community Center
Faith and Science Presentations ... @ Warren County Community Center
Sep 16 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Faith and Science Presentations at Community Center @ Warren County Community Center
The first of a 5-part series of video presentations and discussion concerning faith and science will begin Monday, September 16th, 7:00 PM at the Warren County Community Center, 538 Villa Ave. (off W. 6th St.),[...]
Sep
17
Tue
9:00 am First Baptist Church Golf Tourna... @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
First Baptist Church Golf Tourna... @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Sep 17 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
First Baptist Church Golf Tournament @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Tuesday, September 17th 9:00 a.m. registration 10:00 a.m. shotgun start
1:30 pm Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
Sep 17 @ 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Watercolor Landscapes @ Art in the Valley
This four week course with instructor Elena Maza will focus on learning basic skills to create watercolor landscape paintings: basic composition and use of color and value to create a sense of depth and distance.[...]
Sep
18
Wed
10:30 am Children’s Art Class “Back to Sc... @ Art in the Valley
Children’s Art Class “Back to Sc... @ Art in the Valley
Sep 18 @ 10:30 am – 12:00 pm
Children's Art Class "Back to School" Session @ Art in the Valley
We are offering classes for children ages 7-12 who would enjoy expressing themselves through art. The students will expand their creative side with drawing, painting and constructing, using various mediums such as acrylic, pastels, watercolor[...]
1:30 pm Botanical Drawing @ Art in the Valley
Botanical Drawing @ Art in the Valley
Sep 18 @ 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Botanical Drawing @ Art in the Valley
Learn and practice the art of botanical drawing in pencil with local artist and instructor Elena Maza. This four session course will focus on learning basic drawing skills as applied to botanicals: basic line drawings[...]
Sep
19
Thu
12:30 pm Watercolor Painting Essentials @ Art in the Valley
Watercolor Painting Essentials @ Art in the Valley
Sep 19 @ 12:30 pm – 3:00 pm
Watercolor Painting Essentials @ Art in the Valley
This class will teach you the necessities to create your own watercolor paintings. Setup of materials and proper studio techniques will be shown. Indispensable ideas about drawing and color mixing as well as paint application[...]
4:00 pm Sketching with Pencils @ Art in the Valley
Sketching with Pencils @ Art in the Valley
Sep 19 @ 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm
Sketching with Pencils @ Art in the Valley
Pencil sketching is a great way to capture a visual record of your experiences and ideas. This class will give students a strong foundation for making pencil images for a journal or sketchbook. Principles for[...]
5:30 pm WomanGathering @ Middle of Main
WomanGathering @ Middle of Main
Sep 19 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
WomanGathering @ Middle of Main
Guest Speaker: Debbie Copeland, Author FB LIVE @ 6 PM with hostess Eka Kapiotis and videographer Jen Avery THIS IS A FREE EVENT – Please join us and other women looking to be inspired! WomanGatherings[...]
Sep
20
Fri
9:00 am Annual FRUMC Book Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
Annual FRUMC Book Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
Sep 20 @ 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Annual FRUMC Book Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
At the Front Royal United Methodist Church in the Fellowship Hall. Sept 20, 9am – 4pm Sept 21, 9am – 1pm Books for everyone available: religion, biographies, history, fiction, food, and children’s books. All proceeds[...]
10:00 am The Fundamentals of Oil Painting @ Art in the Valley
The Fundamentals of Oil Painting @ Art in the Valley
Sep 20 @ 10:00 am – 12:30 pm
The Fundamentals of Oil Painting @ Art in the Valley
This class will focus on proven approaches for successful oil paintings. Subject matter will be the student’s choice. No previous painting experience with oils necessary. The class will introduce students to fundamental concepts of color[...]