Without accepting any responsibility for the nearly $9-million cost of its new police headquarters building, at a hastily called Tuesday evening Special Meeting to accommodate the turn of the fiscal year today, Wednesday, July 1st, the Front Royal Town Council unanimously approved a “Reservation of Rights Agreement” allowing the Town to pay a portion of the first debt service payment of Fiscal Year 2021 on that Town/EDA capital improvement project. The project was completed in October 2018 and the Town has yet to compensate the EDA for any of its costs in financing the project as will be elaborated on below.
Also approved during the eight-minute meeting prior to an adjournment to closed session for personnel matters believed to be the first of two town managers interviews scheduled this week, was an extension past June 30, and alteration to the contract payment terms of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick. That will be covered in a separate Royal Examiner story.
As to the Reservation of Rights Agreement with Warren County, the authorized one-time payment of $10,528.95 covers half of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s interest-only payment of approximately $21,102 due at the July 1st start of FY-2021.
Contacted Wednesday morning, EDA Executive Director Doug Parson explained the EDA’s loan to facilitate construction of the Town Police headquarters have thus far been interest-only payments based on a 30-day month. That will change on November 1, when the United Bank loan moves to principal and interest payments. Parsons estimated that would take the monthly payments to about $50,000 from the $21,000 interest-only range.
The United Bank’s interest rate on the loan is 3%. However, the town council has taken the legal stance that it should only have to pay a 30-year, 1.5% interest rate it asserts was verbally promised to it by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. As previously reported by Royal Examiner, that 1.5% rate was tied to the construction project qualifying for a 30-year New Market Tax Credit Program (NMTC) loan with a nine-year waiver of interest payments. However, the NMTC program loans are for municipal capital improvement projects that create new jobs, which the FRPD project did not.
Councilwoman Lori Athey Cockrell took the opportunity of council’s passage of the agreement facilitating a one-time, half monthly payment on the FRPD debt service as an indicator that the council and its staff are working proactively with the Warren County government to resolve outstanding legal and financial issues surrounding the EDA.
Prominent among those Town-County/EDA issues is what EDA officials have called “an undisputed” $8.4 million Town “moral obligation” debt on principal to the EDA on the police headquarters construction project. With interest, the balance on that debt is $8.8 million, EDA Director Parsons told Royal Examiner Wednesday.
EDA Board of Directors Chairman Ed Daley was present to watch Tuesday’s council action unfold. Asked for a reaction prior to having a chance to read the Reservation of Rights Agreement, Daley said, “Anything that moves it forward is positive.”
However, after a closer read, exactly how far forward Tuesday’s council action takes the Town-County-EDA discussion, remains a question.
$440,000 invoice – $10,500 (recoverable) payment
The opening paragraph of the Reservation of Rights Agreement notes that the Town had received a June 2 invoice “ostensibly setting out all costs incurred by the EDA in constructing and financing the construction of the Town of Front Royal Police Department (‘Costs’), including the costs and expenses associated with the loan from United Bank obtained to finance construction (‘Loan’)” and continues to note those costs and loan “are currently the subject of dispute” in the Town’s civil action against the EDA.
It is a civil action in which the Town’s contracted Damiani & Damiani law firm appears to have mirrored much of the language in the EDA’s initial civil litigation against Jennifer McDonald and 14 civil co-defendants and which seeks essentially all ($20 million-plus) of the $21.3 million the EDA alleges was misdirected by its former executive director and her first group of co-defendants. In April the EDA filed a second civil action, adding nine defendants and “not less than” $4.45 million in recoverable assets to its litigation.
But as to that June 2 invoice from the EDA, an invoice implying a request for payment on a debt, according to numbers in that invoice what the EDA presented to the Town was a bill for slightly over $441,300 spent thus far on the $8.8 million FRPD headquarters construction loan balance.
What the County and EDA got in response was the above-cited agreement facilitating a recoverable $10,529 payment that on a closer examination appears to try and legally tie the County and EDA’s hands in future court proceedings.
Legal ties that bind?
That agreement references ongoing “discussions” between the Town and County “which may result in amending the Town’s claims in the Litigation (against the EDA)”.
Contacted Wednesday, County Administrator Doug Stanley said county staff had not been involved in those discussions. Attempts to reach Board of Supervisors Chairman Walt Mabe, Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, and County Attorney Jason Ham for information on the referenced discussions and council proposal were unsuccessful prior to publication.
So, referencing the “Reservation of Rights Agreement” passed 6-0 by council Monday, it states:
“WHEREAS, to facilitate the discussions, the County has asked the Town to make the disputed July 1, 2020, payment on the Loan and the Town has agreed, subject to the terms and conditions stated herein.” – As noted above, what was agreed to was a payment of $10,528.95, or half of the interest-only payment due for July, under the following conditions:
Condition 1 – “The Town denies that it owes any moral or legal obligation to repay the Loan” followed by Condition 2, noting that its payment is calculated on the unrealized New Market Tax Credit interest rate of 1.5%, rather than the actual 3% bank loan interest rate.
Condition 3 – “The County and the EDA acknowledge that this payment shall not be construed as, considered to be, or argued to be, in any forum, admission for any purpose, including but not limited to of liability of the Town for the Loan or the Costs.
Condition 4 – “The County and the EDA acknowledge that the Town’s payment is for a disputed debt, under a reservation of rights, and the Town reserves the right to continue to deny liability for the Loan or Costs and to recoup this payment should the discussions prove ultimately unsuccessful.
And drum roll, please, Condition 5 – “All parties agree that payment hereunder shall be inadmissible for any purpose except by the Town to recover this payment as damages in the Litigation.”
So, while Councilwoman Cockrell called the agreement a sign of good faith negotiations in the public interest by the Town, adding that news reports the Town is acting other than in good faith concerning the EDA as creating “a false narrative”, is she right?
Perhaps the EDA’s and County’s attorneys would be the best judge of that – hopefully prior to the signing of the “Reservation of Rights Agreement” by County and EDA officials. For at issue appears to be whose rights are being reserved, and in exactly what legal context regarding the Town’s civil litigation against the EDA and any related litigation over the Town’s responsibility to pay for its $9-million police station.
Because according to the document approved unanimously Tuesday night by the Front Royal Town Council, the Town has no “moral or legal” obligation to pay the EDA-undertaken $8.8-million loan that financed the construction of the Front Royal Police headquarters.
Is that something EDA and Warren County officials really want to sign off on in exchange for a one-time, recoverable, half monthly debt service payment?
Let’s see, a total of $20 million or more at stake versus a “recoverable” $10,500 payment – what do you think?
We asked EDA Board Chairman Daley his opinion on Wednesday after he had a chance to review the Reservation of Rights documents more closely.
“The first the EDA heard of this was last night, which seems odd in that we are asked to sign off on it. But we’ll need to consult with our attorney first,” Daley reasoned.
Of the contention on a lack of Town liability to pay for its police station included in the document, Daley observed, “The EDA was happy to facilitate a project like that. But it was their (the Town’s) contract, their design, we just helped finance it. I think they need to get their financing together and pay for their police station.”
After we read the conditions in the agreement to her over the phone, EDA Attorney Sharon Pandak lauded the opportunity for further communications on Town-EDA/County issues but was skeptical as to a recommendation on the EDA signing off on the Reservation of Rights Agreement as worded.
EDA approves short-term lease on Baugh Drive during Strategic Planning weekend meeting
The EDA Board of Directors met, via Zoom, Friday, and Saturday, October 9-10. There was one item of new business before the board. On a motion by Jorie Martin and seconded by Greg Harold, the Board of Directors unanimously approved a short-term storage lease with ECOMNET for use of 426 Baugh Drive warehouse building.
The remainder of the evening, as well as the full-day Saturday, was devoted to the process of updating the EDA Strategic Plan. The board, along with EDA staff, invited members of the community and Board of Supervisors to share their insights on the role the EDA can play in improving the economic health of and shaping the economic direction of the Front Royal Warren County community.
Attendees included Walt Mabe and Delores Oates, Warren County Board of Supervisors; Ed Daley, Interim County Administrator; Melissa Chapman, President, Ninth Way Solutions; Jeanian Clark, Vice President of Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education, Lord Fairfax Community College; Scott Jenkins, owner of Mountain Home B&B; Chris Laurence, Realtor; Dee Sparger, Outreach Coordinator, Front Royal Presbyterian Church; and Kelly Sprague, owner/manager Blue Wing Frog restaurant.
EDA Board Director Jim Wolfe facilitated the program. The goals of this event were to begin to articulate a vision and mission statement for the EDA, plus develop a list of objectives that the EDA can accomplish within the next five years. While the EDA Board, staff, and participants represented diverse professional backgrounds, all involved share a common passion for this community and a hopeful outlook for the future.
Chair Jeff Browne stated, “A lot of good ideas came out of the sessions that give us terrific ideas to consider as we move forward. There was a strong consensus on important ideas, like Town-County cooperation on a common vision for our community.”
The Board of Directors is proud to have begun this community conversation and look forward to fine-tuning the plan in the coming weeks.
‘This is BIG’ – EDA Chairman reacts to news feds handling EDA criminal investigations
At 12:03 p.m., Thursday, October 8, Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson forwarded a press release from Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst to the media regarding the status of her office’s investigation of potential criminal charges related to the EDA financial scandal and resultant civil litigation.
As stated in that release posted on the Royal Examiner website earlier this afternoon, Garst and her appointed EDA prosecutor Michael Parker, a specialist in white-collar crime, came to a decision to hand their investigation over to the Western District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s office in Harrisonburg in late February of this year.
“Our primary goal with the prosecution is to assure a just outcome. Mr. Parker did an excellent job of assessing the case and putting the evidence together. In doing so, it became apparent that federal prosecutors would be able to gain the best outcome,” Garst wrote in her release dated October 7, continuing to note the late February turnover of the case to the federal prosecutor’s office in Harrisonburg.
“It was explained that my office cannot comment on the case further or jeopardize any potential federal prosecution. I want to assure the citizens of Warren County that my office is dedicated to seeing justice done. In light of an ongoing criminal action, I cannot provide any further information,” Garst concluded, referencing further inquiries to Western District U.S. Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Specialist Brian McGinn.
While anticipating a similar reply to Garst’s “no further information” qualifier, Royal Examiner did reach out to the federal prosecutor’s office to see if there were any clues on timelines on decisions that might be made public. And in a very quick reply to our emailed query, McGinn noted as we predicted, “As per DOJ policy, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.”
Garst’s release acknowledging the change in prosecutors from the state to the federal level in the EDA financial scandal criminal investigation over seven months ago comes just nine days after the Front Royal Town Council’s aggressively worded September 28th Resolution “demanding justice” condemning the lack of action on the EDA criminal prosecution front by the Rockingham prosecutor’s office, and Parker in particular.
We contacted the author of that Resolution, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick who coming out of a meeting had not seen the Garst press release. Informed of its content, Tederick said, “Good news – mission accomplished,” in that a response containing some new information on the EDA criminal investigation’s status had been received.
“I’m sure there’s a rationale and a reason,” he added of the previous silence from the state special prosecutor’s office. “But when the public trust has been violated to this degree, the public deserves some assurance that they are still pursuing the case.”
Tederick noted that confidential information was not being sought in the Town resolution approved by a 5-1 vote, Thompson dissenting, on September 28, just that the case had not gone cold and been abandoned.
But as noted in our story “Town targets Special Prosecutor’s Office over EDA prosecution delays” it appears the Town pursued its Resolution initiative without any prior communications with the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.
That apparently was not the case with an inquiry launched by the EDA, according to Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne.
Having received Garst’s press release through the EDA, we contacted Browne about it. Browne indicated an EDA inquiry about the criminal case status through the EDA’s civil litigation attorneys was begun about a week before the Town resolution was publicly approved.
Browne said he believed local attorney and “B.E.E.R. Party” principal David Downes launched a separate inquiry to Garst’s office as well. Downes publicly criticized the Town Resolution’s message and tone in public comments at the September 28 council meeting prior to the vote on its approval.
Contacted about the County’s knowledge of the origins of Garst’s press release, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley said the County had inquired about the status of the Rockingham prosecutor’s EDA investigation through State Senator Mark Obenshain’s office. It was through Obenshain’s office Daley indicated County officials became aware yesterday of Garst’s press release that may have first been circulated locally in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area.
Regardless of who, how, or why – the consensus is that the information that the case is active and in federal prosecutors’ hands is welcome.
“This is big – from our standpoint, it is really good news,” EDA Board Chair Browne enthused. “This shows that it is still on prosecutors’ radar. The people of Warren County deserve justice. And we want to see anyone there is evidence of involvement prosecuted for it.”
Of the EDA inquiry, Brown observed that he kept hearing that nothing was going to be done regarding criminal accountability for the at-this-point still alleged criminal misdirection of EDA, County and Town assets – “It made me mad and I wanted to let people know we’re still interested in achieving justice,” Browne said of the impetus for the EDA’s inquiry through its legal counsel to the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.
And while the nature of the inquiries may have been different, Browne said he looked at it as a positive that both involved municipalities and the EDA were on the same page in seeking assurances that criminal accountability was still on the legal table at this point.
“We’re in this together, we should be working together,” he said of the Town, County, and EDA.
Perhaps another small step toward increased cooperation, as opposed to increased hostility and litigation, as this community moves forward toward an outcome, if slowly in a complex legal setting.
Rockingham Prosecutor’s Office turned EDA criminal investigation over to U.S. Attorney’s Office
The Front Royal Warren County EDA and Warren County officials, through the EDA’s attorney in the civil case, approached the Rockingham attorney two weeks ago to urge that office to reinstate the criminal charges in the EDA embezzlement case. The attached response is a press release from Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst.
My office was appointed to prosecute potential crimes occurring in Warren County. I authorized one of my most skilled prosecutors who specializes in white collar crimes, Michael Parker, to assist with the case. Our primary goal with prosecution is to assure a just outcome. Mr. Parker did an excellent job assessing the case and putting the evidence together. In doing so, it became apparent that federal prosecutors would be able to gain the best outcome.
Accordingly, working with our federal partners, we referred the matter to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia in late February of 2020. It was explained that my office cannot comment on the case further or jeopardize any potential federal prosecution. I want to assure the citizens of Warren County that my office is dedicated to seeing justice done. In light of an ongoing criminal action, I cannot provide any further information.
Any further questions in this case should be referred to Brian P. McGinn, Public Affairs Specialist, of the Western District United States Attorney’s Office at (434) 295-8672.
Marsha L. Garst
EDA unveils new logo featuring sunrise, logistical and transportation advantages
The Board of Directors and Executive Director Doug Parsons are pleased to introduce the new Front Royal Warren County EDA logo.
Chair Jeff Browne and EDA staff worked with Mike Shotton, of Shotton Design, for several months on the design. The sunrise on the horizon is a feature which reflects a positive belief in the future of the Front Royal and Warren County area. Included are three of the many industry sectors that are important components of our community’s economic engine. Additionally, Front Royal and Warren County are uniquely situated, geographically, to offer businesses and industries the advantage of the I-81 business gateway, the Virginia Inland Port, as well as the I-66/Northern Virginia/metro D.C. corridors.
This new look goes along with the new Board of Directors, new staff, and a new commitment to encouraging business and industry growth and development in the Front Royal Warren County area.
Update: County responds to Town announcement of FRPD financing
This story has been updated. Here is the complete release. Page 2 of the release was missed and left out of the original post.
Warren County released the following press release on Friday, September 25, 2020:
The press conference held on September 23, 2020, announcing that the Town of Front Royal has secured permanent financing for the Front Royal Police Department building is great news for the citizens of our community! It closes a chapter on one aspect of the lawsuit the Town of Front Royal filed against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) and ends months of dispute between the EDA, the Town, and the County. It should be viewed as a path forward to a working relationship between the Town of Front Royal, Warren County, and the EDA.
As Warren County citizens, we were brokenhearted by the EDA scandal. The breach by those who were entrusted with our tax dollars and economic development is one that will take years to restore. Efforts taken by the Warren County Board of Supervisors to restore faith and oversight of the new EDA Board of Directors are well documented. Both the Board of Supervisors and the EDA Board of Directors have worked diligently to clean up the mess and recover the stolen assets for taxpayers.
The portrayal by some Town leadership that the County was unwilling to work with the Town to resolve the EDA issues could not be farther from the truth. The County has had every incentive to work with the Town to resolve the Police Station debt owed by the Town and has repeatedly approached the Town to work together on economic development issues critical to the success of our community.
Town and County residents expect us to resolve our differences and focus on big issues affecting our community. Rampant drug overdoses and deaths in our community, families on the margins suffering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers struggling to educate our children remotely, first responders working double overtimes…these are the type of issues we should be working together to resolve.
Our government needs to DO BETTER. We need to stop blaming one another and start focusing on what will better the lives of our citizens. The residents of our community deserve leaders who spend their tax dollars wisely. That includes streamlining our efforts to reduce duplication of the same services and waste of resources. THE CITIZENS of the Town/County are footing the bill for these lawsuits that are equivalent to suing ourselves. And in the case of Town residents, they are paying for lawyers and court costs on both sides.
The citizens of this community want their leaders to find ways to work together. They deserve it. We encourage the Town leadership to work with the County and the EDA to secure a better community!
McDonald bankruptcy filing removes her from EDA civil suit – July 2022 dates set for remaining civil defendants’ trial
The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority civil litigation now seeking about $26 million in asset recovery against 24 defendants including its former executive director was dealt a harsh blow the day before scheduled motions hearings Friday morning, September 25. That blow was a notice of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing Thursday afternoon, September 24.
As noted in the filing and as discussed in Warren County Circuit Courtroom “A” Friday, the bankruptcy filing essentially removes McDonald from the civil litigation process. McDonald’s bankruptcy filing included one of her two real estate companies, MoveOn8 LLC.
“As a result of the institution of the bankruptcy proceeding, all actions to collect a debt from Jennifer McDonald, or to recover property from the bankruptcy estate of Jennifer McDonald, have been stayed by reason of the applicability of Section 362(a) of the United States Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. 362(A)),” McDonald attorney Peter Greenspun wrote in the filing received in the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office Thursday afternoon. The same holds true as to a stay on asset recovery in the MoveOn8 LLC filing.
With EDA lead attorney Cullen Seltzer acknowledging the stay on civil action against McDonald involving her now bankruptcy-trustee seized assets, a scheduled 9 a.m. motions hearing seeking financial sanctions against her for attempting to move a piece of property frozen by the court near the outset of the April 2019 EDA civil litigation filing was removed from the docket. Judge Bruce D. Albertson adjourned the 9 a.m. proceedings 10 minutes after they began.
Motions hearings on the remaining defendants’ cases commenced shortly after 10 a.m. as scheduled. Two defense attorneys connected by remote audio hookup told the court they were likely to file similar “interlocutory appeals” motions to the one April Petty and Jesse Poe attorney William Shmidheiser informed the court in person he would be filing. Those petitions will seek to have defendants removed from the single “mass trial” the plaintiff is seeking in alleging a wide-ranging conspiracy of McDonald and associates to profit from the alleged McDonald-directed embezzlements and misdirection of EDA assets.
Before making his case that his clients should be removed from the single trial of all defendants, as the 10 a.m. hearing began Shmidheiser called McDonald’s bankruptcy “the elephant in the room” that should be discussed with all involved defense attorneys linked in. That led EDA attorney Seltzer to repeat his acknowledgment that the case against primary defendant McDonald was stayed from further action due to the bankruptcy process.
Several times during subsequent discussion McDonald was referred to as “the hub” of the conspiracy “wheel” the plaintiff is alleging existed between the former EDA executive director and those believed to have benefitted financially one way or another from her alleged misdirection and embezzlement of EDA assets.
Former EDA and McDonald Administrative Assistant Michelle Henry’s attorney John Cook told the court the McDonald bankruptcy filing made his client’s case problematic, in that Henry has filed to force McDonald to pay for her legal fees in the civil case.
Also on the table Friday was McDonald’s ability or willingness to testify as a witness as the civil cases proceed in the wake of her bankruptcy filing. That she could be deposed as a witness in other cases seemed agreed upon. But whether she would quickly choose to invoke her 5th Amendment right not to self-incriminate, with the refiling of criminal charges also still a possibility, remained at issue.
Judge Albertson took defense counsel concerns about the bankruptcy filing’s impact on the other defendant’s cases under advisement, observing, “I think we can proceed with (setting) dates in the event I rule the stay is not warranted.”
EDA attorney Seltzer noted the large number of witnesses to be deposed, over 50 he acknowledged; as well as the limited days per month, three, available for those depositions, depositions he predicted would at a minimum take a full day due to the number of defendants and their counsel involved. Due to those factors, coupled with lingering pandemic limitations on court processes, Seltzer raised an eyebrow or two predicting the civil trial wouldn’t happen before July of 2022.
That prediction led to an added sense of urgency by Petty and Jesse Poe’s attorney. Responding to a question, Shmidheiser told the court he probably would file his interlocutory appeal by the end of the week, as he sought a November date for a hearing on the appeal. Judge Albertson set November 23, at 3:30 p.m., for what is anticipated to be a 30 to 40 minute or so hearing.
Shmidheiser also told Judge Albertson that one of his primary hopes for the day’s hearing was that specific dates would be set for the lengthy deposition process of witnesses, as opposed to the vague “three days a month” tag currently on the table. Agreeing that pinning down dates for depositions was a preferred course of action, Albertson set about finding dates all attorneys could be available for.
Due to varying attorney’s schedules, preferences and other court variables, Tuesdays-Wednesdays-and-Thursdays were set between January and May 2021 to get the deposition ball rolling. Deposition dates agreed to were January 13-14-15; February 16-17-18; March 30, 31, April 1; and May 11-12-13.
Acknowledging the process would likely continue through the remainder of the year, Albertson set a pre-trial motions date of February 19, with a 24-day trial scheduled 4-1/2 months later from July 5 to 29, 2022.
Seltzer did acknowledge it was possible some defendants’ motions to be removed to individual trials could be successful, leading to earlier trials for those defendants.
As for the bankruptcy situation, one attorney present familiar with bankruptcy cases, later explained to the media that the EDA could file to have certain McDonald assets separated from the bankruptcy sale process to accommodate creditors, citing her alleged embezzlements. However, without a conviction in support of those allegations that filing might be hard to get approved by a bankruptcy trustee, Shmidheiser said. He added that the bankruptcy transfers McDonald’s liability from the EDA civil case now in Warren County Circuit Court to a judge-overseen trial in a Harrisonburg U.S. Western District of Virginia Bankruptcy Court.
According to the McDonald Bankruptcy Docket posted by the U.S. Western District of Virginia Court:
The First Meeting of Creditors is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Friday, November 13, 2020 (by telephone);
Deadline for filing Proofs of Claims has not yet been set, because McDonald filed her case as a “No Asset Case”;
Deadline for filing Complaints for Exception to Bankruptcy Discharge is Tuesday, January 12, 2021. The Warren EDA will have to file a Complaint for Exception to Discharge case by the deadline, or its claim will be discharged in bankruptcy, we were told;
McDonald ‘s Bankruptcy Schedules are due to be filed by October 8, 2020 – but if time extensions are requested, they are generally liberally granted.
The Trustee is listed as Bob Stevens of Charlottesville, along with the Office of the U.S. Trustee, with a Roanoke address.