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McDonald draft statement goes public – another side of the EDA story

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Jennifer McDonald planned to make one more public appearance to tell her side of the story to municipal government – her May 24 arrest derailed that plan. But now we have a public release of what she planned to say. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

A draft of comments former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald planned to deliver at a municipal meeting, likely the Warren County Board of Supervisors, outlines her side of the story regarding multiple allegations at the base of the EDA civil litigation filed March 26. McDonald is the pivotal figure in the nine-defendant lawsuit seeking recovery of what has climbed to over $21 million dollars in allegedly misdirected EDA assets.

McDonald’s May 24 arrest by Virginia State Police on four felony financial fraud and embezzlement charges aborted that planned public defense in front of one of the boards now being criticized for a lack of oversight of EDA operations and McDonald’s role in those operations.

The McDonald draft statement was published June 20th on Kristie Atwood’s “One Mad Mother” Facebook page. For some time Atwood has been publishing materials on her Facebook page that would seem most likely to have been leaked to her from McDonald. Atwood would appear to have a common cause with McDonald – to make the Warren County Administration and Board of Supervisors look bad – if for differing reasons: Atwood has threatened a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the County over building permitting issues with her home, while McDonald asserts many of her actions now cited as fraudulent in nature were, in fact, approved and/or known to EDA and County officials and allowed to proceed.

Kristie Atwood has been a vocal critic of county government in the wake of county permitting of unsatisfactory work on the home she was having built. On June 20 she published the draft of McDonald’s planned statement to public officials telling her side of the EDA story.

McDonald’s draft comments were also hand delivered to this reporter “off the record” by McDonald during a meeting at Samuels Public Library the month prior to her arrest. However, with Atwood’s social media publication of the identical draft statement, though my copy had a sexually-tinged paragraph posted by Atwood crossed out for deletion, Royal Examiner sees an “on the record” opportunity to explore portions the former EDA executive director’s explanation of some of her actions cited as fraudulent by her former employer based on the Cherry Bekaert “working papers” report on indicators of fraud in EDA finances and related real estate transactions.

This initial look will summarize an overview of the five-page statement and then focus on its ITFederal references.

The Blame Game

The gist of McDonald’s draft statement echoes with some specificity her civil attorney Lee Berlik’s written response to the Complaint against his client in the EDA civil litigation:

“The Warren EDA … is engaged in an attempt to smear Ms. McDonald by blaming her for every bad decision made by the Warren EDA board over the last several years and turning business deals the Warren EDA now regrets into implausible conspiracies,” Berlik wrote.

While McDonald does not directly address the $52,000 or more in credit card payments made under the auspices of Afton Inn contractual work that appears to have initially landed her in jail, she does comment on social media references to related allegations in the EDA civil litigation.

“Now I get to read the Facebook comments about how my house, credit cards, and essentially all my bills are paid off and that is simply not true. I still have a mortgage that I have held since 2004 when I built my house, I have a mortgage on rental properties, I have credit card bills, I have all of the bills a normal person has and then some,” McDonald wrote, adding of the social media frenzy she was initially exposed to in the wake of the EDA civil litigation filing of March 26, “This is all based on one-sided opinions, not facts. I continue to be harassed by the Internet crowd, threatened by folks in local stores, and stalked by the crazies and for what?”

From the perspective of an EDA board that continued to support her through November 2018, the “what” is an orchestrated, years-long conspiracy going on under their noses involving multiple projects they, at least in some cases like ITFederal and Workforce Housing, as a board approved the expenditure of EDA resources on.

Why were these people laughing? On April 27, 2017, then-EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher and Jennifer McDonald find mirth in a motion approving a $445,000 purchase of the 3.5 acre Workforce Housing parcel that was supposed to be a $10 gift. The EDA civil suit cites the property as a $650,000 loss achieved with the Nov. 28, 2018 EDA sale of the property to believed Aikens Group affiliate Cornerstone LLC for $10 – ironically the price the EDA was initially supposed to pay for the property as a ‘gift’ from McDonald relatives in September 2014.

McDonald calls some of these allegations against her, including but not limited to the ITFederal project and other Truc “Curt” Tran-related land moves and the Workforce Housing fiasco and its ever-fluid developmental and cost scenarios, a result of “selective amnesia” on the part of EDA board members and county officials. As noted above, from her perspective that amnesia revolves around the fact that many projects cited as evidence against her, were approved by the EDA Board of Directors with the support of the Warren County Board of Supervisors and/or Front Royal Town Council.

In its civil filing the EDA counters that many of its worst decisions were based on misinformation presented to it by McDonald. But no one from McDonald to her EDA Board of Directors to County or Town officials who gave the okay to various aspects of these projects, explains why virtually no one involved at the EDA or municipal levels did due diligence to get at the truth of what was being presented to them about various projects they were being asked to support with hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in investments – whoever it was that was doing that presenting.

McDonald civil cases attorney Lee Berlik wrote on the first page of a defense motions filing of April 16, emphasis in context, “Plaintiff suggests every statement by every counterparty it now regrets crediting was a false statement by Ms. McDonald … instead of a false statement to Ms. McDonald.”

Enter the Dragon

In the ITFederal case the lack of due diligence appears to be at least in part the source of origin bringing the company forward – Sixth District Congressman Robert Goodlatte – that absolved ALL involved, from McDonald to her EDA board, to the town council and county board of supervisors save one former councilwoman, from any semblance of due diligence before handing, not only the Royal Phoenix Business Park (the remaining 117 acres were used as collateral on the $10 million dollar EDA/ITFed loan from First Bank & Trust), but also the “farm” over to Tran essentially for one dollar, American, AND the Goodlatte-suggested $10 million dollars for ITFederal operational expenses.

This way to prosperity then-Congressman Robert Goodlatte promised of ITFederal landing at the Avtex Brownfield site as early as September 2014, when the 147-acre Royal Phoenix site was released for development by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“At the ceremony for the release of the Avtex site (September 2014), Goodlatte (then-U.S. Congressman, R-6th) mentioned to several of my Board members what a great opportunity ITFederal would be for the Avtex site,” McDonald wrote in her draft statement, adding, “We started work immediately to make sure we were doing everything in our power to get this business to Front Royal that we thought would create 600 jobs and a $40 million investment in this community. Everyone was ecstatic that we had finally landed what we thought to be the best project that had come our way in over 20 years,” McDonald writes in her draft statement.

And it was not McDonald, but rather the EDA Board of Directors that authorized a 30-year payback term for Tran to the EDA when the Town “Bridge Loan” was extended to Tran from September to November 2015; while the EDA has a seven-year balloon payback in full arrangement with First Bank & Trust achieved in December 2015. The latter is an arrangement, which as we have reported previously, EDA/County Attorney Dan Whitten explains the EDA hopes to refinance at the seven-year mark allowing it to have Tran continue to cover its bank payments over the life of its 30-year ITFederal loan – a loan McDonald attorneys have pointed out Tran remains current on and within reduced benchmarks approved by the EDA Board of Directors.

What McDonald continues to describe in her defense is a virtually blank check given the ITFederal CEO for every idea that might pop into his, or someone’s, head – like the above-referenced “farm”.

“In fact, the Board not only agreed to give Mr. Tran the land (reporter’s note: 30 acres publicly valued by the EDA at $2 million dollars) for $1 if he met certain milestones, but they agreed to help in the purchase of a farm for Mr. Tran, extend a $10 million loan to Mr. Tran, an incentive package to Mr. Tran, and breaks on utility tie ins. All of this in an effort to make sure the community kept the 600 jobs and the $40 million investment as promised,” McDonald wrote.

An aerial view of the believed ‘Front Royal Farms’ property below the treeline in middle of photo that was purchased by ‘Curt’ Tran, just west of the FRLP property. The Tran ‘farms’ parcel comprises about 80-plus acres in the lower, central portion of photo stretching from Happy Creek Road and the RR tracks to the left. Royal Examiner File Photo/Roger Bianchini Courtesy of CassAviation

Now this is my favorite part of McDonald’s statement – her description of how certain reduced benchmarks on the ITFederal $10-million loan were agreed upon – kill the messenger, aka blame the media (they might be telling the truth):

“When Mr. Tran was being bashed in the local news he came to Mr. Drescher (EDA vice chair) and Mrs. Wines (EDA chair) with a letter in hand stating he was ready to move on to a different community because of the bashing UNLESS (EMPHASIS in context) the EDA considered reducing the scope of his obligation. Mr. Drescher and Mrs. Wines took his letter and concerns to the Board and they ALL agreed to reduce the scope of his project,” McDonald writes (why wasn’t I playing poker with these people back then?!?)

The result of that EDA board-approved reduced project obligation is the thus far empty one-story, 10,000 square foot building standing in lieu of the promised three-building 50,000-plus s.f. complex promised to be the foundation of a $40 million dollar investment resulting in 600-plus high-paying tech industry jobs first promised in a press release from Congressman Goodlatte’s office; not to mention ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran sitting on the bulk of a $10 million dollar loan he has about 27 years left to pay off, with only the apparent necessity he spend about $2 million of it here, and provide 10 jobs of indeterminate wage in the 10,000 s.f. building within the next year.

As late as Dec. 20, 2018, even McDonald critic Tom Sayre, 3 months into civil defamation litigation with the EDA executive director, was proud to pose with ‘Curt’ Tran on site behind EDA headquarters.

In her statement McDonald aggressively counters the EDA civil litigation inclusion of that $10 million at the financial center of fraud allegations revolving around her.

“Now here we stand several years later and the Board has changed, the project has not been completed, and everyone wants to point the fingers at yours truly. I have kept my mouth shut for many years now with all of the bashing, hatred, and down-right bullying that I have endured because of the decisions made, not by me, but by the EDA Board, Town Council and Board of Supervisors. My role as Director was to take the beating for everyone and the decisions that had been made and I did just that UNTIL the accusations of embezzlement, malfeasance, moral turpitude, etc started to role.”

Of the inclusion of that $10 million EDA loan to Tran being part of an alleged, far-reaching conspiracy to enrich herself and her family, McDonald writes, “Not a penny of that money came to me or anyone in my family. 100% of the money went to ITFederal at the closing. All documents were signed by Patty Wines (not Jennifer McDonald). The mere fact that anyone sitting on the EDA Board, Town Council, or Board of Supervisors would even suggest otherwise is pathetic and absurd.”

But again, what McDonald fails to explain, as has everyone else she lists as involved on the EDA, County and Town side (other than Bébhinn Egger), is whether ITFederal and its CEO were EVER in a position to achieve what was being promised, initially by the aforementioned and since-retired Sixth District Congressman Robert Goodlatte. For a small amount of online research, as done by this reporter and Norma Jean Shaw in 2016 would reveal a company, not with a $140-million dollar Defense Department contract ballyhooed by Goodlatte and McDonald, but rather a company struggling for at least five years to realize $35,000 to $50,000 in private sector contracts, among other issues.

Above, an early architectural drawing of the first planned ITFederal building at the Royal Phoenix site totaling about 27,000 s.f. – the reality, below, is a one-story, 10,000 s.f. building with phase one of a nice ‘Western Bypass’ connector road built by the Town headed its way.

Cherry Bekaert details what Royal Examiner’s news staff discovered in 2016**:

“Our research of ITFederal and other associated entities from the Business Plan (ITFederal’s for Royal Phoenix site) indicates the companies are very small (likely less than 10 employees). They maintained unsophisticated websites with little to no physical office locations and TRAN’s home residence appears to be the main headquarters of ITFederal and VDN (a second Tran company, VDN Systems). ITFederal, VDN and ACRC (a third Tran company, American Commonwealth Regional Center) appear to be shell companies with little to no invested capital and questionable customer base representations e.g. spouses and/or near relatives (“Katrina Tran” and “Tran CPA”) holding executive positions,” page 40 of the Cherry Bekaert summary states.

In fact, the EDA fraud investigator reports that “startup capital” for ACRC’s Virginia Information Technology Project, LLC – apparently the ITFederal Royal Phoenix project – was listed as $2,022,000, $2 million of which was the publicly-stated value of the 30 acres gifted to ITFederal behind closed doors by the EDA for one dollar.

“Hence, the startup capital represented by TRAN in the Business Plan appears to be little more than $2,000 cash and $20,000 in other current assets, both of which were unverified,” Cherry Bekaert reports.

And of that much-ballyhooed $140 million federal contract with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that was to be the basis for ITFederal’s $40 million dollar, 600 high-paying tech jobs investment in this community, Cherry Bekaert observes, “… our research indicates ITFederal LLC and VDN Systems, Inc, both controlled by TRAN, were listed … with one award from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for approximately $5,000 in 2014, not the $140,000,000 represented in the Business Plan.”

SURE, let’s give him ALL the money he wants, or doesn’t want – Congressman Bob-a-lot and Jennifer said it’s a GOOD idea!

So while there may be plenty of blame to go around; and McDonald may have developed her own “selective amnesia” as to what unauthorized or self-serving financial or real estate moves ostensibly on behalf of the EDA she may have made, it is McDonald who until June 24 sat alone in jail without bond. And now that there has been a second arrest, it is one downward on the EDA/Municipal hierarchy, rather than up as McDonald seems to assert she believes the case should be.

“Based on suspicion and belief” from public comments at County and Town meetings in the wake of the March 26 filing of the EDA civil litigation, it is an opinion a significant number of people in this community share.

UPDATE: Second former EDA staffer arrested on embezzlement charges

** FOOTNOTE: Evidence within the EDA financial investigative report notes that Goodlatte’s office called McDonald in an effort to silence the 2016 media “bashing” of ITFederal. It reports a consequent call from McDonald to WZRV owner Andrew Shearer about the matter, which perhaps coincidentally, almost immediately was followed by the termination of Norma Jean Shaw as station news director – Shaw was on the Goodlatte side of the WZRV news team exploration of ITFederal – and a terse email from Shearer shutting down this then-WZRV new team member’s inquiry to ITFederal officials about the company’s contract base. So the year after his sudden lockout from the paper he helped create, Bianchini was released from the WZRV news team about a month or so after Shaw.

The then out-of-work investigative news team was soon reunited at the newly created Royal Examiner online newspaper. As this reporter wrote in one of his first stories for Royal Examiner (October 27, 2016) revealing the one dollar giveaway of the 30-acre ITFederal parcel: “One of the best-kept secrets in Front Royal and Warren County seems to be the cause of a year-long delay in federal approval of the FIRST commercial property sale at the remediated Avtex Superfund site in Front Royal. In fact, we had to start a new online news source just to get that reason published and into the public conversation – just kidding, sort of …

Feds OK ‘Dollar Special’ on first Avtex property sale

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Town reversed initial commitment to cover Afton Inn ‘winterization’ costs

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During an update on the status of various properties at a Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Asset Committee meeting, Friday morning, the status of the on-hold Afton Inn “winterization” project two months into the winter of 2019-20 was broached.

In the agenda summary the project, described as once “a high priority” of the town government, was now observed to apparently be dead in the cold winter elements.

Why?

According to Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, Town staff apparently did an about-face on responsibility for, or the necessity of, covering the winterization costs.

Harold told those present that since the Town approached the EDA about working together with Afton Inn redeveloper 2 East Main Street LLC in November to get the stabilization project underway to prevent further deterioration of the 151-year-old brick and wood building shell, he had a record of communications with Town Attorney Doug Napier indicating Town responsibility for, and intent of, paying for the winterization work.

Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, center, traces the status of EDA properties, including the Afton Inn and its now apparently-abandoned ‘winterization’ project. The bottom line as from left, Doug Parsons and Ed Daley listen – the Town decided not to fund those stabilization and safety measures. Photos by Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

At various points in those communications a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) dating to the 2014 transfer of ownership from the Town to the EDA for marketing and redevelopment purposes was referenced; as was Napier’s written expression of a “moral obligation” of the Town to provide for the “safety and welfare” of its citizens as pieces began falling off the building; and former Town Planning Director Jeremy Camp’s written notice of the apparent availability of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for the Main Street façade improvement work that could be utilized by the Town to pay for its own staff to work on the winterization project.

Consequently, Harold noted the EDA spent $3,500 on an engineering report to get a cost estimate on the project to the Town. However, several subsequent emails from the Town indicated logistical complications discovered by its staff leading to the likelihood of increased costs.

Harold observed that Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick had stepped in at a mid-December EDA board meeting to state that earlier communications indicating the Town would cover the winterization costs were a “mistake”.

Harold noted that his response to Town Attorney Napier asking for substantiation to support the interim town manager’s assertion was forwarded to the Town’s outside counsel, Damiani & Damiani, handling its civil claims against the EDA with no further communications.

However, EDA Board Treasurer Jorie Martin interjected by phone hook up that she had one initial communication from Damiani & Damiani stating that they “would get back to us” after which there were no further communications.

In that December 19 email to Napier forwarded to the Town’s outside counsel, Harold wrote, “I have read the MOA, and I am not able to find any subordination clause or other languages that strips Front Royal of this requirement (of funding),” adding, “Contrarily, there are 2 paragraphs which explicitly detail and reaffirm the town’s commitment.”

One of those paragraphs from the MOU dated June 23, 2014, is quoted stating, “The Town agrees that during ownership of the Afton Inn property by the EDA, the Town shall not require the EDA to perform any repairs, maintenance or demolition of any part of the Afton Inn building unless the Town agrees to bear the costs of such repairs, maintenance or demolition.”

The following paragraph describes the Afton Inn’s close proximity to Town Hall at the head of the East Main Street Historic Downtown Business District, observing, “The Town has clearly identifiable interests in the use to be made and in the appearance, of the Afton Inn property … As such, the Town has an appropriate, identifiable interest in keeping the Afton Inn property in both a viable safe physical condition and an aesthetically pleasing condition.”

I guess it depends on how you define ‘Safe’ and ‘Pleasing’ – gets harder the closer you get.

It was again noted that 2 East Main Street LLC continues to express hope of maintaining its interest in the Afton renovation project now stalled by the EDA’s financial dilemma tied to the financial scandal asserted in the County-EDA funded Cherry Bekaert forensic audit of EDA business in recent years.

And put up a parking lot?

However, it would appear in this season of the interim town manager and a new council majority committed to cost and tax reductions despite $29 million in capital improvement funding needs in the coming budget year, those steering the ship of Front Royal Town government have simply decided the Afton Inn’s appearance, condition and redevelopment are no longer fiscal priorities.

As the discussion moved to the collection of bad debts, EDA Board Vice Chairman Jeff Browne noted that since the involvement of the EDA’s contracted attorney, the first check from a debtor had been received – “We just have to pick it up … so, we’re already starting to see results,” Browne told the Asset Committee, leading Board Chairman Ed Daley to quip, “Was this a large check from a municipal corporation that owes us a very significant amount of money?”

Harold displays documentation on referenced EDA assets, as from left, Jeff Browne, Doug Parsons, Ed Daley, Cheryl Cullers and others invisible by phone link, listen.

“The answer would be no,” Browne replied, dashing the hope the Town had decided to make good on at least a portion of its undisputed $8.4 million debt to the EDA on the principal for the Town Police Department construction project, if not on Afton Inn winterization costs.

See this discussion just past the 38-minute mark of the linked Royal Examiner video, as well as other topics in the entire meeting video. Among topics discussed were bids received on removal of the solar panels on the EDA’s Kendrick Lane office complex; a pending closing date of February 28 on the Stokes Mart property sale; and re-acquisition of the Workforce Housing parcel, hopefully, at the same $10 price, it was inexplicably transferred to the Cornerstone LLC branch of the Aikens Group in late November 2018 for.

After initially being “gifted” to the EDA for $10, due to unmet, publicly undisclosed deadlines not being met, the EDA acquired the property at a cost of $445,000, with additional resources allegedly being committed to the project leading to the property being written off as a $600,000-plus loss.

In addition to Harold, Daley, Browne, and Martin, the latter by phone hookup, present at Friday’s Asset Committee meeting were EDA attorney Sharon Pandak, also by phone connection, EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons and South River Supervisor Cheryl Cullers.

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Town, County, EDA join forces with commercial realty community

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EDA Board Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne launches the joint Town-County-EDA Commercial Property Open House with local commercial realtor representatives. Photos by Roger Bianchini, Royal Examiner.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, February 19, members of the local real estate brokers community gathered at the Kendrick Lane Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development office for a “Commercial Property Open House.

After some breakfast snacks provided by the EDA through the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club’s catering service and a briefing by EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons on economic incentives available locally and through the state economic development partnership, the group representing 10 realty companies, accompanied by EDA, Town and County officials began the tour close by.

First to be viewed of 28 properties were two vacant offices in the EDA office complex at 400 Kendrick Lane. Then it was on to the Town Trolley for a foray into the adjacent Royal Phoenix Business Park’s 117 vacant acres before heading into the Route 522/340 North Commercial and Industrial Corridor.

Above, tour started close to home as realtors view one of the vacant office spaces at the EDA’s Kendrick Ln. complex in old American Viscose/FMC/Avtex Admin building; and then it was on the trolley to view 27 more available commercial properties around the town and county.

Royal Examiner caught up with Parsons and Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson shortly after noon following the Open House tour’s conclusion back in Front Royal. In fact, Parsons noted that of the 28 EDA overseen properties on the tour, all but seven were in the town limits.

On the Town side, Community Development Director Felicia Hart had taken the point, working with EDA Board Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne to propel the Commercial Property Open House forward. Following Hart’s January 29 termination with several other Town staff and department heads as part of the interim town manager’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal, Browne worked with Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick to see things moved forward on the logistical side.

Planning Director Taryn Logan represented Warren County and Chris Brock, who identified himself as Interim Planning and Zoning Director, was present for Front Royal. Parsons and Henderson acknowledged the contribution of town staff in preparation of a properties’ booklet for the open house and the provision of the trolley for the tour.

As Interim Town Planning & Zoning Director Chris Brock listens at right, Doug Parsons briefs realtors on some economic development financial incentives that might help close some deals.

“Everybody’s working together,” we observed to Parsons of the joint EDA-Town-County driven interaction with local commercial realtors.

“Yes, as always,” the EDA executive director replied.

“Or at least ‘almost’ always,” we suggested of certain litigious efforts of one participating municipal partner. However, Parsons declined to take the bait, preferring to accentuate the positives of the day. So, we asked for his assessment of the day and its impetus.

“The idea behind the event was to bring together the Blue Ridge Association of Realtors members and take them on a tour of 28 properties here in Front Royal and Warren County that we think are good, viable properties for both commercial and industrial development. So, we looked at 21 properties in town and seven outside of town.

“I think we saw a good variety of buildings, vacant ground that could be used for a variety of purposes. I think the realtors appreciated the information, and I think it was a good partnership effort between the Town and the EDA. I want to thank Chris Brock and Alfredo Velasquez for their help in collating and binding the materials. And Chris’s expertise was a big part of the day as he was able to talk to the group about planning and zoning and certain properties in town.

The Open House tour turns off Kelley Drive near the Dominion Power Plant and a Rappahannock Electric Cooperative office/warehouse.

“Taryn Logan was also a very valuable asset to help explain the planning and zoning in the county and some of the history of the properties.

“And a lot of the realtors that were on the tour, they knew a great deal about some of these properties because they’d either bought or sold them before; or had dealt with them in the past, so knew the history. There was a lot of knowledge on the bus which was shared amongst the group and hopefully, it’ll lead to some sales for some of the properties here in town – and out in the county,” Parsons concluded what he believes was a morning well spent.

Apparently the private sector participants agreed. A sign out sheet was punctuated with “Comments” including “Great Event”, “Good Idea”, “Thank you so much!!”, “Wonderful – very informative” and “Next Year?”

We asked Parsons about his pre-tour briefing on some financial incentives available through the Town, EDA and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP).

“I know a lot of times the real estate community in states across the nation may not be as in tune with the local and state incentives that these job developers’ programs have to offer. So, I was hoping to make them aware of what is out there for them in that regard … Because if you’re a realtor and you are dealing with someone and maybe there’s a ten or twenty thousand dollar gap in being able to close the deal, if you can bring the Virginia Jobs Investment Program incentive to the table, or the tech zone incentive here locally to the table, it could be a deal closer for someone,” Parsons observed.

And deal closings on some commercial properties are what the EDA, its municipal partners, and private sector realtors are all looking to make happen.

There appears to be some action at a portion of this warehouse property as the Commercial Property Open House pulls in.

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EDA presents budget proposal to Board of Supervisors; delinquent taxes from contractors

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EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons presents a budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors. Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

On Tuesday, February 11 at the evening work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, the EDA Board and staff presented its budget proposal to get through the final 3 1/2 months of this fiscal year and to continue into FY 2021.

Also included on the agenda was a discussion with Building official David Beahm and Commissioner of the Revenue Sherry Sours on the payment of delinquent taxes and business license fees by contractors prior to issuance of building permits.

County Administrator Doug Stanley discusses the management and lease agreements of the Front Royal Golf Club.

County Administrator Doug Stanley discussed the Department of Environmental Quality Financial Assurance requirements. Also, Stanley, along with County Attorney Jason Ham, discussed the management and lease agreements of the Front Royal Golf Club.

See the presentations, including discussion of the Town’s $8 million-plus debt to the EDA on the new police station and the status of the Front Royal Golf Club in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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EDA report to County – long-time annual auditor withdraws from lagging 2018 audit process

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During one of six operational updates from entities with which it is either directly or indirectly involved at its Tuesday, February 4 meeting, the Warren County Board of Supervisors got what Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Doug Parson called “bad” and “very disappointing” news.

That news was that long-time EDA auditor Yount-Hyde-Barbour had withdrawn from the EDA’s 2018 audit process. That process is running considerably behind as the EDA tries to get to the bottom of the final year of a number of years during which a contracted financial investigation by Cherry Bekaert, known for its forensic audit discoveries of criminal financial behavior, alleged a number of years of financial improprieties within EDA operations.

As EDA attorneys Dan Seigel and Cullen Seltzer look on, EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons updates county supervisors on the EDA’s state of affairs. That state includes the withdrawal of long-time auditor Yount-Hyde-Barbour from the long-developing audit of 2018 EDA finances. Royal Examiner Photo by Roger Bianchini

The Cherry Bekaert investigation conducted from mid-September 2018 into the spring of 2019 has resulted in a $21.3-million EDA civil litigation against what currently stands at 14 human and business entity defendants and multiple financial felony indictments by a special grand jury empaneled to investigate potential criminality tied to the EDA civil litigation. At the center of both the civil and criminal cases is former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

It was Yount-Hyde-Barbour that was contracted by the EDA to conduct its annual audits during most, if not all of the years during which the EDA financial scandal is believed to have occurred. In recent months retired Warren County Finance Director Carolyn Stimmel and Heather Tweedie of the auditing firm Hottel-Willis have been pouring through the EDA’s 2018 financial records trying to ascertain what EDA assets went where, how, to what purpose and most importantly, were those purposes legitimate and authorized by the EDA Board of Directors.

Yount-Hyde-Barbour had been expected to take the result of Stimmel and Tweedie’s work to belatedly conduct their annual audit for 2018. Completion of that audit has been termed crucial to the
EDA’s future ability to function as it attempts to traverse the operational aftermath of the financial crimes alleged to have occurred under McDonald’s decade of executive leadership of the EDA.

One EDA civil case defendant’s attorney wondered aloud during a past motions hearing that if their client was a defendant for the financial actions alleged against them, why the EDA auditor that had rubber stamped the EDA’s finances annually through the years of alleged embezzlements and misdirection of assets, wasn’t also a defendant.

Could Yount-Hyde-Barbour’s withdrawal from the 2018 audit process be an indicator of potential legal issues between the auditor and the EDA? In response to media questions Sands Anderson attorney Dan Siegel, present with lead EDA civil case attorney Cullen Seltzer for a closed session discussion with County officials of the EDA’s civil case landscape, said only that EDA counsel continues to explore potential legal liability in many directions.

EDA civil attorneys enter WCGC caucus room where the supervisors would eventually adjourn to a three-hour-plus closed session on a variety of topics, including the EDA civil litigation and Town litigation against the EDA. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

VDOT Revenue Sharing
In other business Tuesday, after a week’s delay to allow new supervisors to gather additional information, the county board unanimously approved the County’s contribution to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Revenue Sharing Program. It was explained that the program that runs through multiple municipal fiscal year budgets allows involved municipalities to get a 50% revenue match from the State on needed and desired road improvements throughout the county.

Numbers presented projected the County’s contribution in the coming FY 2021 budget at $250,000. It was a number projected to remain constant in FY 2021 through FY 2024. Six total involved road project costs were cited at $2.9-million over a number of years, with a 25% County contribution total of $753,312.50 and a 25% contribution from involved Sanitary District and POA fees at $703,313.50.

Short-term rental permit
By a 3-2 margin, a divided board approved a short-term rental Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Stephen J. Aron Jr. despite some objections from neighbors in the gated River Ridge Property Owners Association. Tony Carter and Archie Fox cast the two dissenting votes.

Carter cited neighbor concerns about security issues tied to the applicant’s efforts to recoup some of his residential property improvement costs in purchasing what he said at the earlier public hearing was the run-down home of what he described as the less than conscientious previous occupants. In explaining her vote for the CUP, Delores Oates noted that renters wouldn’t be given the code to the gate, but would utilize a locked key box key to activate entry to the gated community.

Carter replied that, that solution still allowed entry and access of strangers to a community that many residents may have located to for the additional security provided by locked access available only to residents and their guests.

During the January public hearing it was noted in favor of the request that many short-term rental operations do quite a bit of vetting of guests. The applicant indicated he intended to be conscientious about those allowed to stay at the residence he and his family plan to spend a great deal of time at themselves.

In addition to the EDA, other operational updates the county received were from VDOT, RSW Jail, the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, Department of Social Services and the Town of Front Royal.

See a related story on the Town report; and see the full Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting – other than the 3-hour-plus closed session – in this Royal Examiner video:

Who’s doing what for whom? Terminated employees pop up in written Town Report to County

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EDA in Focus

Economic development proceeds amidst legal and Spotted Lanternfly threats

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This reporter sat down with Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne and Executive Director Doug Parsons on Friday, January 31, to discuss the work they do amidst challenges they face in the aftermath of the financial scandal that developed during the executive leadership of Jennifer McDonald and a previous EDA board majority.

Executive Director Doug Parsons  and Vice-Chair Jeff Browne meet in the Royal Examiner studio with Roger Bianchini to discuss what the EDA has been doing recently. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

In what we hope is the first of at least monthly video interviews on EDA business and affairs, listen as Browne and Parsons describe how their time is budgeted as they continue the EDA’s work of business retention and recruitment in an environment of dueling civil litigations. They continue to offer an olive branch to the Front Royal Town Council to work together in good faith to determine exactly what the EDA owes the Town in allegedly misdirected EDA assets generated by Town taxpayers, as opposed to an increasingly expensive attorney-driven civil suit filed by the Town against its existing co-created EDA.

It is litigation, as is pointed out in the interview, in which town taxpayers face the unhappy task of funding both sides, as Town taxpayers for the plaintiff and as County taxpayers for the defendant.

And speaking of olive branches, Browne and Parsons conclude the interview by describing the economic threat presented by the expanding presence of the fruit-tree and grapevine feeding Spotted Lanternfly in Frederick County to our north; and how Warren County citizens and businesses can be on the alert to spot, report and mitigate early signs of the destructive bug’s presence in our county.

Watch the discussion in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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EDA in Focus

Judge denies EDA civil suit defendants’ motions for removal from case

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In a written ruling signed January 24 and filed in the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office on January 27, Judge Bruce D. Albertson denied a host of EDA civil litigation defense motions for removal from the case as alleged co-conspirators with central defendant, former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

Among defendant attorneys involved in the December 12 motions hearing were those representing April Petty, Jesse Poe, Donald Poe and his Earth Right Energy (ERE) solar panel installation company, and ITFederal and its principal Truc “Curt” Tran.

The basis of those defense counsel arguments for dismissal of their clients from the civil case primarily revolved around the plaintiff’s notion of an overarching conspiracy that somehow links the various defendants to central figure and former EDA Executive Director McDonald; and that there are legally definable contractual breaches making those defendants individually liable for funds that came their way through McDonald.

At the December motions hearing christened “Groundhog Day” by one media rep present (guilty as charged) for the bulk of four-and-a-half-hours of repetitive legal arguments put forth by each defense attorney on essentially identical claims for removal of their clients from the civil case, lead plaintiff attorney Cullen Seltzer’s counter was briefer.

It has been a long EDA litigation day into night, and it’s only just begun – will we be seeing EDA ‘Night Court’ before it’s over? Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

That was because Seltzer’s reply was essentially a one-response-fits-all argument. That response was that there did not have to have to be direct knowledge among all defendants of each interlocking conspiracy McDonald is alleged to having been a party to, for that conspiracy to exist to the benefit of separate defendants in separate transactions. Seltzer scoffed at the idea of McDonald as “a rogue tornado” distributing EDA assets to various defendants without a general common knowledge that something illegal was transpiring to each defendant’s benefit.

“I deny each Demurrer and Plea in Bar for the reasons cited by the plaintiff,” Judge Albertson wrote in his brief, three paragraph ruling.

However, the judge also ruled that a plaintiff claim of “Breach of Fiduciary Duty” against all defendants, cited only McDonald and her former Administrative Assistant Michelle Henry for such action.

“Plaintiff alleges that this count applies to all defendants due to the conspiracy count. The manner in which this count is written, however, names only Ms. Henry and Ms. McDonald as parties that have breached this duty. I find that his count does not apply to the other defendants as written in the Amended Complaint,” the judge ruled.

The judge also continued a decision on Earth Right Energy’s “Plea in Bar and separate Motion for Sanctions” based on other arguments heard December 12. There was disagreement between ERE attorney Ryan Huttar and EDA counsel on the validity of contracts between the EDA and ERE in amounts over $10,000, which is most, if not all involved contracts.

The EDA Board of Directors meets under the executive leadership of Jennifer McDonald, center, in September 2018, about the time the Cherry Bekaert financial fraud investigation began. Who approved what, when and why??? – are likely to be long-contested questions as the various EDA civil and criminal cases grind forward in the coming year …

EDA counsel noted that any EDA transaction or contract over $10,000 had to be approved by the EDA Board of Directors, which EDA counsel stated did not happen in the Earth Right Energy cases. However, Earth Right attorney Huttar contended the company’s contracts, including a $27-million one with the Warren County Public School system negotiated while Greg Drescher was both an EDA board member and superintendent of schools, were legally binding.

It appears a decision on those arguments will require additional factual information to be brought to the court.

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Upcoming Events

Feb
28
Fri
9:00 am Veterans Benefit @ Able Forces Foundation
Veterans Benefit @ Able Forces Foundation
Feb 28 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Veterans Benefit @ Able Forces Foundation
Able Forces Foundation will once again be hosting a visit by Andre Miller, Resource Specialist, Virginia Veteran and Family Support, Department of Veteran Services, Commonwealth of Virginia, and Danielle Cullers, Homeless Veteran Advocate-Volunteers of America[...]
7:00 pm Love Revival – FREE Monthly Comm... @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Love Revival – FREE Monthly Comm... @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Feb 28 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Love Revival - FREE Monthly Community Dinner @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Free Community Dinner for everyone! Come enjoy a hot meal on the last Friday of every month at Love Revival Ministry Center.
Feb
29
Sat
10:00 am Loom Knit a Kitten @ Strokes of Creativity
Loom Knit a Kitten @ Strokes of Creativity
Feb 29 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Loom Knit a Kitten @ Strokes of Creativity
Loom Knit an adorable kitten. In this beginner’s class for teens and adults, you will work on a 24 peg loom to knit a small stuffed toy. *Instruction will be right handed. No prior knitting[...]
11:00 am Kooky Chefs Cook It Up: Soups @ Samuels Public Library
Kooky Chefs Cook It Up: Soups @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 29 @ 11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Kooky Chefs Cook It Up: Soups @ Samuels Public Library
Nothing is more comforting than warm soup on a chilly day! Learn how to make some yummy soup, and do some taste-testing to choose your favorite. For ages 8 and up. Registration begins January 29.
11:00 am Trauma & Resiliency Training for... @ Samuels Public Library
Trauma & Resiliency Training for... @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 29 @ 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Trauma & Resiliency Training for Early Childhood Providers @ Samuels Public Library
Statistics show us that one in four children will experience trauma by the age of four. This trauma could be abuse, hunger, homelessness, witnessing violence, medical trauma, or grief. We know that a child’s greatest[...]
1:00 pm Bingo Fundraiser @ Elks Lodge
Bingo Fundraiser @ Elks Lodge
Feb 29 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Bingo Fundraiser @ Elks Lodge
 
2:00 pm Speed Dating with Books @ Samuels Public Library
Speed Dating with Books @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 29 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Speed Dating with Books @ Samuels Public Library
Do appearances, of people or books, influence you?  How much time does it take for you to decide that you are/are not interested? What criteria determines interest? Come spend time in a “speed dating” atmosphere,[...]
Mar
2
Mon
10:00 am Read Across America Day @ SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke
Read Across America Day @ SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke
Mar 2 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Read Across America Day @ SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke
Monday, March 2nd, 2020, is National Read Across America Day. Students of all ages are invited to come to the SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke’s pet adoption center, located at 111 Featherbed Lane, to[...]
Mar
3
Tue
9:00 am Gordmans Grand Opening Brand Bash @ Gordmans
Gordmans Grand Opening Brand Bash @ Gordmans
Mar 3 @ 9:00 am – 11:00 am
Gordmans Grand Opening Brand Bash @ Gordmans
Gordmans is where big brands meet everyday low prices, with new fabulous finds every week. The apparel and home décor retailer invites area communities to its Grand Opening Brand Bash Celebration on March 3 at[...]
11:00 am Time for Baby @ Samuels Public Library
Time for Baby @ Samuels Public Library
Mar 3 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Time for Baby @ Samuels Public Library
What do books, scarves, puppets, music and babies have in common? They are all part of Time for Baby. Join us as we use all of our senses to explore the world around us. This[...]