All three people charged criminally related to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial fraud investigation should be free on bond by the end of the day. Both former EDA Executive Director Jennifer R. McDonald and Earth Right Energy controlling partner Donald F. Poe were granted bond in hearings Wednesday morning, July 31.
Michelle Henry was granted $2500 unsecured bond on July 23 after twice having a bond hearing continued in the wake of her June 24 arrest.
McDonald, whose bond appeal case was first on the Wednesday morning docket convened at 8:35 a.m., was granted a $50,000 secured bond by Judge Bruce D. Albertson.
Poe then received a $20,000 secured bond in the final of three EDA-related hearings on the docket before the Harrisonburg-based judge.
From discussion of the relative financial affairs of both defendants, it appeared their home properties would be used to secure the bonds. Defense counsel cited a $300,000 value with a $240,000 mortgage on McDonald’s home; and a $900,000 value on Poe’s.
Both McDonald and Poe were transported to RSW Regional Jail in the past day from the jails they had been transferred to for security and personnel concerns due to the high-profile nature of EDA-related cases in this community. In McDonald’s case that is the Fairfax Adult Detention Center and in Poe’s the Prince William-Manassas Adult Detention Center. According to the RSW Jail website Poe was re-booked into RSW at 6:34 p.m., Tuesday, July 30; McDonald at 4:15 a.m. this morning.
Asked about the bonding out process outside the courtroom Poe’s son Jason, a Frederick County Sheriff’s Office deputy and candidate for Warren County Sheriff, said he believed the defendants would be processed out at RSW rather than have to return to the jails they have been housed at. RSW Jail Superintendent Russ Gilkison later confirmed that scenario.
Among conditions of her bond McDonald was ordered to turn her passport in to be sealed and not secure another one; to maintain full-time residency at the Faith Way home she maintains with her husband in Front Royal; to be at that residence between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. nightly; not to leave the Commonwealth of Virginia; maintain employment but not have any business dealings with anyone involved with EDA business interests; to stay off EDA property; and not have contact with other EDA civil or criminal case defendants.
Poe was also ordered to maintain residence at the Passage Manor home he shares with his wife in Strasburg; not to have contact with EDA co-defendants; and approach the commonwealth with his attorney William Ashwell if any of his business interest would require him to leave the state.
Evidence of flight risk?
In appealing his client’s bond denial by Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr., McDonald attorney Peter Greenspun told the new presiding judge his client was due a presumption of bond without the prosecution showing substantial cause that she be considered a flight risk or danger to the community if released. Danger to the community, other than financial from the alleged embezzlements executed in her former position as EDA executive director, has not been at issue.
“If there’s a million-dollar check cashed and the money’s hidden somewhere – show us the evidence,” Greenspun told the court. He noted that some of her real estate and banking assets had been frozen by Judge Athey before he withdrew from the case, and that access to others had been granted so she could pay for a defense to the charges against her.
“We’ve looked at her bank accounts – there are no substantive assets there. She’s not a jewelry type or an art type,” Greenspun said of possession of expensive items that could be sold for large amounts of cash with which to potentially flee prosecution.
“Frankly we don’t know where all the money went – but it went through this defendant’s hands … I would caution the court about taking Ms. McDonald’s word about her assets,” Layton countered of Greenspun’s claims about his client’s financial status.
And while the initial charges against McDonald related to Afton Inn embezzlements involved a cited $30,000 to $40,000 in credit card and other payments, additional indictments have involved transactions involving as much as $3.5 million, Layton told the court.
Greenspun countered that his client remains in “essentially solitary confinement at the Fairfax Jail due to publicity surrounding the case” and that she had been hospitalized for five days in the wake of her arrival at the Fairfax Jail for “seizure-like activity”.
Greenspun said his client’s ability to participate in her own defense was extremely limited in jail; and he bemoaned the slow “drip, drip, drip” pace at which the EDA Special Grand Jury was moving on indictments.
He pointed to her community ties and revealed a surprise to much of that community, that his client has “adult children” and had missed the birth of a grandchild while in custody (maybe he meant step…). Greenspun also pointed to Commonwealth counsel Layton’s numerous “interviews in local media” (how’d I miss all those, Bryan?) and accused the press “of doing its best to oppress her presumption of innocence” regarding his client.
Greenspun’s reference appears to be of media coverage of the Cherry Bekaert report allegations released into the public record by Judge Athey as the basis of the EDA civil litigation against McDonald and eight co-defendants. It might be noted that “local media” has also reported on defense motions and hearing arguments made in response to those allegations.
Judge Albertson adjourned court for 15 minutes before returning at 9:37 a.m. to render his decision.
In granting bond Judge Albertson cited looming speedy trial issues due to the complexity of the financial cases. He also observed that in many embezzlement cases he’d seen there was little money left at the end of the legal trail.
The judge pointed to the five year prison sentence for failure to appear for court dates when on released on bond.
Albertson noted that felony failure to appear “is much easier to prove than embezzlement” adding, “And when they are caught, and they always are,” they are facing that five years at the top of the sentencing ranges on the other charges they had been attempting to flee from.
“I don’t believe there is probable cause to deny bond,” Albertson said in granting the $50,000 secured bond for McDonald, who has been jailed since her May 24 arrest.
Motions & Hearing Dates
In addition to his bond denial appeal arguments Greenspun argued for greater access to the prosecution’s evidence against his client, including Special Grand Jury testimony.
“We agree to some, but not unfettered access,” Layton told the court.
“I guess I want unfettered access,” Greenspun countered, saying he saw no reason for limitations on defense access. Layton responded that evidence, not only for charges brought, but pending charges could be included in that grand jury material.
Albertson said he would take the evidentiary defense motions under advisement and rule by email by Friday.
Hearings dates were also set to accommodate both attorney and the Harrisonburg judge’s schedules. Those dates are October 15 at 3 p.m. for McDonald; November 7 at 9 a.m. for Henry; and August 30 at 9 a.m. for Poe.
According to RSW Jail staff McDonald was on the verge of being processed out of the facility at 4:25 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Poe was also in line to be bonded out, though how long that might take was unknown at 4:30 p.m.
More detail on Poe’s bond hearing will be presented in a related Royal Examiner story.
Between McDonald and Poe’s hearings the third EDA criminal case defendant, Michelle “Missy” Henry who as noted above was already out on bond, heard a defense Bill of Particulars Motions request argued on her behalf. Co-counsel Ryan Nuzzo and David Hensley argued that a proper defense required more detail than offered in the two vaguely-worded and vaguely-dated special grand jury indictments against their client.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton countered that the Bill of Particulars request was premature at this stage of the case.
“I think Discovery will eliminate the need for a Bill of Particulars. The subject matter will become clear, and if it doesn’t we’ll come back to this motion,” Layton told the court.
Nuzzo countered that added detail at this point would help Henry’s defense determine if additional motions such as suppression needed to be filed – “Where did evidence come from? Was it acquired with or without search warrants?” Nuzzo said to illustrate his point.
After asking how close Discovery responses were to being filed, Judge Albertson agreed with the Commonwealth that their response to defense Discovery could solve the problem of specificity for the defense. Layton told the court the Discovery process was in the midst of an approximate 30 day timeframe.
If the prosecution response to Discovery doesn’t clear up specificity issues, Albertson said he would reconsider the defense Bill of Particulars Motion at that time.
Fairfax County teacher convicted of solicitation of a minor; jury recommends 7 years
HANOVER COUNTY (August 20, 2019) – Ryan Thomas Pick, 41, of Woodbridge, Virginia, was convicted yesterday by a Hanover County jury of two counts of Using a Communication System to Procure a Minor for an Unlawful Act and one count of Solicitation of a Minor Under the Age of 15, following a trial on the charges. The jury subsequently recommended that Pick serve a seven-year prison term for his offenses. Upon his release, Pick will be required to register as a sex offender in any jurisdiction in which he lives or works. He will be formally sentenced on November 22, 2019. Mark R. Herring, Attorney General of Virginia, made the announcement following the trial and conviction, which was presided over by Hanover County Circuit Court Judge J. Overton Harris.
“Individuals who sexually solicit children are robbing them of their childhood and their innocence, and what is even more troubling is that this man worked with children on a daily basis,” said Attorney General Herring. “Because of the work my team and local law enforcement agencies put into this, another dangerous predator is out of our community. My office will continue to seek justice against those who would exploit and harm children like this.”
The investigation of this case began in July of 2018 when an undercover officer with the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office conducted an undercover chat investigation on the social networking site Omegle. While posing as a 12 year-old girl, the officer was connected with Pick, who chatted with the officer and made comments that were sexual in nature. During the conversation, Pick sent a video of himself to the officer engaging in sexually explicit conduct. He then made several statements about sex acts he wanted to engage in with the purported 12 year-old. An investigation revealed that Pick held several jobs including as a music teacher for Fairfax County public schools, the music director at his local church, a private music instructor, and a seasonal pizza delivery man. In August of 2018, officers executed a search warrant at Pick’s Fairfax County residence. During the execution, Pick admitted to using Omegle regularly and to chatting with the purported 12 year-old.
This case was investigated by the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. Attorney General Herring’s Computer Forensic Unit provided digital forensic analysis of the evidence in support of the case. Assistant Attorney General Alexaundra Williams of Attorney General Herring’s Computer Crime Section prosecuted the case on behalf of the Commonwealth.
Spotsylvania County Schools phishing scam investigation
As a result of extensive investigative efforts, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office has been able to reclaim more than half of the money lost in a complex phishing scam targeting the Spotsylvania County Public School system.
On Thursday (Aug. 15) state police will be handing over checks to the Spotsylvania County Treasurer’s Office totaling $347,010.39. Additional checks will be forthcoming next week.
State police began the cyber investigation Aug. 1, 2019, and has been working with local and state law enforcement in other states in order to track down the fraudulent deposits made into accounts at multiple banks. State police are still pursuing the case and several individuals associated with the scam. No charges or arrests have been made at this stage of the ongoing investigation.
State police is also investigating two other potential cyber phishing scams involving county employees, but there is no evidence to suggest any of the three incidents is connected. Those investigations are ongoing, as well.
Virginia man facing multiple charges after I-81 pursuit
On August 14, 2019, at approximately 1 a.m., Virginia State Police Trooper M.T. Brill attempted a traffic stop on a 2018 Toyota Corolla that was traveling north on Interstate 81 at the 275-mile marker in Shenandoah County. The traffic violation was for speeding – 91 mph in a 70 mph zone. The Toyota refused to stop and a pursuit was initiated.
The Toyota, reaching speeds of up to 115 mph, continued north on I-81 into Warren County. On I-66, the suspect vehicle attempted to take Exit 13 when the driver lost control and struck the guardrail. The Toyota’s driver, Spencer J. Reiman, 31, of Vienna, Va., was taken into custody without further incident. Reiman was not injured in the crash.
Reimann was arrested for DUI and charged with one misdemeanor count of reckless driving, one felony count of eluding police, possession of marijuana and possession of controlled substances. He is being held at the Rappahannock Shenandoah Regional Jail.
Three passengers in the Toyota were also arrested, Kitkwan Karlo, 20, of Fairfax, Va., and Kyle Lujan, 20 of Vienna, Va., were charged with drunk in public and underage possession of alcohol. Frederick Maggi, 21, of Fairfax, Va., was charged with drunk in public.
‘Bawdy Place’ trial related to dropped Tharpe charge set day after Election
A hearing and trial date of Wednesday, November 6, at 2 p.m. was set in the cases of Cynthia Atkinson Bailey, her daughter, son and son-in-law regarding their alleged roles in operation of a Front Royal massage parlor in which sexual favors were allegedly offered as part of the business operation.
Misdemeanor charges against the 55-year-old Bailey, daughter Brandy Nicole Atkinson, son Jesse Thomas Atkinson and son-in-law Joshua Allan Stamper will go to trial that day, while the felony charges will face a preliminary hearing.
Responding to a question from Warren County General District Court Judge W. Dale Houff, defense counsel David Downes and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton concurred that the joined cases would likely require a couple of hours, leading to the setting to the 2 p.m. start time for cases likely to consume the rest of the court’s afternoon docket.
Layton also informed the court that he and defense counsel were “on the same page” regarding a variety of evidentiary motions regarding discovery and alleged offense dates. In fact, Downes withdrew a submitted Bill of Particulars, telling the court that audio tapes he had received from the prosecution today “may clarify” what he had requested from the prosecution in that filing.
Among the evidentiary motions that may be in the process of resolution is Downes’ “Giglio Motion” seeking information on potential prosecution witness Tiffany Amber Wymer. That defense motion cites a felony charge “on or about December 6, 2018” for “possession with intent to distribute marijuana” that according to the defense motion was dropped by prosecutors on May 28, 2019 in Frederick County General District Court.
Downes motion on his client’s behalf questioned if the resolution of that case related to Wymer’s anticipated testimony in the Bailey et al prosecution and “whether she has received immunity from prosecution for” a variety of other possible charges, including “her fraudulent welfare applications… operating an illegal sex chat website” and “prostitution charges”. Downes further asks how many incidents of prostitution Wymer may have received immunity for.
The two sides also appeared to agree to pin down the offense dates to between May 16 and June 7, 2018. The fact that Bailey had a June 7, 2018 charge and arrest on a prostitution charge nul prossed by the Commonwealth on October 2, 2018, appeared to play a role in some contentious accusations amidst dueling press releases between the defense attorney, the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office which took over as special prosecutor in a related case of solicitation of prostitution against former Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe, and FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis.
A political twist
Downes alleged the new charges against his client were “retaliatory” & “vindictive” due to his client’s intention not to testify in the Tharpe prosecution, invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate. The Tharpe prosecutor’s office and FRPD denied any wrong doing or vindictiveness in the “bawdy place” bust.
Tharpe’s misdemeanor solicitation case was dismissed at the request of Special Prosecutor Heather Hovermale during a July 15 hearing. As Royal Examiner reported at the time, Hovermale told the court the prosecution could not proceed in the wake of Cynthia Bailey exerting her Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate in response to several questions, including whether she knew Tharpe or if he had ever touched her in a way she did not invite.
His charge dismissed, Tharpe almost immediately announced that he would run in the November election to regain the mayor’s seat he announced four days after his April 15 indictment he would resign from effective May 2. As Royal Examiner has previously observed, ironically the foreman of the grand jury that handed down the indictment against Tharpe was Matt Tederick, a local Republican Committee operative and former chairman. A 4-2 council majority, Tewalt and Thompson dissenting, appointed Tederick interim mayor on May 28.
However it appears there will be no Tederick-Tharpe grudge match on Election Day, November 5. Tederick has announced he will not run in the special election to fill out the remainder of Tharpe’s term through 2020. But former mayor and current Councilman Eugene Tewalt, who announced his candidacy after Tharpe’s resignation and Tederick’s appointment, will oppose Tharpe’s attempt to regain his mayoral seat one day prior to the Bailey family trial and hearing.
Good Times, Bad Times
Bailey and her children were arrested by Front Royal Police on May 15, 2019 and charged with the misdemeanor offense of maintaining a “bawdy” (defined as gross, indecent or overly graphic) place. Other charges include receiving money from earnings of prostitution (felony), prostitution (felony), and cruelty to children, the latter charge according to the criminal complaint involving the presence of a juvenile in the Biggs Drive residence who “answered phone calls, arranged appointments and walked clients to the rooms.” The referenced juvenile is believed to be a grandchild of Bailey’s.
According to an FRPD press release issued on May 16, the arrests were the result of an ongoing investigation that began in late January of 2018. It also appears that investigation also resulted in the now-dismissed charge of solicitation of prostitution against Tharpe.
The indictment against Tharpe cited a May 31, 2018 incident in which Tharpe allegedly offered “money or its equivalent to another for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts… and thereafter did a substantial act in furtherance thereof against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth…”
That offer is alleged to have been made at the 312 Biggs Drive address out of which the massage parlor run by Bailey under the banner of Blue Ridge Services, operated.
Stay tuned as Hollis Tharpe seeks re-election on November 5; and Cynthia Bailey and her family fight the charges against them one day later.
Arrest made in connection with July arson fire
On Saturday, July 14, 2019, Warren County Fire and Rescue and Warren County Sheriffs Office along with Middletown Fire and Rescue units were dispatched to 600 Catlett’s Ford Road for a reported residential structure fire.
Units arrived on the scene at approximately 1:35pm to find a small, single-family home with fire and smoke evident from within the residence. Units quickly extinguished the fire and verified the homes sole occupant had escaped the blaze. The occupant was treated and released on the scene for smoke inhalation. There were no other injuries.
The cause of the fire was investigated by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office. Fire Investigators determined the fire was caused by an act of arson. Fire Investigators were joined by the Warren County Sheriffs Office Criminal Investigations Division to identify any suspect(s) in the case.
As a result of the joint criminal investigation; the owner/occupant of the home was arrested and charged in connection to the incident. Mr. Carl Wayne Robinson a 46-year-old male, the homes sole occupant, was arrested on August 10, 2019, and charged with §18.2-77 – Burning or destroying dwelling house.
Mr. Robinson is currently being held without bond. Anyone with information is asked to contact Fire Marshal, Gerry Maiatico, at 540-636-3830 or Sheriffs Office Lieutenant, Phillip Henry, at 540-635-4128.
Virginia State Police still pursuing leads in unsolved 1999 New Kent County homicide
RICHMOND – The Virginia State Police (VSP) Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s (BCI) Richmond Field Office continues to pursue new leads and tips connected to the 1999 unsolved homicide of a Mechanicsville teenager in New Kent County. To date, state police is still working to identify the male suspect who fired several rounds into the 1999 Nissan Altima Sara Bruehl had rented to drive to Virginia Beach with her two close friends on Aug. 8, 1999.
It was 20 years ago on the Sunday evening of Aug. 8 that Sara Bruehl and her two friends were shot at while traveling along Interstate 64 near Exit 205 for Bottoms Bridge. Tragically, Sara, who was driving, was shot and killed prior to her vehicle crashing off the right side of the interstate. Her 18-year-old female front-seat passenger was also shot, but survived her injuries. The 17-year-old female backseat passenger survived injuries resulting from the vehicle crash. All three were recent graduates of Atlee High School in Hanover County.
The suspect was described as a light-skinned African-American or Hispanic male, with dark eyes and a goatee. The suspect vehicle was described as a small, red car with tinted windows and halogen lights. Based on witness statements and other information gathered during the course of the investigation, it is believed that Sara and the driver of the red car had engaged in a “cat-and-mouse” game of speeding up, slowing down and changing lanes over about a 20-mile stretch of I-64. Both vehicles were heading eastbound when the other driver pulled up in the right lane next to Sara’s vehicle, rolled down the driver’s side window, and shot four times into the Nissan Sara was driving. The suspect sped away in the eastbound lanes of I-64 as the Nissan ran off the right side of the interstate at Exit 205 and struck a tree. The shooting occurred at about 9:10 p.m.
“We know there are people out there today, even 20 years later, who know who was responsible for taking this young girl’s life and injuring her friends,” said Captain Tim Ring, VSP BCI Richmond Field Office Commander. “State police is still committed to identifying this individual and bringing him to justice. We owe it to Sara and her family to solve this case once and for all. That’s why we are still pursuing leads and still asking for people to come forward with any information they may have to share on this drive-by shooting.”
Anyone with information related to this case is encouraged to contact the Virginia State Police at #77 on a cell phone or 1-800-552-9965 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.