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McDonald, Poe granted secured bonds on EDA criminal charges

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Jennifer McDonald was reported to be changing into street clothes and preparing to walk out of RSW Jail on bond at 4:25 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Jailed since May 24, the former EDA executive director was granted a $50,000 secured bond Wednesday morning in Warren County Circuit Court. Inmate Photos RSW Jail website

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.

Donald Poe was returned to RSW Jail yesterday evening for his Wednesday bond hearing. Poe was in the process of being bonded out at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, though jail officials could not pinpoint how long from actually walking out the door on his $20,000 secured bond he might be. Poe was arrested July 23.

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.

Hearing testimony in Warren County Circuit Court has indicated the first set of charges against Jennifer McDonald involved alleged personal credit card and other payments cited as ‘Afton Inn Embezzlements’ of $30,000 to $40,000. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

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.

The EDA criminal case defendants are scheduled to be back in court on Aug. 30 (Poe), Oct. 15 (McDonald) and Nov. 7 (Henry).

More detail on Poe’s bond hearing will be presented in a related Royal Examiner story.

Henry motions

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.

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Crime/Court

Front Royal man arrested on robbery and weapons charges

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D’Andre Lawrence. Photo / RSW Regional Jail

Early this morning, D’Andre Lawrence was arrested on felony robbery and weapons charges stemming from an early morning incident at the Blue Ridge Motel. Front Royal Police were called at approximately 1:30am to respond to an alleged robbery that had occurred at the local motel. The victim alleged that two individuals assaulted him and took an undisclosed amount of money and ran in the direction of Massanutten Avenue.

Lawrence was arrested on the mentioned charges and transported to RSW Regional Jail and held without bond. The second individual in this incident was identified as a male juvenile and is wanted for questioning.

Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Z. King at 540-636-2208 or by email at zking@frontroyalva.com.

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Virginia State Police concludes investigation into inmate death at New River Regional Jail

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The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Wytheville Field Office has concluded its investigation into the September 2019 death of an inmate at the New River Valley Regional Jail. The case is closed and no charges will be placed in accordance with the findings of the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke and at the advisement of the City of Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney and Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney.

The investigation was conducted at the request of the New River Valley Regional Jail. On the evening of September 11, 2019, Radford University Police responded to a call at a campus facility concerning Aris Eduardo Lobo-Perez, 18, of Culpeper, Virginia. Police took him into custody shortly before midnight on a charge of public intoxication. As is standard procedure, Lobo-Perez was transported by the arresting agency to New River Valley Regional Jail in Pulaski County.

At approximately 7:20 a.m. on September 12, 2019, jail personnel approached Lobo-Perez to offer him breakfast, which he declined. It was at 7:50 a.m. that jail personnel found Lobo-Perez unresponsive in his cell. Despite the immediate efforts by jail personnel to resuscitate the inmate, Lobo-Perez was declared deceased at the jail. His remains were transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke for examination and autopsy.

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Fugitive since 2015 arrested

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During the course of a preliminary investigation, Detective M.R. Ramey obtained credible information regarding the location of a wanted fugitive out of Prince George County, VA. With the assistance of the United States Marshal’s Service and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Derek S. Vrable, 34, was arrested without incident at a residence located in Warren County this afternoon. The underlying charges for this arrest were for Grand Larceny and Breaking and Entering. Vrable has been wanted on this violation since 2015.

Derek S. Vrable, 34, was arrested without incident at a residence located in Warren County.

 

Derek Vrable was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service and transported to the RSW Regional Jail by Warren County Sheriff’s Office where he is currently being held without bond. Other charges may be forthcoming in the near future regarding the initial criminal investigation. No further details are available in this case due to the pending nature of the active investigation.

The Front Royal Police Department would like to extend our thanks to the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in apprehending this individual.

Anyone who may have further information regarding this case is asked to please contact Detective M.R. Ramey at 540-636-2208 or by email at mramey@frontroyalva.com.

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School bus driver arrested and charged with kidnapping and abduction

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On March 4, 2020, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office received notice from the Warren County Middle School that a 13-year-old female student has made comments alleging an adult male bus driver has made inappropriate comments and advances toward her.

The school notified the School Resource Officer, and Warren County Sheriff’s Office Investigators arrived and contacted the victim’s parents and interviewed the young girl. WCSO Investigators located the alleged offender at his home. Agosto Andres Luzunaris, age 42 of Linden, Virginia, was arrested and charged with one count of Kidnapping and Abduction (class 5 felony) that occurred on or about December 2019 through March 2020. Luzunaris is currently being held without bond at the RSW Jail in Front Royal.

Agosto Andres Luzunaris, age 42 of Linden, Virginia, was arrested and charged with one count of Kidnapping and Abduction (class 5 felony). Photo courtesy of RSW Jail.

 

WCSO says the investigation is ongoing; however, it has been reasonably determined there was no risk of harm to other children, and this was determined to be a localized incident. There were no complaints of physical damage to the victim, and the charges stem from allegations that the offender made inappropriate comments and physically restricted the movement of the victim on the school bus.

Melody Sheppard, Interim Superintendent, Warren County Public Schools responded, “Our primary concern is always the physical and emotional well-being of our students. Warren County Public Schools will continue to support the Warren County Sheriff’s Office investigation.”

 

Code of Virginia

§ 18.2-47. Abduction and kidnapping defined; punishment.

A. Any person who, by force, intimidation or deception, and without legal justification or excuse, seizes, takes, transports, detains or secretes another person with the intent to deprive such other person of his personal liberty or to withhold or conceal him from any person, authority or institution lawfully entitled to his charge, shall be deemed guilty of “abduction.”

B. Any person who, by force, intimidation or deception, and without legal justification or excuse, seizes, takes, transports, detains or secretes another person with the intent to subject him to forced labor or services shall be deemed guilty of “abduction.” For purposes of this subsection, the term “intimidation” shall include destroying, concealing, confiscating, withholding, or threatening to withhold a passport, immigration document, or other governmental identification or threatening to report another as being illegally present in the United States.

C. The provisions of this section shall not apply to any law-enforcement officer in the performance of his duty. The terms “abduction” and “kidnapping” shall be synonymous in this Code. Abduction for which no punishment is otherwise prescribed shall be punished as a Class 5 felony.

D. If an offense under subsection A is committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending, the offense shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor in addition to being punishable as contempt of court. However, such offense, if committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending and the person abducted is removed from the Commonwealth by the abducting parent, shall be a Class 6 felony in addition to being punishable as contempt of court.

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Harrisonburg man charged following Loudoun County pursuit and shooting

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A Harrisonburg, Virginia, man faces multiple charges following a pursuit and a non-fatal officer-involved shooting Thursday evening (Feb. 27, 2020) in Loudoun County. Michael E. Bonner, 54, was released from Reston Hospital Center Friday afternoon (Feb. 28, 2020) and taken in state police custody. He has been charged in Loudoun County with grand larceny of a vehicle, eluding police, hit and run, driving without a driver’s license and unauthorized use of a stolen vehicle, and is being held at the Loudoun Adult Detention Center.

Michael Bonner – Courtesy Photo/Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office

The incident began at approximately 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 27, 2020) when a 2017 Ford Escape passed a Virginia State Police trooper as they were traveling east on Route 50 in Loudoun County. The trooper’s license plate reader alerted the trooper that the Ford had been reported stolen out of Fairfax County. The trooper attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the Ford refused to stop and sped away on Route 50 near Tall Cedars Parkway. During the course of the pursuit, the Ford Escape reached speeds of up to 100 mph and rammed two state police vehicles that were attempting to contain the fleeing vehicle in order to bring it to a stop.

State police again surrounded the suspect vehicle and forced it to a stop on South Sterling Boulevard near Shaw Road in Loudoun County. During the course of engaging with the pursuit suspect in order to take him into custody, Bonner was shot at by state police. Bonner was transported to Reston Hospital Center for treatment of the non-life threatening injury.

The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Fairfax Field Office responded to the scene to investigate the officer-involved shooting, which remains under investigation at this time. Once the investigation is completed, state police will turn its findings over to the Commonwealth’s Attorney for review and adjudication.

No law enforcement personnel were injured in the incident, which remains under investigation at this time. In accordance with Department policy, the trooper involved in the shooting has been placed on administrative leave.

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Front Royal man arrested and charged for felony eluding and reckless driving

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On February 25, 2020, Front Royal Police Officer J. Treese attempted to conduct a traffic stop at approximately 8:30pm on a 2013 Chevy Corvette that was traveling at a high rate of speed in the 1400 block of N. Royal Avenue. The vehicle did not display a license plate and when the officer activated his emergency lights, the vehicle failed to yield, and a pursuit was initiated. The pursuit continued through several jurisdictions to include Warren County, Shenandoah County, Strasburg and Frederick County.

Front Royal officers discontinued the pursuit; however, the pursuit was re-initiated by Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police while on I-81. The vehicle stopped in Clarke County, where the driver fled from the vehicle on foot. The area was searched by Frederick and Clarke County deputies and the Virginia State Police; however, the driver was not located.

With the assistance of Upper Pottsgrove Township Police Department located in Pennsylvania, Front Royal Police has identified the driver as William Watson Allen IV. Charges were obtained on Allen for Felony Eluding and Reckless Driving. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office arrested William Watson Allen IV this morning just over the West Virginia state line. Allen was transported to the Eastern Regional Jail. Other charges may be forthcoming in this matter.

William Watson Allen IV. Photo courtesy of Front Royal Police Department.

Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Ramey at 540-636-2208 or by email at mramey@frontroyalva.com.

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