On May 8th, Douglas J. Parsons took over as the Warren County EDA’s new Executive Director.
Beginning his career as Project Administrator for the Region VI Planning and Development Council, Mr. Parsons served as Executive Director of the Lewis County Economic Development Authority for eleven years where he developed and executed a multi-faceted strategic plan for infrastructure, business attraction and retention resulting in the successful location of a variety of businesses employing several hundred new employees. While in Lewis County Mr. Parsons also was instrumental in securing land for a new 73-acre industrial park and writing and administering over $10 million in grants. Mr. Parsons also served as Business Development Manager in the Town of Leesburg for three years and currently serves as Business Manager for the Workforce Solutions Division of the Commonwealth’s Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). In his current position, Mr. Parsons has responsibility for project management of 91 prospects and active accounts in the Northern Virginia area, assisting with the development of workforce training analysis for clients and business prospects, working with local economic development authorities, universities, community colleges and state agencies.
When he accepted the position Mr. Parsons stated that, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve in this role. Warren County is a thriving, growing community that has so much to offer business and industry. I’m anxious to start working with our existing companies, new business prospects and community leaders to help create new jobs and expand the tax base for our citizens.”
Mr. Parsons has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism/Advertising with a minor in Psychology from the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University. In the past Mr. Parsons has been certified as an Economic Development Finance Professional through the National Development Council and has taken advantage of numerous economic development related courses offered through the International Economic Development Council. He is a 2002 graduate of Leadership West Virginia and a Certified Project Administrator through the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council.
Chairman A. Gray Blanton noted that during the interview process, “Doug impressed us with his preparation and the depth of his experience He has what is needed to perform as our executive director, experienced, knowledgeable, organized and a pleasant personality.”
WCEDA Treasurer Thomas Patteson indicated that, “The Warren County-Front Royal EDA is most fortunate to have Mr. Doug Parsons as its new executive director. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience in economic development and should serve the citizens of Warren County with distinction”.
Recently elected WCEDA Secretary Ed Daley stated that, “We are honored that Doug Parson will be joining the WCEDA team. His experience in West Virginia and with the VDEP makes him an ideal candidate to lead our efforts to promote economic development in Front Royal and Warren County. His relationships with many area businesses and industry leaders will help to move forward immediately”.
Mr. Parsons was chosen from a national pool of twelve candidates who were screened by a committee selected by the Board. The committee narrowed down the pool to four candidates and each candidate was interviewed by the Board. Finalists were subjected to an intensive background check.
Mr. Parsons lives in Rippon, West Virginia with his wife and son and has a daughter currently residing in Germany.
Doug stopped by our studios last week and had a conversation with Royal Examiner’s publisher Mike McCool:
RSW superintendent explains McDonald transfer to Fairfax jail
On Friday, Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail Superintendent Russ Gilkison confirmed the transfer of high-profile inmate Jennifer McDonald to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center four days earlier, on Tuesday, June 11. McDonald was arrested by Virginia State Police on May 24 on four felony fraud-embezzlement charges related to the financial investigation of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.
The former EDA executive director has twice since been denied bond, being deemed a flight risk by Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. After 10 years heading the EDA, McDonald resigned under increased financial scrutiny from her board of directors on December 20, 2018. According to EDA officials in her resignation email she admitted liability for the return of $2.7 million in assets to the EDA. However subsequent EDA civil litigation filed March 26 now seeking recovery of $21.1 million dollars alleges McDonald’s role in the loss of much more than her admitted liability.
Gilkison said the move was made to normalize McDonald’s jail experience.
“This will allow her to get into the general inmate population. She’s been in protective custody here due to the high-profile nature of her case,” Gilkison told Royal Examiner of the isolated nature of McDonald’s confinement so far.
The RSW superintendent said he had been in touch with McDonald’s criminal attorney Peter Greenspun for about a week prior to the move. Gilkison said the Fairfax City-based Greenspun supported the move and is now in much more convenient proximity to his client while she is incarcerated.
A hearing in which McDonald is slated to enter pleas in her criminal cases is scheduled for July 17 in Warren County Circuit Court.
Asked about costs to RSW of McDonald’s move to another facility, Gilkison said the Fairfax jail is not charging RSW for the transfer.
“It’s called a courtesy hold and we all do it for each other,” Gilkison said of the transfer of inmates for various reasons between area jails. “We would pay for any medication or medical costs but they aren’t charging us to house her.”
Asked if the move could indicate coming arrests of alleged co-conspirators in the EDA financial scandal that has shaken this community, Gilkison said only that he had heard the same rumors that many have about sealed special grand jury indictments, adding, “but not from reliable sources.”
Limitations, assertions in EDA investigative report present a mixed bag
An emailed explanation to the mayor and town council by Front Royal Town Attorney Doug Napier about how he may have appeared on a list of 28 recipients of USDA Rural Business Enterprise (RBEL) Loans given through the EDA between 2005 and 2018, points to certain admitted limitations in the Cherry Bekaert investigation of EDA financial “irregularities” and associated indicators of potential criminality tied to those irregularities.
“Our consulting services may or may not be in accordance with government auditing standards or auditing standards issued by AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants). We have not audited, reviewed, or compiled any financial information related to the EDA and accordingly, we do not express an opinion or any form of assurance on the EDA’s financial information under such standards …” Cherry Bekaert wrote in its “Transmittal Letter” accompanying its presentations of its finding to EDA Attorney Dan Whitten dated “May XX, 2019” in court-filed documents.
However they do add, “Our services were performed in accordance with the Statement on Standards for Consulting Services issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).”
Napier’s name appears at the top of the list of RBEL loans on page 97 of the Cherry Bekaert summary of its self-described “working papers” accumulated in its exploration of Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority finances. Napier is listed first due to the oldest date – January 25, 2006 – of loans cited on the list. The loan was for $30,000 and carried no balance remaining at the time the list was compiled by the contracted investigative public accounting firm.
“I never sought, nor received, an EDA loan,” Napier writes, adding, “Perhaps it is an EDA deed of trust (loan) for which I was the trustee which would list me in the Clerk’s Office as a party. At any rate, I never got an EDA loan, or any other EDA money for that matter. Even when I represented the EDA from 1996 to 2006, I received no compensation from the EDA. It was part of my County Attorney’s duties.”
Napier cites his naming as a principal in the loan, rather than the involved legal trustee, as one of “a few errors in the EDA Cherry Bekaert report I noticed”. An attempt to reach Napier, who appears to be recovering from eye surgery from one aside in his email to council and the mayor, by email about what other errors he noticed, was unsuccessful prior to publication.
As far as the limitations in its process that might allow such mistakes to occur, the very first line in Cherry Bekaert’s “Transmittal Letter” of its work to EDA Attorney Whitten is, “These working papers do not constitute a report”.
That opening sentence continues to acknowledge to Whitten that the material was “prepared solely at the request of and for Daniel Whitten, Esq., County Attorney and Counsel for the Economic Development Authority concerning matters regarding your client (the EDA) … under the terms of our engagement letter dated September 11, 2018.”
The second paragraph continues, “The following contains our complete working papers of procedures we performed under your direction regarding certain financial matters of the EDA based on information supplied by you and the EDA.”
The final sentence of the third paragraph, of five, in the “Transmittal Letter” adds, “Finally, our engagement cannot be relied on to detect or disclose all errors, irregularities, or illegal acts, including but not limited to fraud, embezzlement, or defalcations that may exist.”
And as reported in our lead story on the release of the Cherry Bekaert materials in the EDA civil litigation court files the company observes of its process, “Our scope and internal review procedures were limited in nature and used to determine predicates of irregularities indicative of embezzlement in the form of corruption activities and billing scheme sufficient to warrant a fraud examination.
“The remainder of our working papers contain your allegations, our analysis and findings, along with evidence we obtained under your direction,” Cherry Bekaert concludes of the presentation of its estimated 2900 pages of documentation now in the EDA $21-million-dollar civil case file.
So it appears that nine months and $600,000 later the EDA, Warren County and finally the public (and Town) as a consequence of court-ordered evidentiary production has a national investigative public accounting firm’s detailed analysis of all the materials furnished to it by the EDA to uncover financial irregularities in the conduct of EDA business.
Thus far those provided materials and professional accounting analysis have pointed to the EDA’s former executive director as the central figure in multiple financial irregularities resulting in four criminal indictments against her.
Of the result of its review procedures related to the materials presented to it by the EDA and its attorney, Cherry Bekaert concludes in its “Transmittal Letter” of its assembled materials now included in the EDA civil litigation court files, “The irregularities discovered included material misrepresentations, falsifications, and evidence used to conceal suspected defalcations perpetrated by the former EDA Executive Director, Jennifer R. McDonald (“MCDONALD”), and other parties acting together, discussed in these working papers.”
Considering the above “and other parties acting together” representation when and where might the next legal hammers fall?
While keeping an eye out for RSW Jail booking reports, next we’ll delve into the 16-allegation Cherry Bekaert working papers files to see what clues they may offer.
Cherry Bekaert investigative report appears in EDA civil suit files
A trove of new plaintiff documents hinted at by Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. during Jennifer McDonald’s second unsuccessful criminal case bond hearing on June 10, details circumstances surrounding embezzlement allegations against the former Economic Development Authority executive director. Also described are McDonald interactions with relatives, co-workers, and past private and EDA business associates related to some of the alleged illegal use, transfers or embezzlement of EDA assets.
Included in those allegations detailed in a 101 page summary of an estimated 2900 pages of documentation assembled by national public accounting firm Cherry Bekaert are “Payments to Relatives”, “Payments to Known or Suspected Business Partners”, as well as the use of the New Market Tax Credit Program and two USDA loan programs, among others.
What has brought this flood of thus far hard-to-find evidence forward?
It appears to have been Judge Athey’s May 22 civil case hearing admonition to EDA attorneys that it was “time to put up or shut up” as far as producing the evidence upon which its case against the nine named defendants is based.
And in apparent reaction to the production of that evidence he sought in the civil case, during McDonald’s June 10 bond hearing Judge Athey noted that the total amount cited for recovery in the EDA civil complaint against McDonald and eight other defendants, both people and LLC’s tied to those people, had risen from the initially-cited minimum of $17.6 million to $21 million dollars.
A consequent search of the EDA civil case records in the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office revealed the nearly 3,000 pages of the Cherry Bekaert report, and fortuitously a 101-page summary of those findings.
Those finding are the result of an investigation begun in mid-September 2018, now at a cost of $600,000 that has been called at various points by involved attorneys, EDA or municipal officials a “forensic audit”, a “Historical Financial Study”, an “Intrinsic Fact Finding” mission, a “final audit gap complaint” and finally perhaps out of frustration by Town of Front Royal staff as read into a June 10 motion authorizing litigation to recover Town assets lost to the EDA, “The Study”.
By whatever past names have been attached to it, what is outlined by Cherry Bekaert in a 101-page summary titled “Working Papers of Internal Review and Fraud Examination” of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA are 16 alleged areas of suspected misuse or illegal transfer of EDA assets.
Some of those are familiar and were pivotal in the initial EDA civil complaint. They include the Workforce Housing Project ($653,000 in lost assets), Afton Inn Property Improvements ($380,000), the Criminal Justice Training Academy ($619,000), Bargain Land Sale and Issuance of a $10-million dollar loan to ITFederal (listed at $10 million, though you could add to that total if the $1 gift of 30 commercial acres to ITFederal is calculated against at least part of the EDA-estimated $2.1 million value of that 30 acres), Payments on Behalf of ITFederal ($2,005,000), Payments to Earth Right Energy ($1,280,000).
Added to that list are 10 more transactions or EDA-related projects which appear to have added the additional $3.5 million raising the total sought for civil recovery to $21,152,000. Those transactions also include some familiar names, if not in this context, like the New Market Tax Credit Project ($3,501,000 lost assets), Leach Run Parkway Easements ($110,000) and Stokes Mart/B&G Goods ($21,000); as well as new ones.
Those new ones are Wetland Credits ($1,127,000), New Hope Bible Church ($345,000), 999 Shenandoah Shores Road ($6,000), Payments to Relatives ($457,000), USDA Intermediary Relending Program ($25,000), Payments to Known and Suspected Business Partners ($320,000), and USDA Rural Business Enterprise Loans ($304,000).
Of its investigation Cherry Bekaert writes in a cover letter to EDA and County Attorney Dan Whitten, “Our scope and internal review procedures were limited in nature and used to determine predicates of irregularities indicative of embezzlement in the form of corruption activities and billing scheme sufficient to warrant a fraud examination. The irregularities discovered included material misrepresentations, falsifications, and evidence used to conceal suspected defalcations perpetrated by the former EDA Executive Director, Jennifer R. McDonald (“MCDONALD”), and other parties acting together, discussed in these working papers.”
The cover letter dated May XX under a Raleigh, North Carolina site of origin concludes, “These working papers are for Daniel Whitten, Esq., County Attorney and Counsel for the Economic Development Authority and not for distribution without our expressed written consent.”
One guesses Judge Athey’s order that plaintiff civil litigation evidence be produced provided that consent, lest Cherry Bekaert officials risk facing the same sort of contempt citations now facing some recalcitrant congressional witnesses at the federal level.
And speaking of the federal level, see Royal Examiner’s related story on a federal climax to Cherry Bekaert’s chronology of its presentation of its findings to the EDA and “certain” County officials in December, culminating in a six-hour sit down with state and federal officials early this year.
Cherry Bekaert findings on EDA finances went federal in January
Of its findings unveiled in now-filed court documents ordered produced in the EDA’s civil litigation, investigative public accounting firm Cherry Bekaert writes, “As of the date of our working papers, MCDONALD (capitalization in context) appears to have systemically embezzled funds, with and without the apparent aid of collusion, that were accessed through the EDA from bank credit facilities designated and restricted for Town and/or County-sponsored capital improvement and development projects. This resulted in estimated losses of approximately $21,000,000.”
Uh oh, I know what some of you are thinking – that dirty political “c” (collusion) word right here in River City.
And as some suspected, and was verified by the April 16 search of EDA headquarters, federal authorities are involved in the EDA investigation. In fact fairly reliable Royal Examiner sources indicate a U.S. Western District of Virginia federal grand jury is currently convened in Harrisonburg regarding the alleged EDA financial embezzlements now cited at over $21 million dollars.
April 16 was exactly three months and one day after Cherry Bekaert officials met with state and a variety of federal officials for over six hours in Charlottesville regarding their suspicions of financial corruption at play in the conduct of Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority business.
That January 15 Charlottesville meeting with state and federal officials was the culmination of a nearly six-week series of meetings, presentations and interviews culminating with two major developments occurring on December 20, 2018 – Jennifer McDonald’s resignation and admission by email of liability for the return of $2.7 million of EDA assets; and the EDA Board of Directors’ authorization for Cherry Bekaert officials to meet with federal authorities.
Federal climax …
In its report summary, Cherry Bekaert presents a chronology of its presentation of its findings to EDA and County officials. That chronology includes:
– a December 5, 2018, briefing of the EDA board on its findings of irregular activities, including questions to the board about its knowledge of potential fraudulent activities;
– a December 6 interview with McDonald during which she was confronted with evidence, and “admitted to using funds sourced from bank credit facilities restricted for Town and County projects”;
– a December 14 briefing of the EDA board “and certain members of the County Board of Supervisors on the results of our discoveries to date and concerns of suspected criminal activity”;
– the scheduled December 20 EDA board closed session discussion of the Cherry Bekaert findings after which Cherry Bekaert was informed of McDonald’s resignation AND after which the EDA authorized the firm to contact the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia;
– then there was Cherry Bekaert’s December 21 contact with U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and several assistants during which the company “verbally conveyed our evidence and findings to date regarding the EDA financial irregularities and the fact MCDONALD had admitted personal liability for $2,700,000 in an email to (the EDA);
– and finally, the January 15, 2019, six-hour meeting in Charlottesville with “Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Welsh, Western District of Virginia, Special Agents from the VSP, a representative from the Department of Justice Public Integrity Section, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (‘FBI’) on our findings.”
As we have alluded to in past stories there are multiple reasons federal officials could be involved in the EDA situation. They include, though may not be limited to, the potential of illegal wire transfers of money or the movement of misdirected cash across state lines – both federal offenses; the involvement of a former federal superfund site; the potential involvement of federal EB-5 Visa Program funds in some involved transactions; and perhaps even the potential of federal racketeering charges coming into play were the above referenced “collusion” to accomplish some of the alleged embezzlements proven to be true and far reaching enough.
McDonald civil attorney Lee Berlik has asserted that his client is being smeared by her former associates as the architect of “implausible conspiracies” involving all of the eight other EDA civil suit defendants to cover for “every bad decision made by the Warren EDA board over the last several years”.
And however it came about, the Cherry Bekaert findings raise the possibility that the conduct of EDA business in recent years appears to have brought the quasi-governmental organization created to facilitate economic development in the Town and County to the point of insolvency.
“As of the date of our working papers, the EDA appears to be insolvent,” Cherry Bekaert writes, adding, “The monies suspected to be misappropriated by MCDONALD will likely result in shortfalls of funding to complete duly authorized construction projects for the Town and County.
“Based on our analysis of the EDA’s annual financial reports for the years ended June 30, 2018 (Audited); 2017 (Audited); and 2016 (Unaudited), the EDA’s operating expenditures … exceed EDA operating revenues in all three fiscal years, resulting in operating losses of approximately $427,000; $559,000; and $694,000, respectively … We could not find evidence that the EDA maintained sufficient cash reserves available to offset any operating losses apart from the periodic sale of any property unencumbered by debt,” the report page titled “Consideration of Insolvency” continues.
“Contrary to paying down outstanding bank debt, MCDONALD instead appears to have convinced EDA BOD (Board of Directors) Members, the Town, and the County to initiate more capital projects through increased bank financing channeled through the EDA by using various ruses, such as questionable tax incentives that have yet to be realized and bogus budget representations of the EDA’s financial ability to pay for debt servicing,” the Cherry Bekaert report states.
BOY, falling back on some of my preferred reading material over the years I can’t figure out if this is a chapter from “The Godfather” or “A Confederacy of Dunces”.
See more on the Cherry Bekaert report and allegations contained in the newly-filed EDA civil case documents in upcoming Royal Examiner stories.
Town council votes to sue EDA for financial report and information
On Monday night, June 10, during the Report of the Interim Mayor, Matt Tederick called for Town-County discussion of the dissolution of the local Economic Development Authority in the wake of the multi-million-dollar financial scandal that has thus far left one former public official jailed without bond and another dead in what the Virginia State Police described as an “unattended death” with a firearm at the scene. Those officials are former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and recently early-retired Sheriff Daniel McEathron, respectively.
Then after somewhat of a public about face, the past critic of town government behind closed doors defended the necessity of such closed meeting Executive Sessions in the type of legal matters council was poised to adjourn to. On Monday those matters included “legal mechanisms regarding recovery of moneys owed the Town by the EDA” and whether there is compliance with the terms of the Afton Inn-old Town Hall exchange that put the EDA in control of marketing and redevelopment of the Afton Inn site at the head of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District.
Tederick suggested the press to “stick around” to see if “any action” would be announced as a result of that closed session discussion – like we were going anywhere since there was subsequent work session discussion of rescinding past council exceptions to its building codes at the request of the EDA for its at the time workforce housing project. And while the interim mayor was far from the end of his remarks regarding the EDA scandal, its consequences and possible solutions, it was that “stick around” hint that led to evening’s major development.
That development was a unanimously-approved motion to authorize the Town Attorney’s Office to file a lawsuit against the EDA for recovery “of all moneys owed” or that “will be owed” to the Town by the EDA.
The lengthy motion read into the record by Gary Gillespie, seconded by Chris Holloway, added pointed criticism of past and current EDA officials for a refusal to comply with past Town FOIA requests for information related to the EDA’s debt to the Town compiled as part of the EDA financial investigation conducted by the certified public accounting firm of Cherry Bekaert.
Noting the filing of “multiple FOIA requests” to two former EDA executive directors (McDonald and Interim EDA Executive Director John Anzivino) the motion comments on a seeming word game being played by EDA officials about that Cherry Bekaert investigative report on EDA finances over the past decade.
“EDA officials on multiple occasions have stated, orally and writing that the EDA would furnish to the Town a copy of the EDA’s historical study of the finances of the EDA back to at least the year 2014, which EDA officials referred to both publicly … and to the Town as a ‘forensic audit’, yet currently EDA officials not only refuse, in writing, to furnish this ‘forensic audit’ to the Town, but based on publicly reported accounts of court proceedings, the EDA has now represented to a court of law that no ‘forensic audit’ exists and has never existed, just some sort of other ‘historical study of the EDA’s finances’,” the motion reads.
The motion asserts the Town’s right to the information despite the County assuming its share of operational funding of the EDA nearly a decade ago leading to the County footing the total bill for the “forensic audit’, ‘EDA Historical Financial Study’ or ‘Study’ as the Town motion continues to refer to it for legal purposes.
The authorization for Town litigation against the EDA also notes that Town citizens whose Town taxes may be involved in financial losses to the EDA are also County citizens whose taxpayer money is involved in funding the EDA “Study”.
See the emotion of the interim mayor and the Town’s statement of its legal right to what the EDA and County officials are believed to already have, or to at least have seen, in the Royal Examiner videos:
Watch as Mayor Tederick addresses the Town Council.
Councilman Gary Gillespie reads the motion to sue the EDA.
Should Town Council rescind Work Force Housing permitting exceptions? Interview with Councilman Eugene Tewalt
At the Front Royal Town Council Work Session of June 3, Councilman Eugene Tewalt raised the issue of code and permitting exceptions council granted to the EDA at the request of former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald in November 2016. Tewalt said he would like those permitting exceptions rescinded because the Town was lied to about who the actual developer of the property would be and more.
Councilman Tewalt discusses these issues in an interview with Royal Examiner publisher Mike McCool: