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Op-Ed: County, EDA officials cited for failed oversight – why not the Town?

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The status of the ITFederal project and the $10 million loan that facilitated it is likely to be under increasing scrutiny by EDA civil attorneys contending that loan was acquired under false pretenses. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

 

Many have wondered when or even if prosecutors and state investigators guiding the Warren County Special Grand Jury’s look into criminality tied to the Economic Development Authority financial fraud investigation would expand its focus beyond a tightly knit circle surrounding former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

On Tuesday, September 24, they got an answer, if not precisely the one many citizens critical of the political and economic status quo here were hoping for.

That answer was a total of 42 indictments, three each against 14 new players, including the entire elected Warren County Board of Supervisors, the top county administrative official and recently departed County and EDA attorney, as well as a mix of former and sitting EDA Board of Director members.


The disappointment for some was that those indictments were all misdemeanor charges related to an absence of due diligent oversight of EDA affairs, specifically over the last four months of 2018 regarding the continued administrative authority of Jennifer McDonald. (See linked story below)

The bookings at the Magistrate’s Office of the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail (RSW Jail) didn’t even generate the orange jail jumpsuit mug shots many social media denizens would have likely framed for posterity.

No mug shots today – County and EDA officials charged with misdemeanor failures of due diligence in the conduct of their office were not booked into the jail, as any defendant in similar circumstances released on their own recognizance would not be RSW Superintendent Gilkison has explained.

 

But while County officials rightfully face scrutiny for their failed due diligence, the Town of Front Royal governmental apparatus has thus far escaped unscathed, at least regarding criminal liability and even the level of public criticism aimed its way.

No Front Royal Town official has yet been indicted for criminal negligence regarding financial oversight of EDA operations; and to our knowledge there is no “recall them all” petition being circulated against the Town Council.

Why?

Three years ago, it was an overwhelming majority of Council that threw a defensive and protective shield around both McDonald and two of the more implausible projects she was instrumental in bringing forward.

This mid-2016 photo perhaps shows varying levels of disinterest expressed by all of Bébhinn Egger’s Town Council colleagues over her claims about ITFederal at the time.

 

In fact, those two projects, ITFederal and Workforce Housing, account for nearly $11 million, $10 million and $650,000 respectively, of the $21 million in EDA assets alleged to have been either misdirected by McDonald or moved under false pretenses during her executive oversight.

But some Town officials have claimed Front Royal has nothing to do with EDA operations since the County took over the Town’s portion of the EDA’s annual operational funding in 2012.

But as Royal Examiner has reported previously, that notion is questionable at best with much of the EDA’s work being done on behalf of the Town on projects inside the town limits. ITFederal, Workforce Housing, the Afton Inn and new police headquarters construction project come to mind.

If that wasn’t the case how do Town officials explain filing suit against the EDA to recover as much as $15 million in Town assets they contend were misdirected, lost or acquired under false pretenses? Do they think McDonald snuck into a secret town vault to pick the lock or hacked into Town bank accounts and sent their $15 million to a secret offshore location?

No, if experience tells us anything chances are that if McDonald had asked the Town Council for $15 million they would have just given it to her with a pat on the back.

In fact, that’s exactly what Council did in 2015 when McDonald came and asked for a $10 million “bridge” loan to help prop up the EDA’s case with First Bank & Trust to finance a $10 million loan to ITFederal through the EDA. Council was even kind enough to extend that initial one-month loan taken out of an investment account generating nearly $4,000 of monthly interest for two additional months without fee compensation for lost interest revenue beyond the first month.

It seems very possible that without that three-month Town handover of the desired ITFederal loan amount the bank loan for ITFederal would never have been achieved, reducing the EDA’s claimed losses by almost half.

But when Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger warned her colleagues that ITFederal did not appear to be what it was purported to be financially or from a business standpoint by McDonald, Congressman Robert Goodlatte and the company’s CEO Truc “Curt” Tran the reaction was not one of cautious due diligent verification.

Rather, the unanimous consensus of Egger’s colleagues was to either ignore or berate her, not to mention your then newly created online news source, for telling them things they didn’t want to hear – even if as it turned out, they were verifiably true at the time – as in no $140 million government contract basis upon which to create 600 high paying tech industry jobs as part of a $40 million ITFederal investment in this community.

From left on Nov. 28, 2016, Councilmen John Connolly, Hollis Tharpe, Bébhinn Egger, Gene Tewalt, Bret Hrbek, Mayor Tim Darr, and Jacob Meza at far right, bid farewell to Town Manager Steve Burke, second from right. Only one of this group, you know who she is, performed due diligent oversight of EDA affairs. It was a majority state of affairs that lasted on council for another year and a half.

Revisionist History?

The day after the County and EDA misfeasance and nonfeasance misdemeanor bookings the Town of Front Royal issued a pat-us-on-the-back press release in which Interim Mayor Matt Tederick lauded the town government’s role in launching the Virginia State Police investigation into EDA finances.

“Due to the watchful eyes of the Town Government, potential financial irregularities involving the EDA were discovered in the late spring and early summer of 2018. The Town Council swiftly turned their findings and suspicions over to the Virginia State Police, who in turn immediately commenced an investigation,” Tederick states, adding, “The citizens need to rest assured that the Front Royal Town Council will continue to pursue its lawsuit against the EDA and any others in order to hold those responsible for the Town’s losses accountable. The public’s continuing confidence in Town government is greatly appreciated and I might add, warranted.”

Pals – then EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and private citizen Matt Tederick pose before start of Sept. 25, 2017 Town Council meeting. It was a meeting at which Council voted against a Board of Architectural Review recommendation to deny the EDA request to allow demolition of the Afton Inn to facilitate redevelopment at the site.

As far as ascertaining responsibility for any Town losses, both current and past councilmen and mayors over the past five years might begin by looking in the mirror.

As for “continued confidence”, as mentioned near the end of our story on a Council initiative to explore creation of its own EDA, if Tederick is referencing the work of town staff, as opposed to all but one of its elected officials (Egger) in recent years, he may be on to something.

After all, in June 2017 Town Police investigators began to develop suspicions that some reported criminal actions targeting the EDA offices and its then executive director had been staged from the inside.

And about a year later Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson did discover an eight-year history of over $291,000 in Town debt service overpayments to the EDA that finally set the process of EDA financial scrutiny in motion.

But that scrutiny was a long time coming, about 2-1/2 years after council was warned by one of its own that things appeared horribly amiss in some EDA projects. And the scrutiny of 2018 did not generate from any Town Council initiative targeting the EDA, but as noted above from staff discoveries while exploring Town finances that landed a “smoking gun” of precise evidence on Council’s lap.

It was Wilson, Town-contracted auditors and the Town Attorney who took the point in confronting McDonald, EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten over those debt service overpayments of nearly $300,000 on August 23, 2018. It was at that meeting during which the term “fraud” may have been first broached regarding EDA finances.

Greg Drescher and Jennifer McDonald appeared grumpy at times under questioning by Tom Sayre and Archie Fox at June 2017 joint work session on the EDA’s Workforce Housing Project.

 

That mid-2018 meeting between Town and EDA officials led to Drescher’s resignation as EDA board chairman the following day. It was also likely a driving factor in the County’s hiring, on behalf of the EDA, an investigative public accounting firm, Cherry Bekaert, to begin a probe into irregularities within EDA finances.

It was also a meeting that, as Tederick observed, led to the launching of a State Police investigation. But by that point, not to forward staff’s information on EDA financial irregularities to law enforcement for scrutiny might have eventually been seen as indictable as a more serious felony charge of complicity in a cover up of financial fraud.

As for that State Police investigation, one might contend it was begun a year earlier by the Front Royal Town Police. But that investigation was allowed to be shut down in 2017 at the request of EDA Board Chairman Drescher to allow, first the EDA board, then its executive director to control the investigation of alleged crimes targeting the EDA and its chief executive through a hired private investigator.

It was a request and decision that allowed the alleged EDA financial subterfuge, whatever its source, to go unchecked for an additional year and a half.

Accountability – where?

But beyond an honest self appraisal of its past complicity in throwing a protective shield up against scrutiny of EDA projects and its executive director’s assertions about them, should town officials be vigilant about past EDA activities that may have targeted more of its assets versus those of the County? – Certainly.

But why not continue the joint reform process the interim mayor and council propelled forward, rather than just withdraw from it? After all, new EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons has promised full cooperation in determining an accurate appraisal of the Town’s losses within those EDA losses financial fraud investigators have reported being misdirected through EDA operations over a number of years.

And we would suggest the interim mayor and council not continue a course of self-delusional praise and finger-pointing that tries to minimize the Town Council’s own long-term lapsed due diligence regarding EDA affairs it was directly involved in facilitating.

In mid-2016 Bret Hrbek, left, was Jennifer McDonald’s staunchest defender among many, when Bébhinn Egger, right, raised concerns about assertions about EDA projects, particularly ITFederal.

 

And speaking of that involvement, the media asked former EDA/County Attorney Whitten why the $10 million ITFederal loan the Town was so instrumental in helping achieve was included in the EDA civil litigation for recovery even though it is current on its rather lax terms.

“Because it was acquired under false pretenses,” Whitten replied following an EDA board meeting three months ago.

Whitten’s response echoed the above-referenced, ignored and even vilified warnings three years earlier that something appeared amiss in the EDA’s representations about ITFederal.

So “warranted continued confidence” may be a stretch, at least as it applies to elected Town officials over the past three to five years.

Nonetheless it appears Town officials may avoid the embarrassment of criminal charges, not to mention a high degree of public anger, for their long pattern of failed due diligence regarding oversight in their dealings with the EDA.

Why?

The answer we believe is two pronged legally: first, a statue of limitations on misdemeanor offenses; and second what we would contend was an unnecessary relinquishment of the Town’s authority to appoint two of the seven EDA board members based on the EDA’s fair funding formula split on Town-County investment in EDA operations.

As for a potential third prong in the Town’s escaping the extreme level of public scrutiny and recall petitioning aimed the County’s way, a primary social media purveyor of that public anger has not threatened to sue the Town for millions of dollars, so a public shaming there may have less interest.

But back on the legal side, note that the three indictments filed on the 14 County and EDA officials on September 20 for which they were booked on September 24 and 25, all involved EDA transactions between September and December 2018. Those charges involve only $309,000 of the allegedly misdirected or embezzled $21.3 million being sought for recovery by the EDA in civil litigation.

What about liability for a lack of due diligent oversight during the movement of the other $20.99 million, particularly that $10 million ITFederal loan the EDA now claims was acquired under false pretenses?

There is likely to be none – because misfeasance, nonfeasance and even malfeasance in the conduct of public office are misdemeanor criminal offenses. And there is a one-year statute of limitations on misdemeanor offenses. Also in the September to December 2018 timeframe, the Front Royal Town Council did not have appointment authority of EDA board members.

That is because when the County assumed responsibility for the Town’s 34% portion of the EDA’s annual operating budget in 2012, the Town Council allowed its appointment authority of two of the seven EDA board members to be withdrawn.

Was it a necessary condition? – We would contend not.

Because that County assumption of full annual operational funding from the previous 66%-34% County-Town split was made as part of the long and ongoing negotiations on two fronts: double taxation of Town citizens on certain services provided countywide; and compensation to the Town for its extension of central water-sewer utilities into the North Commercial-Industrial Corridor outside the town limits without annexation.

North Corridor commercial development was enabled by the Town’s extension of central water sewer outside the town limits without annexation. Many believe the Town continues to suffer from lost commercial tax revenue after a judicial striking down of agreed upon PILOT fees tied to utility bills as the Town’s major compensation for that lost tax revenue. Photo Roger Bianchini/Courtesy CassAviation

So if the County is essentially saying either, “We are going to stop the double taxation of Town citizens for countywide services” or “We owe you more compensation for your lost commercial tax revenue due in large part to a Town-County North Corridor compensation arrangement struck down by a Circuit Court judge, and this is part of how we’ll do it,” why would the Town Council agree to withdraw or reduce its past oversight of EDA operations it remained deeply involved in?

Whatever the reason, in 2012 the Town Council did agree to relinquish its EDA board appointment authority, and thus direct supervisory authority over EDA operations. In fact, that relinquishment is referenced in motions filings surrounding the EDA’s claim of sovereign immunity in response to the Town’s $15 million civil action against it.

“That the Town of Front Royal voluntarily waived its right to control the EDA, contrary to the statutory mandate, does not create an actionable fiduciary duty to (the Town’s) benefit,” EDA attorneys wrote in reply to the Town’s opposition filing on the EDA claim of institutional sovereign immunity.

However those arguments play out at a November 8 motions hearing and whether that “voluntary” waiver of its EDA oversight right was a bad decision or not, it has paid off for Town officials in an unexpected way.

Because by allowing the County to assume full EDA board appointment authority, that 2012 Council may have saved its 2015 to 2018 successors from legal liability for the absence of Council’s own due diligence in its oversight of its EDA affairs. And while like the County and EDA officials who were indicted, that misdemeanor liability would have only extended back a year and involve an estimated $309,000, it was a long-term failing the Town itself alleges led to the misdirection of up to $15 million in Town assets.

Regardless, unlike County and EDA officials, in the absence of direct authority to limit the EDA executive director’s conduct of her office over those last four months of 2018, the Front Royal Town Council appears poised to skate home free of any legal liability for its own lapses of judgment regarding its business dealings with the EDA in recent years.

And without “smoking gun” evidence of payoffs to look the other way or shared profiteering from the alleged EDA financial fraud under legal and civil scrutiny, it would appear the worst offense those not indicted for illegally moving or receiving EDA assets can be charged with is failed due diligent oversight, and that within that one-year misdemeanor statute of limitations. And for the above cited reasons it would appear that such charges could only come on the County and EDA sides of the equation, as it did on September 24.

So more than any proactive due diligence by elected Town officials generating “continued confidence”, legally on the failed municipal oversight front you might say it just pays to be lucky timing wise; not to mention have a voluntary withdrawal of EDA board appointment authority in your pocket. I guess you could also say that County generated initiative to acquire additional control of EDA board appointments for its added operational financial contribution kind of backfired long term – because misery loves company, right?

Criminal and non-criminal dereliction of public duty: Where might they apply in the EDA financial scandal?

Grand Jury indicts 14 County and EDA officials for lack of EDA oversight

Council divided on move toward second, Town-controlled EDA

 

Defense attorneys move to quash grand jury misdemeanor indictments

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EDA moves on line of credit extension, continued County financial support and Baugh Drive HVAC repairs

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Following a 4-hour Closed Session at its monthly meeting on May 21st, the Front Royal-Warren County Board of Directors passed two resolutions and one motion:

On a motion by Jorie Martin, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the EDA Board unanimously approved the following resolution:

RESOLUTION OF THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE TOWN OF FRONT ROYAL AND THE COUNTY OF WARREN, VIRGINIA, APPROVING AN EXTENSION OF THE EXISTING LINE OF CREDIT

WHEREAS, the Industrial Development Authority of the Town of Front Royal and the County of Warren, Virginia (the “Authority”) has requested the extension of its existing line of credit (the “Line of Credit”) with First Bank and Trust (the “Lender”) and such extension has been agreed to by the Lender in a commitment letter dated May 11, 2021 (the “FB&T Commitment”) a copy of which is on file with the Authority.


NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE TOWN OF FRONT ROYAL AND THE COUNTY OF WARREN, VIRGINIA:

1. The Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Authority, either of whom may act, is hereby authorized and directed to execute and deliver the FB&T Commitment which extends the maturity date of the Line of Credit from June 30, 2021, to September 30, 2021.

2. This resolution shall take effect immediately.

And also on a motion by Jorie Martin, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the EDA Board unanimously approved the following resolution:

RESOLUTION OF THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE TOWN OF FRONT ROYAL AND THE COUNTY OF WARREN, VIRGINIA, APPROVING AN UPDATED SUPPORT AGREEMENT WITH THE COUNTY OF WARREN, VIRGINIA RELATING TO A FORBEARANCE AGREEMENT AND APPROVING AN EXTENSION OF SUCH FORBEARANCE AGREEMENT

WHEREAS, the Industrial Development Authority of the Town of Front Royal and the County of Warren, Virginia (the “Authority”) has requested the continuation of assistance from the Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) of the County of Warren, Virginia (the “County”) by entering into an updated Support Agreement, to undertake a non-binding obligation to appropriate moneys to the Authority in connection with the Forbearance Agreement, dated March 10, 2020 (the “Forbearance Agreement”) between the Authority and First Bank (the “Lender”) relating to monthly debt service payments of the Authority due to the Lender under the EDA Loans (as defined in the Forbearance Agreement) during the 2022 Fiscal Year and the extension of such Forbearance Agreement from June 30, 2021, to June 30, 2022.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE TOWN OF FRONT ROYAL AND THE COUNTY OF WARREN, VIRGINIA:

1. In consideration of the Authority’s undertakings with respect to the Forbearance Agreement, the Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Authority, either of whom may act, is hereby authorized and directed to execute and deliver the Support Agreement and to extend the Forbearance Agreement from June 30, 2021, to June 30, 2022. The Support Agreement shall be in substantially the form presented to this meeting, which is hereby approved, with such completions, omissions, insertions, or changes not inconsistent with this resolution as may be approved by the Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Authority, in their sole discretion, the execution thereof by the Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Authority to constitute conclusive evidence of his or her approval of such completions, omissions, insertions or changes.

2. The Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Authority, either of whom may act, is authorized to extend the Forbearance Period (as defined in the Forbearance Agreement) from June 30, 2021, to June 30, 2022, and to approved documentation of such extension.

3. This resolution shall take effect immediately.

Finally, on a motion by Tom Patteson, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the EDA Board unanimously approved a motion to authorize the Chair to sign an agreement with AirServe to replace Rooftop Unit #1 and repair Rooftop Units #4 and 5 at 426 Baugh Dr. for $18,796.

The EDA Board of Directors will have their next regular monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, June 25, 2021, at 8 a.m.

(From a release by the WC EDA)

 

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EDA vacancies filled; supervisors forward resolution urging action on EDA criminal prosecutions

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The final items on the Warren County Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening agenda were two Economic Development Authority matters. The second of those was appointments to fill the two vacant seats on the EDA Board of Directors. Those vacancies were created by the supervisors’ majority decision to make Ed Daley’s interim county administrator’s appointment more lengthy than originally anticipated when the retired Frederick County-Winchester area municipal manager was tapped from the EDA Board following the forced resignation of long-time Administrator Doug Stanley, and by the amount of out-of-state work, Melissa Gordon has been engaged in recently.

Appointed to fill those seats were Scott Jenkins and Robert Hencken.

Jenkins and his wife Lisa are proprietors of Mountain Home Bed & Breakfast on the county’s south side and are active in tourism promotion endeavors locally. Hencken has been a member of the county’s Broadband Committee. Further information on the appointees will be provided when available from the County.

The pace of criminal justice


Preceding those appointments was the approval of a Resolution expressing a collective discontent at the pace at which the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal case is proceeding. Following John Bell’s 2019 election, in early 2020 his office recused itself collectively from those cases due to personal or professional connections leading to potential conflicts of interest. Criminal indictments dating to Brian Madden’s tenure as Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney were eventually dropped by the Special Prosecutor’s Office in Rockingham County to avoid case dismissals due to the volume of material – over a million pages of documentation – leading to a permanent dismissal of cases on defense motions related to a prosecutorial failure to meet speedy trial standards.

Some citizens are wondering if the sun has set on criminal prosecutions in the EDA financial scandal. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

As it stands, new old indictments can be re-filed or new ones filed when prosecutors are ready to move toward trial. However, another delay occurred when the Special Prosecutor’s Office turned the case over to federal authorities in the Western District of Virginia. The consequent lag time in a renewal of criminal prosecutions related to the $26-million dollar-plus EDA financial scandal and civil litigation has frustrated some citizens, and now it seems, those citizens’ elected officials.

The “Resolution Seeking Justice For The Citizens Of Warren County” was passed on a unanimous voice vote on a motion by Delores Oates, seconded by Walt Mabe.

Following an introductory paragraph, a six-paragraph series of sentences beginning with “WHEREAS” traces the EDA’s mission of promoting local economic development; former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s role in a position “of public trust” in that endeavor; the allegations that “from at least 2016 until 2018, McDonald, along with various others, engaged in a variety of schemes to unlawfully take millions of dollars in money and property from the EDA for her own personal benefit”; the criminal charging and dismissals described above; concluding with the fact that “currently, no criminal charges are pending against McDonald.”

Citizen frustration has been expressed on social media that former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, here on the job with her board of directors in September 2018, is not currently facing criminal indictment.

The Resolution then concludes: “Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved By The Board As Follows:

1. The Board requests that a criminal prosecution be instituted as soon as possible against McDonald and any other parties who aided or conspired with McDonald to steal EDA funds or property.

2. The Board authorizes and directs the County Administrator to transmit a copy of this resolution to Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Daniel P. Bubar, Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell, Congressman Ben Cline, Senator Mark Warner, Senator Tim Kaine, State Senator Mark D. Obenshain, Delegate C Todd Gilbert, Delegate William D Wiley, Delegate Michael J. Webert, and all local media.”

Followed by acknowledgment the Resolution is considered immediately in effect upon its adoption on May 18, 2021.

Intent of Resolution

Royal Examiner contacted Board Chairperson Cheryl Cullers several days after the resolution’s passage to explore the process of mixing politics and law enforcement, as the resolution seems to do in ordering distribution of it to elected officials at the state and federal level with its “as soon as possible” assertion. Cullers said rather than politicization of a law enforcement endeavor, the resolution’s intent was largely informational.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors made it official on May 18, 2021 – it wants action ‘ASAP’ on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal investigation. That investigation is now in the hands of federal authorities in the Western District of Virginia.

“I think with this the intent was to let people know that we do want to see justice for them in this case with the small amount of encouragement we can give, rather than to tell law enforcement how to do its job,” the Warren County board chair asserted. She pointed to the lengthy delay in re-establishing criminal prosecutions, as noted above the criminal cases have passed through the hands of three different prosecutorial agencies, finally being passed from the state to federal level from late 2019 to early 2020.

Cullers said that while she has not experienced much direct feedback from constituents, she is aware of social media expressions of frustration at the lack of action on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal litigation since the original indictments were dropped by the Special Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg to assure they could be re-filed when prosecutors were ready to proceed to trials against multiple defendants.

But when might that be after over a year of no visible action at the federal level?

Interim County Administrator Ed Daley left, and County Attorney Jason Ham was tasked with preparation and distribution of the board of supervisors ‘Resolution Seeking Justice for the Citizens of Warren County’ regarding criminal prosecutions related to the EDA financial scandal.

With the May 18th passing of the “Seeking Justice” resolution that is now, not only a matter of citizen but official county concern as well. Tasked by the county supervisors with distribution of the resolution to state and federal elected officials and the media, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley agreed with Cullers’ assessment, adding a subtle political push to the equation.

“I think the intent is to assure that the case is proceeding, and is not put in the inactive case file at the federal level,” Daley told Royal Examiner on Thursday afternoon, as the staff was preparing the resolution’s distribution documentation.

The full text of the resolution is available here.

Those two EDA-related matters begin at the 2-hour-and-13-minute mark of the County meeting video.

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Following Joint Closed Session with County, EDA authorizes $9-million civil settlement negotiation with former executive director

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The Board of Directors met with the Warren County Board of Supervisors in a joint meeting at their Work Session on Tuesday, May 11. Following an approximately 90-minute Closed Meeting, on a motion by Greg Harold, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the EDA Board unanimously approved the following resolution:

RESOLVED, that the Sands Anderson, P.C. law firm is authorized to enter into such agreements and make such court pleadings on behalf of the Industrial Development Authority of the Town of Front Royal and the County of Warren, Virginia (“EDA”) as may be necessary to effectuate in favor of the EDA a resolution of the EDA’s claims against Jennifer McDonald, MoveOn8, LLC, and DaBoyz, LLC, which resolution shall include provisions (i) that any judgment against Jennifer McDonald, MoveOn8, LLC, and DaBoyz LLC shall be the joint and several liability of all three entities, (ii) that any judgment against Jennifer McDonald, MoveOn8, LLC, and DaBoyz, LLC shall not be dischargeable in bankruptcy, and (iii) that any such judgment be for no less than $9,000,000.

The EDA has successfully proved in civil court that Ms. McDonald and the two corporations associated with her owe money to the EDA, and by extension, to the citizens of our community. This resolution, resulting in a significant judgment in favor of the EDA, once properly approved and entered by the courts, will represent an important milestone in the EDA’s effort to recover losses it has incurred in this matter. The judgment, if approved by the courts, will not be dischargeable in bankruptcy and these defendants will be liable for it until it is paid.

The Board understands that the citizens of Front Royal and Warren County expect accountability and restitution by any and all parties who were involved in misconduct or other unlawful takings from the EDA. This resolution, with support from the Warren County Board of Supervisors, is a step forward in that direction.


The EDA Board of Directors will persist in seeking redress for losses incurred by the EDA. Just as importantly, the EDA will continue moving forward, working diligently to bring jobs and investment to Front Royal and Warren County.

The EDA Board of Directors will have their next regular monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, May 21, 2021, at 8 a.m.

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EDA announces 1-year lease with SYSCO on Baugh Drive warehouse

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In a special meeting, the Warren County/Front Royal Economic Development Authority on April 30, 2021, has leased the 426 Baugh property to Sysco until May 2022. The monthly lease is $28,800 per month.

Earlier the EDA had made arrangements to sell the former Atlantic Skyline Building at 426 Baugh Drive for the full asking price of $5,750,000 to Parallel Virginia, LLC, a pharmaceutical processor of medical cannabis. The sale was contingent upon the conditional approval of the company’s application for a pharmaceutical processor permit in Health Service Area 1 by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy – that decision that was expected in March 2021 apparently had been postponed.

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EDA ups ante in civil litigation versus McDonald – without defense objection

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Could the Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) and its former executive director, Jennifer McDonald, be headed toward a settlement of the EDA’s multi-million dollar civil litigation against her and her two real estate LLCs, MoveOn8 and DaBoyz? That would appear to be a possibility in the wake of a “Stipulations” agreement hearing Friday morning, April 9, in Warren County Circuit Courtroom A.

Then EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald speaking at a 2017 town council work session – might she and her attorney soon be talking to EDA attorneys about a mutually agreeable settlement of the civil litigation against her? Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

After the adjournment of the 9 a.m. docket hearing to deal with remote phone connection issues for other defendants’ attorneys not present for the two-pronged April 9 hearing, Judge Bruce D. Albertson reentered the courtroom at 9:25 a.m. with the remote connection issues resolved. EDA lead civil attorney Cullen Seltzer of the Richmond law firm of Sands Anderson then read the five-point “Stipulations” submission to the court as McDonald and her attorney Peter Greenspun listened at the defense table.

The first of those stipulations set an amount of $62,315,315.51 as the EDA’s claimed damages in the civil case against McDonald and her two real estate companies alleged to have been used to move EDA assets to her or co-defendants’ personal benefit. It is worth noting that the original EDA civil litigation filing was in the $21-million range, later being amended with added defendants to near $28 million.


The second and third stipulations note that the McDonald-LLC defendants “take no position on the basis for” that plaintiff-claimed amount; nor do they admit to “any wrongdoing” regarding the EDA’s claim of damages.

It is the wording of the final two stipulations approved by the court that may hint at negotiation between the plaintiff and defendant:

“The Defaulted Defendants (McDonald, MoveOn8, and DaBoyz) have endorsed an order providing money damages judgment in the amount of $62,315,315.51 in favor of the plaintiff (the ‘Money Judgment Order’),” Stipulation 4 reads, followed by this:

“No sooner than 60 days from April 9, 2021, Plaintiff’s counsel may tender to the Court the Money Judgment Order if the Defaulted Defendants and the Plaintiff do not sooner enter into an agreement satisfactory to the parties. The Defaulted Defendants do not oppose the Court’s entry of the Money Judgment Order once tendered pursuant to this paragraph.”

Did Friday’s EDA civil litigation hearing indicate signs of progress toward an out-of-court resolution of, at least a portion of that litigation?

Defense attorney Greenspun and his client left the courtroom after the five minutes it took for the “Stipulations” submission to be read to the court by EDA counsel and for Judge Albertson to accept them, as indicated above, without objection from the defendant or her counsel, as the second part of the morning’s hearing began. That hearing was on a “Protective Order” request by defendant April Petty’s attorney Bill Shmidheiser to prevent volumes of his client’s bank records not relevant to the EDA case against Petty being posted on a secured database accessible by all the associated defendants, 15 in the first amended complaint and nine more added later.

Shmidheiser cited 3 pages related to a $41,000 check deposit regarding one real estate transaction as relevant to the case out of an estimated one thousand pages of Petty’s bank records from at least six accounts reviewed by the plaintiff attorneys and posted to the database.

EDA co-counsel Sean Hutson argued that the defendant should not be the one to determine the relevance of her own documents, that other defendants’ counsel should. After he polled four defense attorneys connected to the hearing remotely and getting four “no objections” to Petty’s counsel’s request, Judge Albertson granted Petty’s requested exclusion of apparently unrelated bank records from the case database.

Following adjournment after that 20-minute hearing, we asked EDA lead counsel Seltzer about the implications of the Money Judgment Order “Stipulations” agreement approved by the court earlier. However, he declined to discuss details of the status of an active case on the record.

Pictured virtually hosting recent EDA Board meeting, Chairman Jeff Browne is hopeful discussion can lead to out-of-court agreements on at least parts of EDA efforts to recoup alleged miss-directed assets.

So, we soon tried EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne with whom we’d briefly discussed the morning’s hearing following adjournment of an 8 a.m. Emergency Meeting of the EDA Board earlier that morning. No action followed a 50-minute closed session. During the brief open session, Browne explained the “emergency” designation simply meant the meeting had been called within 24 hours of its convening.

While also reluctant to discuss the still-active EDA civil litigation, Browne did observe that the entering of a signed agreement by the involved parties citing a 60-day window to reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion was a positive sign that discussion would take place. Of the potential of such discussion, Browne observed, “If we can avoid trial and save tons of money by coming to an agreement it would be a positive development. I hope it works out.”

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EDA in Focus

County updating equipment, rewriting IT software in wake of system ‘intrusion’

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During his update on County business at the virtual meeting of the Warren County-Front Royal Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Friday morning, March 26, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley addressed the status of the County’s software situation in the wake of the early March discovery of what has been termed an “intrusion” of that system. Daley has fallen short of calling the incident a “hack” due to an absence of discovered consequences such as stolen files or manipulation of existing files or systems.

However, the consequences which began with a nearly three-week halt in use of all county officials and staff emails due to the County server being taken down as a security precautionary measure, continues to be felt. As previously reported, the local IT system intrusion was part of a larger “intrusion” of software at various unspecified locations across the country. It’s source and purpose continues to be a matter of investigation from the federal level down.

A day prior to Daley’s report at the EDA’s monthly meeting, Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall’s March 25 County “Situation Report” also began with an update on the post software “intrusion” consequences:

COMMUNITY INFORMATION


  1. Warren County Email Update
    1. Warren County, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services are still experiencing significant computer/email issues.  The County is working diligently to restore full computer and email service to all personnel.
    2. Please note that any emails sent to County personnel at warrencountva.net, warrencountysheriff.org, or warrencountyfire.com may not be received until all email services are fully restored.

File photo of County Emergency Services vehicle in front of WCGC in March 2020. A year later the on-site emergency services have revolved around software protection and clean up. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

A clue to that restored service came Friday during the interim county administrator’s report to the EDA. Daley told the EDA board that 150 new laptop computers were slated to arrive Tuesday (March 30). Contacted late Friday afternoon, Daley told Royal Examiner by phone that it was anticipated all County emails would be back online at the beginning of the coming week, possibly coinciding with the arrival of the new computers and a rewrite of the County IT network. The system overhaul is to assure whoever was behind the intrusion no longer has access to the system, Daley explained. In a late update Monday morning, Daley said it now appeared the computers would not arrive until Thursday, delaying the restored email use until later in the week.

“We’re just busy buying computers and throwing computers out and wondering why we still have 2007 computers… – It’s a new experience every day,” Daley began his report to the EDA board Friday morning.

“Well, we wish the County well – it’s a horrible problem,” EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne told his former fellow EDA Board member and chairman. EDA officials later told Royal Examiner the separate EDA server had not been impacted by the County intrusion, though a downed 10-year-old router had temporarily taken the EDA system offline for about a day this past week.

As noted in our original story on the hack – “A new municipal ‘normal’ – large scale software ‘intrusions’ and targeting an international human organ harvesting business?!?” – Daley said that while the beginning date of the intrusion hadn’t been established, it was verified it did not involve or impact election data from last November.

Interim County Administrator Ed Daley at early March county supervisors meeting. A portion of his recent reports, regardless of to whom, has traced the impact of and reaction to the county software intrusion discovered earlier this month.

Daley told us that discussion of acquiring upgraded technology for the County was already underway when the intrusion was discovered March 7 to 12. In fact, the old County Information Technology was only capable of support of Windows 7, which will soon be non-serviceable as Window 10 and beyond continue development.

“So this gave us a reason to upgrade now,” Daley told Royal Examiner of the County IT software intrusion. One sign of the upgrade will be an eventual switch from .net to .gov in the County network, including staff and other official emails.

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