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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 in Focus

FR-WC EDA moves to guarantee records protection during transition to County IT oversight, goes to Closed Session on litigation, business matters

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The Front Royal-Warren County EDA held a special meeting on Wednesday, February 1, 2023, at 3:00 PM at the EDA Office on Kendrick Lane. All five Board members, legal counsel, and the County Director of Economic Development were present.

The meeting began with the discussion of moving the February Regular Meeting from Friday, February 24, to Tuesday, February 28 at 8:00 AM. The schedule change was unanimously approved.

Following the schedule discussion, the Board requested legal counsel to draft an agreement to protect EDA records in order to move forward with the information technology transition with the County.

The Board concluded the meeting with a closed session to discuss potential disposition of real property to business prospects, the small business loan committee applications, and legal consultation regarding active litigation. There was no new business following the closed session.


As noted above, the next regular monthly Board meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 28, 2023, at 8:00 AM at the Warren County Government Center.

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County overseen FR-WC EDA reviews Conservancy Park status, Small Business Loan Committee applications, future property marketing options

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The Front Royal Warren County EDA held its monthly meeting on Friday, January 27, 2023, at 8:00 AM at the Warren County Government Center. Four Board members, legal counsel, and the County Director of Economic Development were present. Chairman Jeff Browne participated remotely.

The regular meeting began with a discussion regarding a potential utility easement through the EDA’s Happy Creek Technology Park property to a neighboring parcel. The proposed development is in its early stages although the utilities could create a loop through the business park while also accommodating any potential future development on adjacent properties. The Board of Directors has concerns with any easements that may encumber any EDA owned property, however, they are open to future discussions if it can create an overall cohesive development area.

As part of the Committee Reports, Jorie Martin and Joe Petty provided an update regarding the Avtex Conservancy Property and recent presentations to the Board of Supervisors and Town Council. Mrs. Martin mentioned the interest in issuing an RFI (Request For Information) for the remaining property, and a work session may be scheduled to review the document.

Treasurer, Jim Wolfe, and the Director of Economic Development Joe Petty provided an update on the financial statements and the Board of Supervisors will soon begin having meetings regarding the Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget.


Royal Examiner file photo of EDA Board meeting, with full board and county director of economic development present.

Staff from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) provided a presentation regarding the Virginia Business Ready Site Program (VBRSP) and ways the EDA can position its available properties. The discussion gave the Board better insight into the types of businesses interested in locating in Virginia and types of assets they look for in property.

The FR-WC EDA is still looking for applicants to take part in the Small Business Loan Committee. The EDA approved four (4) certificates of satisfactions for previous loans that have been successfully paid off. The Board also approved two amendments to existing leases for C-CAP and the Happy Creek Technology Park Grazing Lease.

The Board concluded the meeting with a closed session to discuss potential disposition of real property to business prospects, the small business loan committee applications, and legal consultation. No new business followed the closed session.

The next regular monthly Board meeting will be held on Friday, February 24, 2023, at 8:00 AM at the Warren County Government Center.

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WC EDA release describes history, intent, and timing of Avtex Conservancy Park initiative

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Front Royal-Warren County EDA representatives presented to the Warren County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. The Avtex Ad Hoc Committee members, Jorie Martin and Scott Jenkins, along with the County Director of Economic Development, were in attendance to discuss the Former Avtex Fibers Conservancy Parcel. The FR-WC EDA recommends conveying the Conservancy Parcel, consisting of 240 acres, from the EDA to the County.

Shortly after the final work shift concluded at the Avtex Fibers Plant in 1989, the community began to wonder about the future of the Avtex Property. In 1993, the Parks and Recreation Department released the document Front Royal’s Plan for Parks, Trails, Bike-paths, and Greenways. While the plan addressed the entire community, it was one of the first local plans that stated, “The Avtex property on the West side of Front Royal may be amenable to eventual Park use, following the resolution of issues concerning the EPA project to modify the land and ponds … retention of the area as an open-space/wildlife preserve is the most desirable use of this land following the completion of its cleanup in the following 10-20 years.”

Another document published in 2000, The Avtex Fibers Conservancy Park Master Plan Report, was the culmination of work by stakeholders and the community that focused specifically on the Avtex Property and stated, “The Master Plan recommends restoration of the basin area into a conservancy park that combines ecological restoration and conservation of native habitats with passive recreation opportunities for local residents and visitors.”

A map of the planned Conservancy area as a passive recreation park from the 2000 Master Plan for the area. Below, an EDA 2023 timeline for movement toward realizing the Master Plan for the Conservancy area.


 

Remediation of the Superfund site began in 2000 and continues today, as the EPA and FMC consistently monitor the property to ensure it is currently safe and in the future. The FR-WC EDA recognizes that now is the time to fulfill the community’s vision by implementing the 2000 Master Plan. Nationally there is an increase in the public’s interest in accessible green space and passive recreation. Additionally, the Avtex Trail would provide more opportunities to experience Front Royal’s location along the Shenandoah River.

“Moving forward with implementing the Conservancy Master Plan is just the beginning of a process to revitalize the site,” said Ad Hoc Committee Member Jorie Martin. “Avtex Fibers was once an economic engine of Front Royal, and the new trail will begin to change the perception of the property and create a fresh outlook for redevelopment on the remaining parcels.”

The FR-WC EDA will continue to work with Warren County, the Town of Front Royal, EPA, and FMC to ensure that the development of conservancy property and, ultimately, the redevelopment of the entire Avtex Property is a top priority for our community.

For more information regarding the FR-WC EDA’s vision for the Former Avtex Fibers Conservancy Parcel, contact the Avtex Ad Hoc Committee Members Jorie Martin at mmartin@wceda.com and Scott Jenkins at sjenkins@wceda.com, and the presentation can be found at wceda.com. Information regarding the EPA’s cleanup efforts and reports can be found at www.epa.gov.

About the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority:

The mission of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA) is to strengthen the economic growth of our community by fostering a friendly business environment and providing services to create and retain quality jobs in Warren County. The Authority also supports community tourism, recreation, and arts & cultural initiatives to provide a better quality of life for the County’s residents, workers, and visitors. Coordination with the Board of Supervisors, County staff, the Town of Front Royal, and State agencies are integral to promoting economic development and tourism throughout Warren County.

For more information, contact Jeffrey Browne, FR-WC EDA Board of Directors Chair, at 540-635-2182, jbrowne@wceda.com

 

WC EDA proposes County takeover of Avtex Conservancy Park’s 240 in-town acres; Supervisors approve six of seven Airport Lease Agreements

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WC EDA proposes County takeover of Avtex Conservancy Park’s 240 in-town acres; Supervisors approve six of seven Airport Lease Agreements

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At a January 10th work session the Warren County Board of Supervisors received four staff reports beginning with members of the now unilaterally County-overseen but still legally named Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (Avtex Conservancy property proposal), and proceeding with Deputy County Administrator Taryn Logan (FY 2023 thru 2028 Draft Capital Improvement Plan), Finance Director Alisa Scott (Fiscal Policy Guidelines for Capital Asset Replacement Program), and Human Resources Director Jane Meadows (Department Updates and Position Reclassifications).

The board then convened a Special Meeting called to hold public hearings on seven lease agreements at the County-overseen Front Royal Airport (FRR), including with drone manufacturer and new FRR Fixed Base Operator Silent Falcon (for the “airport house”), new hangar maintenance contractor Aero Services LLC (for the “maintenance repair facility”), as well as Randolph-Macon Academy and four individual hangar tenants. All but one of those lease agreements was unanimously approved.

At the request of Finance Director Alisa Scott, item H-4, the hangar lease agreement with Michael W. Christensen was held – there were no speakers at any of the seven public hearings – but a vote on the Christensen lease was tabled at Scott’s request until the board had a chance to review and discuss with staff a note inserted from Christensen regarding terms in his lease.

When in doubt always look to staff for guidance – above, the supervisors, four present physically, Jay Butler by remote hook up, were guided to a motion to table a vote on one airport hangar lease by County Administrator Daley and Assistant County Attorney Jordan, pictured below. Royal Examiner File Photo of Board


The request for an altered motion to table the vote from the approval motion included in the agenda packet on all seven requests seemed to collectively confuse the board for about five minutes after North River District Supervisor Delores Oates observed Scott’s requested Christensen lease motion differed from the one in her agenda packet. But with some guidance from the county administrator and assistant county attorney, the adjusted motion to table a vote on the Christensen lease was eventually made and approved without dissent.

Want a 200-plus acre, riverside walking, biking trails park?

The work session opened with a presentation from the now more-commonly referenced Warren County EDA’s Board of Director members Jorie Martin and Scott Jenkins, with support from County in-house EDA Executive Director Joe Petty. Beginning with Martin, they explained a proposal to have the County take over possession and management of the Conservancy area, a total of 240 acres at the former 467-acre Avtex synthetic fibers manufacturing plant opened in 1940 as the American Viscose subsidiary of British Viscose. The plant was built as a war materials production facility out of the range of German bombers as World War II was engulfing Europe. In the late 1980s the plant was closed by state and federal regulators after byproducts of the plant’s manufacturing processes were linked to the production of carcinogenic materials being released into the environment on multiple levels. On the brighter side, Martin noted the property’s history, not only in the production of war materials for the battle against European fascism, but also materials used in NASA’s U.S. space program.

Walking trails on preserved land, including riverside acreage, connecting various portions of in-town properties including some schools, has been determined to be an optimal future use of the EDA overseen property due to more restrictive developmental restrictions placed on that area due to past uses. Portions of the Conservancy area were where the synthetic fibers manufacturing plant’s cleaning basins were located. The Conservancy area of the former federal Superfund site has been ruled unsuitable for development with buildings or any use requiring digging much below the surface. And it was explained that certain portions of the property will not be included in the proposed public access park area.

The Conservancy Park area’s 240.7 acres shaded in brown. The outlined area above the limited usage options Conservancy area is the EDA office property and planned Royal Phoenix Business Park off Kendrick Lane. The outlined area across the river is forecast for possible residential development. Below, County in-house EDA Executive Director Joe Petty at podium, and EDA board members Scott Jenkins and Jorie Martin, seated in front row, teamed up in presenting a proposal to convey ownership of the projected Conservancy park area to the County under stewardship of its Parks & Recreation Department.

So, with the more restrictive developmental parameters WC EDA officials believe that County ownership under the umbrella of its Parks and Recreation Department would be a viable future direction for the property, the county, and the community. Would the supervisors agree after exploring operational dynamics, EDA officials are seeking to know.

“Is there a budget for this grand plan?” Delores Oates asked, perhaps drawing a green line in the sand on direct County involvement. “I see we have money available, it looks like $93,000 – $93,000 doesn’t go very far in government programs – So Joe, do we have a budget to maintain

this as a park for the county because I want to understand what it’s going to cost the County taxpayers should we accept this conveyance and what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Petty noted that the EDA was currently maintaining some trails in the Conservancy area and pointed to cost estimates done in 2017 when a plan for the park was being developed. “This is going to be a process. We know it’s going to take some time,” Petty began, pointing to available (ARCA) funding that might open the path to other state or federal grant funding for Conservancy area redevelopment. “I think the discussion tonight is if even the County board has the appetite to take this initiative on,” he told the county’s elected officials.

At this point County Administrator Ed Daley chimed in. “I might add to that, there is nothing anticipated with this that would require a capital investment by the County. So, this would be done when State or Federal money becomes available. If that takes two years, three years, five years, etcetera. What we’re looking at right now is there is a particular opportunity with lots of federal money available. But we’re not looking to add this on to the County budget or anything of that kind. There will be a maintenance cost, but quite frankly that’s going to be minimal,” Daley assured the supervisors.

“So, you said it would be minimal but this is 240 acres of maintenance,” Oates countered, estimating a cost to cover two additional employees “at least” for that job “on a regular basis.”

“No, mam,” Daley countered, pointing to a minimal amount of those 240 acres requiring actual maintenance, within the limited developmental guidelines for the property. “This is all going to be natural state,” Daley said of the the Conservancy parkland that will be available to the public.

Avtex Superfund remediation site Conservancy area Master Plan dating to 2000, illustrating sections and walking and bike trail paths, some mirroring old roads through this section of the old synthetic fibers plant. Three rectangular, light brown areas toward the river are labeled ‘Meadow Habitats’ with the one on left containing a path labeled ‘Meadow Walk’.

“There is a Consent Decree for most of this property,” Petty pointed out, adding, “Even though we or anybody who owns this – the EDA currently does not maintain this. This is ARCA funding by (surviving former plant owner) FMC and they contract with a company called Parsons,” Petty explained, indicating that the EDA or any future owner’s maintenance responsibility would be limited to any new trail development, and that the Consent Decree would maintain FMC’s maintenance of existing areas requiring continued maintenance.

“Thank you for that clarification. I wasn’t aware that FMC had a Consent Decree arrangement with us,” Oates responded.

Asked for a timeline on a decision by Board Chair Vicky Cook, EDA board member Scott Jenkins replied, “We’d like to get that decision here in the first half of the year, so this fiscal year. We’d like to have the conveyance completed by June.” Petty added that the ARCA funding (referenced available $93,000) was done by the calendar year, and was already in the EDA’s possession for the coming year.

So, by June we should know if the county supervisors have bought into the idea of incorporating a portion of the base 240 acres designated to be a naturally maintained walking and biking trail park with riverfront aspects into the County’s Parks & Recreation Department system along the east side of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. One might guess that a looming question to be answered is how deep did Superfund cleanup and remediation work on this section of the old Avtex property go, assuring potential users that they won’t be exposed to any lingering hazardous materials seeping up through the Conservancy park soil. Royal Examiner later posed that question to WC EDA Executive Director Petty, who noted it wasn’t the first time he’d heard it.

“I think that all parties will have the public’s health and safety as a number one priority if the trail moves forward. There will be continued conversations with the EPA to ensure it is safe to use for walking/biking trails, as we are not planning for any other public use on the site other than passive recreation.

“I’d also like to share this link to the EPA that refers to human exposure at the Avtex Site.”

Watch the County video of both the work session and special meeting. The EDA Conservancy Park Conveyance discussion begins 30 seconds into the video.

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Crime/Court

Judge notifies involved parties of denial of all defense motions to overturn jury verdicts in EDA civil liability cases

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According to Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne, the now County overseen EDA has received notice from civil case Judge Bruce D. Albertson on his ruling in the five defense motions to overturn jury verdicts of liability in the EDA financial scandal civil litigations. That ruling on five civil cases totaling over $14 million dollars of liability is denial of those motions to overturn.

“We understand all motions were denied, which is a great victory for Warren County residents and the Warren County EDA,” Browne told Royal Examiner Tuesday afternoon by phone. Browne’s understanding is based on a December 13th letter from 26th Judicial District Judge Albertson to plaintiff and defense counsels in the five personal liability cases at issue. There are also two associated business liabilities.

Between July and October the Warren County Courthouse saw a lot of EDA ‘financial scandal’ action, with five trials resulting in liability verdicts totaling over $14 million. Below, EDA civil case lead attorney Cullen Seltzer and his team are on a winning streak in civil liability cases related to the EDA financial scandal.

“This matter was before me on November 30, 2022, for hearing on Motion(s) to Set Aside filed by Defendants. I deny each motion for reasons cited by Plaintiff,” Judge Albertson wrote involved counsel, citing preparation of a Final Order by plaintiff counsel and the noting of any defense objections to that order. It is possible defendants could appeal the court’s ruling to higher state courts.


The liabilities found by five Warren County Circuit Court civil case juries, four in July, and one in October, include:

  • Truc “Curt” Tran ($1,821,192.01 compensatory, interest liabilities), Tran’s ITFederal company ($10,419,327.38 compensatory);
  • Donald Poe ($604,973.12 compensatory, punitive, interest), Poe’s Earth Right Energy company ($948,646.25 in compensatory, punitive, interest);
  • Samuel North (approximately $893,000 compensatory, punitive, interest, & statutory conspiracy);
  • William Lambert ($296,555.34 compensatory, punitive, & interest);
  • April Petty ($125,000 compensatory judgment liability).

See story on these motions hearings (Judge ponders rulings in multiple defense motions to overturn civil case jury finding of liability in EDA financial scandal cases) as well as other related trial stories on the Royal Examiner website under “News” category, subcategories “EDA in Focus” or “Crime & Courts”.

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Crime/Court

Judge ponders rulings in multiple defense motions to overturn civil case jury finding of liability in EDA financial scandal cases

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After over five hours of arguments surrounding five EDA civil case defendants’ motions to overturn jury liability verdicts totaling over $14-million, Judge Bruce D. Albertson took those arguments under advisement Wednesday afternoon, November 30th. Some court officials anticipate rulings at some point in the coming week in the cases of April Petty ($125,000 compensatory judgement liability); William Lambert ($296,555.34 compensatory, punitive, & interest liabilities); Donald “Donnie” Poe ($604,973.12 compensatory, punitive, interest); Truc “Curt” Tran ($1,821,192.01 compensatory, interest); and Samuel “Sammy” North (approximately $893,000 compensatory, punitive, interest, & statutory conspiracy).

In addition to the above personal liabilities, Poe’s EarthRight Energy (ERE) company ($948,646.25 in compensatory, punitive, interest) and Tran’s ITFederal ($10,419,327.38 compensatory) were also handed down by Warren County Circuit Court civil case juries in recent months.

Five civil case defendants plus two companies, plaintiff EDA, and a community, await the court’s ruling on motions to overturn verdicts of liability in the EDA financial scandal trials. Below, a chart of EDA civil liability jury findings – Royal Examiner File Photos

All but North’s trial were heard in July. North’s, also originally scheduled for July, was delayed to October by a later withdrawn bankruptcy filing. This week on the final day of November, attorneys for the defendants echoed arguments sometimes heard at trial during earlier motions for dismissal of cases or claims against their clients due to what defense attorneys asserted both then and now, was a lack of substantive evidence of collusion with EDA financial scandal central figure and former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald. Rather, some defense attorneys claimed their clients were unwitting victims of McDonald’s from various business or personal connections.


Those personal connections include North’s marriage to McDonald; Lambert’s former personal relationship with McDonald’s sister; what attorney William Schmidheiser called Petty’s casual acquaintance McDonald, acting as his client’s real estate agent in the sale of her home. On the business side, Poe’s ERE company was contracted through McDonald to perform various solar  energy and energy maintenance projects for the EDA under what plaintiff EDA attorneys contended were false pretenses McDonald presented to her board of directors; and Tran’s ITFederal was recruited through the joint effort of McDonald and then Virginia Sixth District U.S. House Representative Bob Goodlatte to become the first commercial redevelopment client at the former Avtex Superfund site, also with what plaintiff counsel said were false contractual and asset information concerning ITFederal alleged to have been presented to the EDA board.

Several attorneys, most prominently Tran attorney David Jones Jr., also argued that several claims categories should not have applied to their clients at trial. Prominent among those were the “ultra vires” claim of profiting off the actions of an official acting outside the range of their legal authority, and associated claims of “conversion” and “unjust enrichment” being applied to their clients for actions of then EDA Executive Director McDonald. Consequently, Jones for Tran particularly and other defense attorneys argued that some jury instructions submitted were improper, creating an incorrect evidentiary scenario for those juries to deliberate on. So, procedural errors on bench rulings on evidence admissibility or jury instructions were claimed as grounds to overturn jury verdicts.

In Poe and ERE’s case, defense counsel William Ashwell also noted that some of the contracted work had been successfully completed by Poe’s company. He told the court that when payments were made by the EDA board to his client’s company: “The EDA eventually adopts her (McDonald’s) actions by their actions” and consequently his client is not the one who should be held liable for the return of money for work accomplished. Ashwell also sought to overturn any personal liability of Poe for payments made to his company.

In opening his arguments to overturn or limit Tran and ITFederal’s liability, Jones noted that he was “in the somewhat unenviable position of not being the trial attorney – Am I in the position of fresh eyes or of where fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” Jones wondered as he launched what would be an approximate hour of argument on his client’s behalf. During that hour Jones questioned the liability finding on a number of grounds and questioned whether ITFederal was, in fact, in breach of contract as claimed by the EDA in seeking recovery of the balance of the $10-million loan the EDA gave ITFederal for development at the former Avtex site.

Plaintiff counsel Cullen Seltzer and Karissa Kaseorg countered, as they had at trial, that McDonald’s assertions to her board about the source of funding for the ERE energy and electrical work being through grants that would compensate the EDA for its payments to ERE; or alleged government contracts held by Tran’s ITFederal company that were non-existent created the path for those payments, and a $10-million loan in ITFederal’s case, substantiating the juries findings of liability on ultra vires, conversion, and unjust enrichment, among other plaintiff claims.

In response to some of Jones’ arguments for reduction or dismissal of his clients’ liability, Kaseorg told Judge Albertson that the motions to overturn hearings should not be an opportunity for defense counsel to retry the case with a “what we wish we had done” at trial. Of Jones’ argument to dismiss based on the inclusion of the plaintiff’s “conversion” jury instruction, plaintiff counsel noted that the defense had agreed to the conversion jury instruction at trial.

In conclusion plaintiff EDA counsel asserted the judicial decisions from the bench at trial had been proper as to both evidence admissibility and jury instructions, and that those jury verdicts of financial liability based on both sides cases as presented at trial should stand as handed down by those five juries. And now we are awaiting a decision on how the court will rate its own performance at those trials based on the defendants’ challenges and the plaintiff’s counter-arguments in support of the judicial rulings made at trial.

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