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OPINION: Pig in a Poke?



“Pig in a Poke” is an old saying with a possibly fresh application in Warren County. The involvement of our local government/EDA in a little-known cattle feedlot scheme is a bizarre twist to the still unraveling $17-1/2 million dollar county embezzlement scandal.

Truc “Curt” Tran became an instant superhero in Warren County when he proposed his IT Federal LLC/Royal-Phoenix Trading LLC business on the old Avtex superfund site, but he also had a suitcase full of other dreams and LLCs. Surely encouraged by the red carpet treatment given by EDA, he hatched another plan, “Front Royal Farms, LLC” (a subsidiary of his VDN Systems, Inc.).

Recently posted EDA documents on the public Facebook blog, “One Mad Mother”, show this was to be a 1,000 acre beef cattle operation, coupled with an $8 million dollar worker training facility, and purchase, with expansion, of a local slaughterhouse. The trick was that others were going to buy and build this using no money from himself. The training facility would be used to train agricultural labor to run the cattle operation and to train workers in other professions, like baristas. Part of the complex would be a firing range. His plan was to process the meat using a local slaughterhouse and ship it by train, via the Inland Port, to Asian countries.

Tran’s secret proposal for the project showed $9 million coming from the county, $2 million from the state, $800,000 coming from the federal government, and a whopping $30 million coming from EB-5 investors, those being foreigners willing to invest their way into U. S. residency through the EB-5 program.

Tran was after land for his cattle feedlots. He approached one farmer in the Rockland area of Warren County to sell but was turned down. Tran said that none of the money for this project would be coming out of his own pocket. The same farmer was later approached by county officials to sell the farm for a training facility, but they were turned away, too.

Tran was counting on $30 million dollars from EB-5 investors. That would have required thirty EB-5 investors (foreigners, in probability, a majority of Chinese), putting in the required $1 million dollars each (incidentally, it is illegal for Chinese people to make this level of investment in a foreign county, but they find ways around it).

Run this scheme by a farmer if you don’t think it sounds crazy.

Documents show Tran was counting on funneling the EB-5 investors through his newly created “American Commonwealth Regional Center LLC”, which would have performed like a money corral. In exchange for $1 million, each foreign investor would be given a stake in the Front Royal Farms LLC. This EB-5 “regional center” was at one time registered by the US Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS), but we note that its status was revoked on 10 May 2019.

How Tran’s interest in farmland and a training center possibly connects with then-EDA director Jennifer McDonald and then-Sheriff McEathrons’ controversial land purchases, using non-Tran LLC’s, namely, “DaBoyz, LLC” and “MoveOn8, LLC”, remains unclear. Also unclear is whether this proposed agricultural training facility was related to the failed EDA/Tran police training academy project at the Happy Creek Industrial Park.

A local attorney was used as the original registered agent for MoveOn8 LLC. That may mean no more than he agreed to be the mail address for it, but who drafted the LLC operating documents, and who paid for them? Should these operating agreements be made public?

Our local officials have clammed-up because of the ongoing legal proceedings, and according to the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, some have signed confidentiality agreements. Some have already been called before a grand jury. Does silence sometimes sound better than excuses?

How did Tran expect $9 million from the county for this project? Those taxpayers presently being wrung-out for the recently passed 6-1/2 cent county tax increase, these being the same folks already swindled for $17.5 million dollars, might have minor curiosity.

Was Tran getting $30 million from EB-5 investors a pipe dream? Was he just a fellow with big ideas? How hard had he thought this through? Was this plan like a lottery jackpot, so big—job numbers and money invested—that Warren County would find it irresistible? In the Avtex/ IT Federal deal, Tran’s plan looked so good that Front Royal officials fell all over themselves to rush him a 10 million dollar loan at the get-go. When Tran scaled back his plans, he and local officials shifted blame, not surprisingly, to those who had questioned it, like then-Front Royal councilwoman Egger.

Who was planning to make Warren county’s taxpayers unwilling investors in such an insane high-risk investment? Gamblers like McDonald, who at the time, bragged about her slot machine winnings for a local newspaper article?

At some point, the Front Royal Farms project fizzled-out, the LLC currently showing as “canceled”, but the website for it is still up, showing a business address on Happy Creek Road.

Nationally, EB-5 programs are notorious for fraud and failure. On one end, foreign EB-5 investors can lose their money; on the other end, localities can lose their grants and incentives.

Three federal agencies conduct EB-5 fraud investigations: the SEC (Security Exchange Commission), the USCIS, and the Department of Labor. The SEC even has whistle-blower awards to expose EB-5 fraud.

Tran was able to get the Virginia Employment Commission to certify his Avtex IT Federal location would be eligible for the lower cost $500,000 per investor version of EB-5, based on unemployment statistics. He included a Virginia state certifying letter on his website. Assuming the document is legitimate, how was the VEC able to derive an unemployment number of 10% for a census area in Front Royal when the county average was around 4-5% at the time of the calculation? Tran needed an 8% figure to offer his investors this “Dollar Menu” version of the EB-5 for the Avtex project.

Former US Rep. Goodlatte was one of the main players in Congressional EB-5 legislation in this time-frame. He was also the one who brought Tran into Warren County. E-mails show aides were applying pressure on the USCIS to expedite Tran’s EB-5 regional center, and also to get it passed by the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office (suggesting that it was rejected initially). Tran was on a first name basis with these folks. In a recently released police video, Ron Llewellyn, a former EDA board member, said Goodlatte, or someone in his office, felt “harassed” by questions on the IT Federal project submitted to them by a local radio station reporter, Norma Jean Shaw: “Goodlatte called us and said, you gotta resolve this, so Jennifer [McDonald] notified the radio station owner and he fired her… in reality, she was probably let go for that reason”. It is ironic that Goodlatte, an expert on the EB-5, should have his own EB-5 project go awry.

During his last days in Congress, Goodlatte tried to keep the EB-5 program alive. Some experts have called for its elimination, however. In the article, “The EB-5 Program Is Legally Defective and has become a Scam”, 2018, attorney Douglas Litowitz predicted, “The EB-5 program will not end well.  It cannot be ‘fixed’.  It is shot-through with fraud. The honest course is for the SEC to admit that the program has mutated into a scam, even in ‘normal’ projects.”

Hope for some return of the money and land to the Warren County taxpayer might rest on whether Tran represented himself and his plans honestly. Tran lists numerous federal contract numbers on his website to indicate his business activities; it should be an easy matter to verify whether those contracts are legitimate. Current records at the Virginia Security Exchange Commission show he has four active LLC’s, four canceled LLC’s, and one active corporation.

John Thomson
Front Royal, Virginia

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We can write a story of tragedy to triumph–COVID-19 is Good Friday to the Easter Sunday that awaits



Today is Good Friday.  Many of us aren’t feeling so good these days and few will experience a traditional happy Easter on Sunday. But what if the tragic story of COVID-19 has a happy ending and prompts a triumphant shift in humanity’s destiny just as in the well known story of Easter?  These three days of Easter weekend represent a time when heartache, agony and despair were replaced with the ultimate victory–the promise of a brighter future than ever imagined before.

As the entire world (a world most consider broken and in need of serious saving) faces this crisis, we are in the process of writing a chapter in history that all future generations will recount.  Let’s not forget, even in our worst moments, that we each have the power to make choices and take actions in our own lives to create a happy ending to this chapter we’ll one day read about in history books.  If we look for the silver linings in the cloud that is COVID-19 and pledge to use this trying time to take steps to make changes to improve our own lives, the lives of our family and of the world (in whatever ways our heart calls us to do so), we can experience the Easter that awaits us.  From small acts of kindness towards our friends to loving gestures among our families to heartfelt generosity to complete strangers–we can rewrite this tragic period of our present into an Easter-like triumph in the future.

What can YOU do in your own life to get us one step closer to our happy ending? DO IT! What matters is your heart. LET IT!

I wish you a blessed Easter–please stay safe and happy and healthy,


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The next days of staying at home



Working from home is not new to me. Although I like seeing people and talking and visiting, I frequently spend solo time in my little study to think and to write. My most recent book, A WARRIOR OF MANY FACES, went online at Amazon and Kindle on Thanksgiving Day, 2019.

Recently I came upon a quote from the late English humorist and writer, Jerome K. Jerome. I was actually looking for quotes for a book I’m working on when I came across the following: “It is impossible to enjoy idling unless there is plenty of work to do.” Written by Mr. Jerome many years ago, the quote could almost fit today. It is so strange to be asked to stay at home. But we all know that “social distancing” and working from home is going to be the way we must be, at least until this recent health crisis is over. The Rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh ( the site of a terrible shooting) tells us online that he would like to see us all use the terms “physical distancing and social connecting”.

I’m lucky too in a way. I love spending time with my housemate and wife, Bryane, a beautiful and talented writer and artist. Even though it is only the two of us (plus our tuxedo cat, Baby), I’m never bored around her. So, a voluntary or even compelled lock-in is not the worst thing.

Another quote from Jerome could easily have been written today. “I like work. I can sit and look at it for hours.” I know the feeling. Sometimes I sit and think about what I am writing and how to put it in words. Finally, I do get something on paper, but from now on I’ll also think of Mr. Jerome. I wonder what he might have to say as he looks at people all over Virginia, America and the world forced to sit at home and many people even being paid to be idle. Ironic isn’t it that Jerome K. Jerome died in 1927.

Let’s all try to make the most of being home. I know I will.

Charles “Chips” Lickson, JD, Ph.D.     
Front Royal, Virginia

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Just ‘thanks’ for keeping the community informed



This is a really tough time for the publishing industry as ad volume is on the downswing. Your on-line service to the local community who cannot afford paid subscriptions is an especially important link to accurate information about the COVID-19 public health crisis.

And frankly, everyone in Warren County owes the Royal Examiner and its editorial staff a huge thank you for the hard questions asked that led to the uncovering of the EDA scandal. Without those hard questions, Warren County residents would not have known the extent of the harm done to our community.

So thank you to the publisher, Mike McCool, to the reporters and editorial staff. In my opinion, you are all heroes who are doing their best to serve the community.

Rea Howart
Front Royal, Virginia

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A very interesting way with words



Our Interim Town Manager, Matt Tederick, has a very interesting way with words. The way he can skirt around an issue is a huge criterion of the game of politics. He has mastered this very well.

An example of this is in the article from the Royal Examiner titled, (Council poised for a decision on the CDBG pavilion project despite added costs). Mr. Tederick states, (needless to say we’ve had some challenges with the CDBG in general. One of those challenges was the approval of amendments to bylaws to address personnel changes in the Facade Advisory Board).

Here is where Mr. Tedericks skill comes in to play. He states several members got off the board, we have to add new members. What he doesn’t say is, these several members are the town employees he fired. If this isn’t skirting around an issue, I don’t know what is. This amendment to the bylaws would make him the program’s Grant Administrator, another role added to his list. It would also make Director of Finance B.J Wilson as the Assistant Project Manager and Chris Brock who is Interim Planning and Zoning Director as Project Manager.

It seems Mr. Wilson has become Mr. Tederick’s go-to guy lately on several issues. But then again, like every other town employee, I’m sure he is afraid for his job. Becoming the next victim on Mr. Tederick’s list is not part of Mr. Wilson’s agenda.

Also in this article is the funding issue for the pavilion. Since the construction estimate has increased from $140,000 to $283.349., this leaves a difference of $143.349. This would be split 50/50 by the state and the town or $75,000 each. The Town Council seems poised to give Mr. Tederick the okay to spend this $75,000 even though it is not in this year’s budget.

This kind of action seems to me there is a lack of financial understanding and competency from Mr. Tederick and the Town Council. With the economic instability we now face, and will face for several years to come, it doesn’t take an economist to know we should be using less money from this year’s budget and moving more money to future budgets. Is spending now and not looking into the future Mr. Tedericks and Town Council members’ way of doing their personnel finances? One would think not.

On a different note, several weeks ago Mr. Tederick stated the Council should consider an assistant Town Manager due to the workload of the Town Manager. I assumed the workload of being Town Manager and running who knows how many LLC’s, Mr. Tedericks workload would be too great. So why has he taken on other roles if his workload is so great?

Let’s count them.

1 – Interim Town Manager

2 – Grant Administrator

3 – FOIA Officer

4 – Town Director of Emergency Management

5 – Running his multiple LLC’s.

Absurdity to its highest level. I do believe we may be in the presence of a real-life superhero. At least according to the Town Council. And so goes the Front Royal saga of destruction.

Paul Gabbert
Front Royal

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The Cross: Gift from the Savior



But how? Understand that the Savior of mankind had to be more than just a man; otherwise, man would be saving himself, and that is impossible. Clearly then, the Savior had to be God! For again, only God can forgive sin and save sinners. Jesus spoke to the absolute necessity to see and believe this truth when He said, “…if ye believe not that I am He (God), ye shall die in your sins.” (Jn. 8:24) Meaning to be cast from God’s presence and light into eternal darkness and damnation. Jesus also said, “…I am come that they might have life…” (eternal life) (Jn. 10:10), which He gives by dying in our place on the Cross! Jesus was saying to the Jews that in spite of their Covenant history, they did not have life and were dead (lost) UNTIL HE CAME! Note that this lost, hopeless state applies to Gentiles also; indeed, to all people of the world.

To help believe that Jesus was the God-Man on the Cross, consider the definition of Incarnate: Embodied in flesh, esp. human form. Also consider Incarnation: 1. The assumption of Jesus Christ of bodily form. 2. The bodily form assumed by a deity.

Jesus Christ, as a man, did not exist before being born of Mary. In this regard, God said, “…thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” ( Heb.1:5) Please note there is no separation between Jesus as man and Jesus as God! So as the Incarnation reveals, the Creator Father God dwelt with His creation as the begotten God-Man (flesh), Jesus Christ! And, thereby, entered the blood line of mankind. In so doing, He shed His own blood as a sacrifice for mankind’s sin!

ENTER: God’s Lamb, The Lamb Of God!

Cries for a Savior were answered at the Cross. The King of the Jews, the King of Israel; yeah, the Eternal Father God who said, “…I am the first and the last, and beside me there is no God.” (Isa. 44:6), was buying back what was lost to Him to establish a holy nation and an everlasting kingdom! Being fully (100%) man and fully (100%) God, Jesus as a man died, but Jesus as God did not. So the 100% God (Jesus) raised up the 100% man (Jesus) from the dead with a new and glorified body!

Jesus, speaking in the first person singular as a man and as God said: “…destroy this temple (kill me) and in three days I will raise it up.” (Jn. 2:19). By saying “I will”, Jesus is saying He is God, for it shows Him present (alive) in the past, present and future at once (the same time), having no constraints as to time or space. Existing not only from the “beginning”, but from everlasting! So, He is alive as God while dead as a man, and is speaking from all time frames because His is an uninterrupted and never-ending life!

So, because of His glorious resurrection, I can shout with the song writer who said, “He’s alive… He’s alive and I’m forgiven. Heaven’s gates are open wide!” Eternal thanksgiving to my Lord and praises to the Darling of Heaven; and oh that I could bow before Him and kiss His lovely feet!

His message? I love you. My life, death and resurrection in your place for your life. So respond with the hymnal writer who said, ” I am coming Lord to thee, dear Lamb of Calvary. Humbly at thy cross I bow. Save me Jesus, save me now.”

Reverend Jess Shifflett
Front Royal, Virginia

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Christ is alive, He is living today



“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” – John 21:25

The Season of Easter is the high point of the Christian Church year. Traditionally, worshipers participate in an extended feast wherein the paschal candle is lit at every service as a sign of the risen Christ. Scripture readings highlight every Christian’s connection to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The scripture readings proclaim the power of the resurrection that gives strength in suffering, unity in diversity, consolation in sorrow, perseverance in adversity and faith in times of doubt. On this, the holiest day of the year and for the entire Season of Easter, many Christian’s greet each other with the words, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia!”

Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead is one of the principal doctrines of the gospel.

If Christ be not risen, our faith is vain (1 Corinthians 15:14). The essential New Testament revelation balances on this as a historical fact. On the day of Pentecost, Peter argued the necessity of Christ’s resurrection from the prediction in Psalm 16 (Acts 2:24-28). Christ also clearly prophesied his resurrection (Matthew 20:19; Mark 9:9; 14:28; Luke 18:33; John 2:19-22). Thus we can preach that Jesus is alive; that He has risen as He said He would and that He is the Son of God as He claimed to be. Christ is alive! He is living today.

The Bible informs us that Jesus did appear many times after his death and resurrection:

  • The empty tomb – Resurrection Sunday – Matthew 28: 1-10, Mark 16: 1-8, Luke 24: 1-12, John 20: 1-9.
  • To Mary Magdalene at the garden – Resurrection Sunday – Mark 16: 9-11, John 20: 11-18.
  • To other women, “the other Mary,” Salome, Joanna, and others, as they returned from the tomb – Resurrection Sunday – Matthew 28: 9-10.
  • To Simon Peter alone – Resurrection Sunday – Luke 24: 34, 1 Corinthians 15: 5.
  • To the two disciples going to Emmaus – Resurrection Sunday – Mark 16: 12-13, Luke 24: 13-32.
  • To the ten disciples (Thomas being absent) in the upper room – Resurrection Sunday – Luke 24: 36-43, John 20: 19-25.
  • To the disciples again (Thomas being present) – Following Sunday – Mark 16: 14, John 20: 26-31, 1 Corinthians 15: 5.
  • To seven disciples when fishing at the Sea of Galilee – sometime later – John 21: 1-23.
  • To the eleven at an appointed place in Galilee – sometime later – Matthew 28: 16-20, Mark 16: 15-18.
  • More than 500 brethren – sometime later – 1 Corinthians 15: 6.
  • To James, but under unknown circumstances – sometime later – 1 Corinthians 15: 7.
  • To the apostles immediately before the ascension. They accompanied him from Jerusalem to Mount Olivet and there they saw him ascend “till a cloud received him out of their sight” – Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection – Luke 24: 44-49, Acts 1: 3-8.

In addition to the above appearances, Christ will return by way of vision and appear to Stephen, several times to Paul, and finally to John to give him the final Revelation:

  • Paul at Damascus, speaks of it as an appearance of the risen Savior – several years later – Acts 9: 1-19, 22: 3-16, 26: 9-18, 1 Corinthians 9: 1, 15: 8.
  • Paul tells us in Galatians 1:17 that he went immediately into Arabia and then returned to Damascus and three years after his transforming vision of Jesus, he went up to Jerusalem to see the Apostles. During Paul’s 3 years in Arabia he received the Gospel from the Lord (Galatians 1:11-17). He made a visit to the Throne of God (2 Corinthians 12:1-4) where he saw things he was not permitted to reveal. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, when Paul recounted all the Lord’s post resurrection appearances, he included himself as one who had seen Him. So, at some point, he apparently did have a physical meeting with the Lord.
  • Stephen in his dying vision saw “Jesus standing on the right hand of God” – sometime later – Acts 7: 55-56.
  • John of Patmos experienced a vision of the resurrected Christ described in Revelation – many years later – Revelation 1: 12-20.

It is implied in the words of Luke (Acts 1:3) that there may have been other appearances of which we have no record.

2 Corinthians 13 cites that, “in the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses every word shall be established.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ has been established as fact. The scriptures tell us of the many appearances of Christ and the witnesses who experienced the events encompassing the resurrection. In Christ we can be confident of our salvation and in Christ we can be confident of our own resurrection.

The apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We should find the assurance of our salvation in the truth of God’s Word. We should have trust that we are saved based on the promises God has declared.

A final note: Ephesians 5:13-15

Children of Light

13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.” 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise.

Mark P. Gunderman
Stephens City, Virginia

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