Egger confronts McDonald over potential fraud related to foreign funding stream
An otherwise routine monthly report by Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald, took an unexpected turn when Front Royal Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger asked about funding to ITFederal LLC through a federal immigration and economic investment program that grants EB-5 visas to family members of wealthy foreigners.
Raising the issue of financing of the first company the EDA has contracted to build at the former Avtex Superfund site, Egger asked if the Immigrant Investor Program and EB-5 visas issued through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could be a danger sign of potential financial fraud.
“There have been some things in the media about certain politicians using EB-5 companies as a front, where the companies don’t actually produce anything,” Egger pressed of the ITFederal connection to a federally-controlled foreign funding stream.
Egger pointed to a “politician” she identified only as “high profile” under investigation for touting an EB-5 company to manufacture cars through the EB-5 visa program, “And they haven’t produced a single car,” Egger said. “So, I guess if there’s any way you could give Council some concrete evidence that ITFederal is not a money laundering system for this EB-5 visa program – maybe money laundering is the wrong term – but you know what I mean: there is a front so that they invest in a company and get their visa.”
McDonald explained that EB-5 visas were not acquired directly by the involved company, rather, “What happens is If someone from China, wants to educate their child in the United States, they put $500,000 to a million dollars in this investment fund; their child gets a two-year visa to be educated in the United States. That’s where that money comes from,” McDonald explained, adding, “No one’s trying to get a visa; someone is trying to get educated. That’s the only thing these visas are for; they are two-year education visas, not for someone to get a visa to come over here and live. The EB-5 funding program has been around for years. They have to create jobs – American jobs have to be created with the EB-5 financing,” McDonald explained of the impetus for the program.
The EB-5 discussion began as Egger asked McDonald about a website for the “American Commonwealth Regional Center”. McDonald explained, “That is part of the regional financing that is part of the EB-5 financing – the Regional Center is the one that finances the projects.”
That website states that “America Commonwealth Regional Center, LLC (ACRC) is an approved EB-5 regional center (located in Tyson’s Corner) under the USCIS’s Immigrant Investor Program … ACRC objectives include the promotion of economic growth, improved regional productivity, job creation, and increased domestic capital investment … ACRC is approved by the USCIS to promote economic growth, and offer capital investment opportunities …”
Egger had built up a head of steam before dropping potential “money laundering system” into the equation. The query came near the end of a series of questions about the IT solutions company poised to make what McDonald has said will be a $40-million investment at a portion of the former federal Superfund site now known as the Royal Phoenix Business Park. That investment on 30 acres at the site is projected to bring 400 to 600 jobs to the planned business park situated on 147 acres. Royal Phoenix is part of the former 467-acre Avtex synthetic fibers manufacturing plant and federal Superfund site, off Kendrick Lane in the Town of Front Royal.
‘Perfect Storm’ of silence
Egger said she was simply trying “to clear the air” about questions that have arisen in a vacuum of information over the past year. Egger and her Council colleagues have a vested interest in seeing commercial redevelopment occur at the former Synthetics Fibers manufacturing site that for decades after its 1940 opening was the largest private-sector employer (and polluter) inside the Town limits.
“I know you said we can’t talk about their contracts, but it seems to have created this perfect storm that they do work that we can’t see or talk about; and with one hand they are doing this and with their other hand they are doing this. So, it creates an atmosphere of confusion,” Egger observed.
At the outset of her questions to McDonald, Egger asked about the contract base upon which ITFederal’s business is based, and the value of those contracts. “I can’t give you a total,” McDonald replied, leading Egger to ask if the information was available to be retrieved.
“They have contracts with ‘the Nuclear Defense Department’; these contracts we’ll never see because they probably have stuff in there we can’t see,” McDonald said of classified aspects of the company’s work.
Of course Egger did not ask to see details of ITFederal’s work on Nuclear Defense computers, just their contractual value to the company. So, McDonald added, “I do know the first contract they had was a $140-million contract with the Defense Department. They have received several contracts since then. They have been working on those out of a satellite office while, one, waiting for the EPA approval, and now to see if VDOT is going to come through with that funding. So, they have been working on these contracts while we’ve been waiting on that. So, that’s who their contracts are with, the Nuclear Defense Department.”
Queried later after online searches turned up no such US Defense agency, McDonald corrected the ITFederal contracting agency’s name to the “Defense Special Weapons Agency”. A quick online check revealed DSWA as a subsidiary of the Department of Defense (DoD). To summarize from the Federal Register, the DSWA was established in 1971 as DoD’s “center for nuclear and advanced weapons effects expertise and performs essential missions in the areas of nuclear weapons stockpile support, nuclear effects research and operational support and nuclear threat reduction to include arms control verification technology development. The functions of DSWA were absorbed into the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) by DoD Directive 5105.62 of September 30, 1998.
Okay, we get it – if we, the public or Councilwoman Egger saw details of the information within the DSWA computer system that ITFederal may work on, “they’d” have to kill, or at least disappear, us. But that’s NOT what’s being asked. What IS being asked is the monetary value of the federal contracting base upon which ITFederal’s promised $40-million investment here will be built.
Of course, if the history of this decade, century and millennium has taught us anything, it is how aggressive government officials and agencies can be in the protection of national security, from threats both real and imagined. The vagaries around ITFederal’s business model and contractual value may simply be an indication that private contractors on the federal payroll have fallen into the same pattern of a perhaps overbroad veil of secrecy.
However, when that secrecy surrounds a company that the EDA and the Town of Front Royal have pinned their hopes on – and invested, if temporarily, $10-million in – to launch an economic renaissance at the long-dormant former Avtex site, it would appear that silence is not always golden.
Egger observed that with a large amount of money having changed hands, initially through the Town and EDA, with no result for over a year, people had questions they wanted answered – “These are things I’ve heard,” the Councilwoman told McDonald of her questions about ITFederal, its CEO and peripheral investments he has recently made in this community.
“And as I told you this morning, people seem to talk without having the knowledge of what they are talking about,” McDonald said of the line of questioning Egger was pursuing.
Asked later about the year-plus delay between the ceremonial groundbreaking of October 26, 2015 and the now projected Spring 2017 start of construction at the former federal Superfund site, McDonald pointed out, “It’s a little over a year delay in a very complicated 27-year process – it doesn’t look so long if you look at it that way.”
Perhaps contributing to the sense of delay is the fact the ITFederal announcement came about three months before the company and the EDA actually reached an agreement on the 30-acre land purchase at Royal Phoenix. Late last year as delays in post-ceremonial work at the site drug on, McDonald admitted to this reporter that the June 2015 announcement of the ITFederal deal was somewhat premature, but pushed forward by US 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte. McDonald credited Goodlatte with bringing ITFederal to the EDA as a potential economic development opportunity. And in the flush of excitement at was potentially the first commercial investor in the Royal Phoenix site after the above-mentioned 27-year cleanup, remediation and marketing process, conceding to a slightly premature announcement may not be that hard to understand.
The sale agreement between the EDA and ITFederal was announced as a done deal in September 2015. The subsequent delay of over a year was due to the length of time it took Superfund site overseer the EPA to approve removal of the 30-acre ITFederal parcel from a $2,060,000 lien on the property, so it could be given to ITFederal for one dollar as an up-front economic incentive to begin positive movement at the site.
(Part 2 of our coverage of the exchange between Bébhinn Egger and Jennifer McDonald will include the rationale for the Town’s $10-million “bridge loan” to ITFederal in September 2015; confusion over websites with the ITFederal name attached; a peripheral land purchase made by ITFederal CEO Curt Tran on a 70+ acre parcel off Happy Creek Road, as well as the business plan for that property that includes on-site cattle ranching and “a wide range of trade and agricultural training programs.”.)
EDA announces pending sale of Baugh Drive warehouse to medical marijuana distributor
The EDA Board of Directors met in a Special Board meeting this morning. With a unanimous vote on a motion by Greg Harold, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the Board approved a resolution authorizing the Chair and Secretary to sign a Letter Of Intent (LOI) 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 is 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 – a decision expected in March 2021. As authorized by law, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy may award conditional approval for only one pharmaceutical processor application in this health service area.
The Commonwealth of Virginia passed legislation approving the production and use of medical cannabis oil in 2018. The legislation established five Health Service Areas with one pharmaceutical processor per area. The Board of Pharmacy has already awarded permits in Areas 2-5. The Area 1 permit reopened for applicants in the fall of 2020.
Parallel Virginia, LLC, if awarded conditional approval, will begin establishing its manufacturing presence in the spring of 2021. This experienced, multi-state operator is already successfully operating in four states – Georgia, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Florida. In addition, the company is currently developing a recently awarded research-focused operation in Pennsylvania in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.
Parallel has a strong research and development component in every operation and has already signed letters of intent for strategic research and workforce partnerships with several public and private Virginia institutions of higher education.
The company’s industry-leading experience and multi-state success will greatly benefit the Warren County and Front Royal area. In the first five years of operation, they project a capital investment of tens of millions of dollars and the creation of hundreds of jobs.
Virginia law requires doctors who want to write prescriptions for medical cannabis to register with the Board of Pharmacy. Patients prescribed medical cannabis are required to pay an annual fee in addition to the cost of the prescription. The law also limits the number of dispensing facilities within the Health Service Area to five. The company, if selected, will establish its pharmaceutical processor operation at this facility, and has future plans to identify separate, stand-alone dispensing facilities within other localities in HSA 1.
Finally, selling the building will save Warren County taxpayers approximately $25,000 per month, or $300,000 a year, in loan payments, utilities, and insurance costs. It was a priority of the Board to get this building back into the hands of the private sector and back online creating jobs and adding to the economic engine of our community. This prospect will create jobs, generate tax revenue, and develop licensed medicine for patients in need. Doug Parsons, EDA Executive Director noted, “We believe this company is a good fit for our community. They have been thorough, transparent, and accommodating in thinking through their potential presence in Virginia. We appreciate their interest in our community and their commitment to making a lasting, positive impact in our region.”
Also following the closed session, on a motion by Tom Patteson, seconded by Harold, the board unanimously approved a short-term storage lease with Interchange Group for 10,000 square feet of space at 426 Baugh Drive for $4,125 per month.
McDonald bankruptcy hearing draws ‘5th’ pleas on details of alleged 2015 sexual harassment settlement agreement EDA counsel says doesn’t exist
(Editor/writer’s note: This will be the first installment of an exploration of Jennifer McDonald’s testimony at the first hearing on her bankruptcy filing in the wake of claims made against her in the EDA civil litigation. That litigation accuses the former EDA Executive Director and 23 co-defendants of conspiring to profit from alleged embezzlements and misdirection of over $21 million in EDA assets by McDonald over a period of years. Due to local interest in the EDA case and alleged misdirection of public funds we will explore that testimony in some detail.)
On Friday the 13th of November, creditors including the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority had a first meeting by conference call concerning the bankruptcy filing of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. Information concerning McDonald’s bankruptcy claim of a $21-million-dollar debt due to the EDA’s civil litigation against her, versus her claimed assets ($2.48 million personal; $1.4 million MoveOn8 LLC; $76,000 Little Rugratz Daycare LLC property – about $4.6 million total) and current combined monthly income ($3400 versus monthly expenses of $3882.35) were taken under advisement without any rulings on the validity of her bankruptcy filing or requests for exceptions to it.
Among the exceptions being sought are the EDA’s to both McDonald and her real estate LLC MoveOn8’s bankruptcy claims. A first hearing on motions filed during or following the Friday the 13th teleconference meeting is scheduled for December 16 at 10 a.m. That will be an online ZOOM meeting.
If motions for exceptions are granted by a bankruptcy judge, certain of McDonald’s assets could be removed from control of the bankruptcy court and remain at issue in the EDA’s now $21-million to $25-million civil actions alleging a McDonald-orchestrated conspiracy to misdirect or embezzle EDA assets to her own and associates’ personal benefit.
$6.5 million settlement claim
In addition to questions surrounding the movement of properties through MoveOn8 and her other, apparently now-defunct real estate LLC, DaBoyz, a prominent topic of discussion last week was McDonald’s claim of a still-owed $6.5 million debt to her by her former employer, the EDA. McDonald cited an out of court “Voluntary Settlement Agreement” regarding a sexual harassment claim related to her job dating to August 2015. Asked by U.S. Attorney Webb King if she had a copy of the August 28, 2015, agreement, McDonald replied “no” that it had been left in her EDA office at the time of her December 2018 termination when she was locked out of her office as it was deemed a potential crime scene. Does the EDA have a copy of the agreement she was then asked?
“They should,” she replied.
Asked if she had been paid any portion of the settlement amount, McDonald took one of her many Fifth Amendment pleas, reserving her Constitutional right not to self-incriminate. A follow-up question on whether she had ever been written a check by the EDA for a portion of the settlement amount led to a lengthy pause and apparent discussion with her attorney and second consecutive plea of the “Fifth”.
As to compensation from the alleged Settlement Agreement, McDonald did say there was “a list” of ways she could be compensated, including the transfer of real estate and payment of her personal debts. Both methods play into the EDA’s civil litigation against McDonald alleging embezzlement and the misdirection of EDA assets to her personal benefit and that of 23 co-defendants, both human and corporate “people”.
“Did the Warren County IDA (IDA is the acronym for the EDA’s original and often legally referenced name, Industrial Development Authority) transfer any sort of personal property to you?” U.S. attorney King continued in the wake of her claimed “list” of ways she could be compensated for her claimed sexual harassment compensation agreement. “I assert my right pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” she again replied.
“Under this agreement did the Warren IDA transfer any real property to you or any entity that you controlled?” came the next question. “I assert my right pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” again came the answer.
“And you claim not to have a copy of this agreement?” U.S. Attorney King pressed McDonald. “I do not have a copy of the fully executed document,” she replied after a brief pause.
“Do you have a copy of the unexecuted document,” King pressed on, adding, “I’m going to note the delay in answering the question again,” inserting into the record another 10-second and counting pause.
That led to McDonald’s civil and past criminal case attorney Peter Greenspun to come on the phone line to say that while he did not represent McDonald in her bankruptcy filing, as her counsel in the civil and any potential criminal cases he was present with her consulting her on her answers in the bankruptcy hearing. “We’ll be back to you in just a short minute,” Greenspun informed the hearing.
McDonald’s criminal charges at the state level were dropped due to prosecutorial speedy trial concerns so that they could be re-filed at a later date. The criminal investigation of McDonald and its million-plus pages of related documentation has been turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Virginia. McDonald’s original civil attorneys from the Berlik Law Firm withdrew from her case after EDA representatives indicated a belief the Berlik firm had been paid, albeit unknowingly by them, with stolen EDA assets; and of introducing what was cited as a forged document by EDA officials into evidence in an early civil case hearing. Greenspun, then representing McDonald in the state criminal cases also took on her civil defense.
As Greenspun and his client’s “short minute” passed, someone came on the conference call line to ask if there was an EDA representative on the line to which current EDA Board member and EDA Executive Committee member Greg Harold replied. Harold was asked if he had seen a copy of the alleged Sexual Harassment Voluntary Settlement Agreement between the previous EDA board and McDonald.
“I have not seen an official copy of the agreement located in the office,” Harold replied. That led Sands-Anderson and EDA civil case lead attorney Cullen Seltzer to introduce himself to the proceeding, after which he addressed the elusive $6.5 million-dollar Voluntary Settlement Agreement.
‘Our … belief no such agreement exists’
“I can represent to the court that we’ve investigated the existence of this agreement. It is our understanding and belief that no such agreement exists,” Seltzer told the hearing. Seltzer then responded to a follow-up question from McDonald creditor Tom Sayre, who has a $20,000 defamation civil judgment against her, as to the thoroughness of the EDA counsel’s search for the alleged sexual harassment agreement documentation.
“Without getting into the particulars or the nature of the inquiry, we’ve made a number of inquiries appropriate to try and determine if any such agreement exists. And we’ve found that it does not,” Seltzer stated, adding that inquiries with “appropriate people who would know” had been made.
McDonald did respond to an earlier question as to who had negotiated the Voluntary Settlement Agreement with her, citing then-EDA Board Chair Patricia Wines (deceased) and then-Treasurer William “Billy” Biggs.
McDonald civil, criminal counsel Greenspun then re-entered the conference call fray. (To be continued)
EDA approves grant agreement with Backroom Brewery
The EDA Board of Directors convened a Special Meeting Thursday morning, October 29. Following a one-and-a-half-hour Closed Session, the Board approved a resolution to approve the Master Agreement between Warren County, the EDA, and Backroom Brewery for an Incentive Grant and Tourism Grant to Backroom Brewery as financial assistance to expand its operations.
The Backroom Brewery is the first farm brewery operation in the state of Virginia and boasts more than 25 unique approved recipes. The EDA is proud to work with Warren County and support this local business. Congratulations to proprietor Billie Clifton and we wish them continued success.
EDA settles civil claim against McEathron estate for $90,000
Following an hour-and-thirty-five-minute closed session on a variety of topics that opened its monthly meeting of October 23, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors approved a motion agreeing to a settlement with the estate of late Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron.
The settlement amount agreed upon between the EDA and McEathron’s widow and two adult children is $90,000. McEathron was linked to the EDA financial scandal due to his partnership in former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s DaBoyz LLC real estate company. In the EDA’s civil litigation initially filed in March 2019, McDonald is accused, among other things, of unauthorized moving of EDA assets to her own benefit through her real estate companies DaBoyz and MoveOn8. Still Sheriff at the time, McEathron along with McDonald and the two real estate companies, were on the initial list of civil case defendants.
After taking early retirement effective May 1, 2019, just over a month after being named a co-defendant in the EDA civil litigation, the county’s long-time sheriff was found dead on his Bentonville property 28 days later, May 28, from an apparent suicide. Some questions about the death arose after Sheriff’s Office personnel, ostensibly alerted by McEathron to his planned suicide by phone, removed the body from the scene where it was discovered in proximity to an expended firearm before the Virginia State Police, the EDA criminal case investigating agency, was notified of the death.
On Friday, EDA Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, who made the motion to approve, addressed the McEathron Estate settlement prior to the vote.
“Mr. Chairman, I want the community to know that the EDA has negotiated in good faith for this settlement for a long time. This is something that we’ve taken very seriously; this is something that we have called back and forth with, with our attorneys and the estate’s attorneys. While we feel there are certain risks and rewards with these situations, I think the EDA is comfortable at this time that we have done the best that we can for the community and that it’s time to put this matter behind us as the motion is written,” Harold said.
Thank you for that,” Board Chairman Jeff Browne responded. There was no other comment prior to the vote on Harold’s motion, seconded by James Wolfe, which then passed by a 4-0 margin of the members remaining after the closed session, the above three and Tom Pattison. Jorie Martin and Melissa Gordon were present for the 8 a.m. convening of the meeting into closed session but had left to other commitments prior to the closed session’s 9:45 a.m. conclusion.
The motion on approval of the settlement read into the record by EDA Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson states in part, “Whereas the Front Royal-Warren County EDA has certain claims against Daniel McEathron; Whereas the EDA and McEathron’s heirs desire to resolve any claims that may exist between them; Now therefore be it resolved the chairman and the secretary of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA Board are authorized to enter into an agreement … (with those heirs) for the purposes set forth in this resolution which agreement shall provide for the payment of $90,000 dollars to the EDA …”
The motion adds that if any FOIA request are received by the EDA related to the settlement, McEathron’s widow or her attorneys will receive notice of those requests having been made.
As initially reported by former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw, McEathron and McDonald’s first transaction in DaBoyz dated to October 2016 and the pair purchased a total of $2.8 million of real estate between then and 2019. The LLC was involved in a number of transactions cited in the EDA civil litigation filed to recover allegedly misdirected assets, including a mysterious one in which a property was bought and sold back to the owner a month later at a loss of $600,000.
A number of McDonald and her two LLC’s existing properties were frozen by the court early in the civil case process. However, civil claims against McDonald assets have been complicated by her recent filing of bankruptcy, which put her assets under control of the Harrisonburg-based bankruptcy court.
The EDA civil litigation has grown to 24 human and business entity co-defendants, with total claims, actual and punitive, of about $25 million dollars. And as previously reported, the Harrisonburg Special Prosecutor’s Office has turned the criminal investigation into the EDA financial scandal over to the U.S. Western District of Virginia federal prosecutor’s office.
EDA approves short-term lease on Baugh Drive during Strategic Planning weekend meeting
The EDA Board of Directors met, via Zoom, Friday, and Saturday, October 9-10. There was one item of new business before the board. On a motion by Jorie Martin and seconded by Greg Harold, the Board of Directors unanimously approved a short-term storage lease with ECOMNET for use of 426 Baugh Drive warehouse building.
The remainder of the evening, as well as the full-day Saturday, was devoted to the process of updating the EDA Strategic Plan. The board, along with EDA staff, invited members of the community and Board of Supervisors to share their insights on the role the EDA can play in improving the economic health of and shaping the economic direction of the Front Royal Warren County community.
Attendees included Walt Mabe and Delores Oates, Warren County Board of Supervisors; Ed Daley, Interim County Administrator; Melissa Chapman, President, Ninth Way Solutions; Jeanian Clark, Vice President of Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education, Lord Fairfax Community College; Scott Jenkins, owner of Mountain Home B&B; Chris Laurence, Realtor; Dee Sparger, Outreach Coordinator, Front Royal Presbyterian Church; and Kelly Sprague, owner/manager Blue Wing Frog restaurant.
EDA Board Director Jim Wolfe facilitated the program. The goals of this event were to begin to articulate a vision and mission statement for the EDA, plus develop a list of objectives that the EDA can accomplish within the next five years. While the EDA Board, staff, and participants represented diverse professional backgrounds, all involved share a common passion for this community and a hopeful outlook for the future.
Chair Jeff Browne stated, “A lot of good ideas came out of the sessions that give us terrific ideas to consider as we move forward. There was a strong consensus on important ideas, like Town-County cooperation on a common vision for our community.”
The Board of Directors is proud to have begun this community conversation and look forward to fine-tuning the plan in the coming weeks.
‘This is BIG’ – EDA Chairman reacts to news feds handling EDA criminal investigations
At 12:03 p.m., Thursday, October 8, Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson forwarded a press release from Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst to the media regarding the status of her office’s investigation of potential criminal charges related to the EDA financial scandal and resultant civil litigation.
As stated in that release posted on the Royal Examiner website earlier this afternoon, Garst and her appointed EDA prosecutor Michael Parker, a specialist in white-collar crime, came to a decision to hand their investigation over to the Western District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s office in Harrisonburg in late February of this year.
“Our primary goal with the prosecution is to assure a just outcome. Mr. Parker did an excellent job of assessing the case and putting the evidence together. In doing so, it became apparent that federal prosecutors would be able to gain the best outcome,” Garst wrote in her release dated October 7, continuing to note the late February turnover of the case to the federal prosecutor’s office in Harrisonburg.
“It was explained that my office cannot comment on the case further or jeopardize any potential federal prosecution. I want to assure the citizens of Warren County that my office is dedicated to seeing justice done. In light of an ongoing criminal action, I cannot provide any further information,” Garst concluded, referencing further inquiries to Western District U.S. Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Specialist Brian McGinn.
While anticipating a similar reply to Garst’s “no further information” qualifier, Royal Examiner did reach out to the federal prosecutor’s office to see if there were any clues on timelines on decisions that might be made public. And in a very quick reply to our emailed query, McGinn noted as we predicted, “As per DOJ policy, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.”
Garst’s release acknowledging the change in prosecutors from the state to the federal level in the EDA financial scandal criminal investigation over seven months ago comes just nine days after the Front Royal Town Council’s aggressively worded September 28th Resolution “demanding justice” condemning the lack of action on the EDA criminal prosecution front by the Rockingham prosecutor’s office, and Parker in particular.
We contacted the author of that Resolution, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick who coming out of a meeting had not seen the Garst press release. Informed of its content, Tederick said, “Good news – mission accomplished,” in that a response containing some new information on the EDA criminal investigation’s status had been received.
“I’m sure there’s a rationale and a reason,” he added of the previous silence from the state special prosecutor’s office. “But when the public trust has been violated to this degree, the public deserves some assurance that they are still pursuing the case.”
Tederick noted that confidential information was not being sought in the Town resolution approved by a 5-1 vote, Thompson dissenting, on September 28, just that the case had not gone cold and been abandoned.
But as noted in our story “Town targets Special Prosecutor’s Office over EDA prosecution delays” it appears the Town pursued its Resolution initiative without any prior communications with the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.
That apparently was not the case with an inquiry launched by the EDA, according to Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne.
Having received Garst’s press release through the EDA, we contacted Browne about it. Browne indicated an EDA inquiry about the criminal case status through the EDA’s civil litigation attorneys was begun about a week before the Town resolution was publicly approved.
Browne said he believed local attorney and “B.E.E.R. Party” principal David Downes launched a separate inquiry to Garst’s office as well. Downes publicly criticized the Town Resolution’s message and tone in public comments at the September 28 council meeting prior to the vote on its approval.
Contacted about the County’s knowledge of the origins of Garst’s press release, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley said the County had inquired about the status of the Rockingham prosecutor’s EDA investigation through State Senator Mark Obenshain’s office. It was through Obenshain’s office Daley indicated County officials became aware yesterday of Garst’s press release that may have first been circulated locally in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area.
Regardless of who, how, or why – the consensus is that the information that the case is active and in federal prosecutors’ hands is welcome.
“This is big – from our standpoint, it is really good news,” EDA Board Chair Browne enthused. “This shows that it is still on prosecutors’ radar. The people of Warren County deserve justice. And we want to see anyone there is evidence of involvement prosecuted for it.”
Of the EDA inquiry, Brown observed that he kept hearing that nothing was going to be done regarding criminal accountability for the at-this-point still alleged criminal misdirection of EDA, County and Town assets – “It made me mad and I wanted to let people know we’re still interested in achieving justice,” Browne said of the impetus for the EDA’s inquiry through its legal counsel to the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.
And while the nature of the inquiries may have been different, Browne said he looked at it as a positive that both involved municipalities and the EDA were on the same page in seeking assurances that criminal accountability was still on the legal table at this point.
“We’re in this together, we should be working together,” he said of the Town, County, and EDA.
Perhaps another small step toward increased cooperation, as opposed to increased hostility and litigation, as this community moves forward toward an outcome, if slowly in a complex legal setting.