If public discussion of ITFederal is counterproductive – Who is to blame?
Readers contribute to the ITFederal discussion
– Our Editorial Board decided to post this portion of an exchange in the “Comments” section to our Story “Council bids Farewells – continues sparring over ITFederal” in our “Opinion” section because of the breadth of issues addressed in this portion of a discussion with local citizen and businessman George McIntyre. If this portion of what “Comments” participant Michael Graham termed an “informative and spirited discussion” piques your interest, we suggest you visit the story and read the full exchange of “Comments” following it – and if so moved, add your own thoughts to the conversation. – Roger Bianchini
The Public Discussion of ITFederal is counterproductive
Reader’s Comment, George McIntyre
Roger, I feel like the Councilwoman is carrying her concerns too far down the public pike.
In the past process of courting a prospect, most of the information was done quietly and professionally. Today’s media, of all kinds, carries the information out into the public before the courtship and its results culminate. In other words, in the past, professional courtesy becomes more important than the sensationalism and public scrutiny that exists today. Once the EDA has completed their mission on behalf of our community for a new business, the information can be told to the public. – This works, rather than upsets or insults a prospect and forfeit what they may offer our community. I can say, without hesitation and experience, this works.
The marketing of SHELL BUILDINGS has worked for many years, in Warren County and throughout the country. This approach offers prospects an opportunity to finish an empty warehouse building and move their business in quickly. Most of our industrial parks have done this with public, as well as private investments, even in the current year. This is the perfect way to introduce new business into our community. This is especially true about moving into a condemned property, like we have here. This also keeps the cost down for our community.
Ask some of the current successful businesses that live, work, employ and play here how much of their private information and contracts were questioned? Ask the Virginia State Department of Economic Development in Richmond; ask Bryan Schull, former EDA Director; and Stephen Heavener, a very successful EDA Director about this – worst case scenario: we become owners of buildings for the future; best case scenario: successful business, jobs, growth, taxes and a positive image of our community and more move their businesses here.
As we saw in the recent elections, all the sensationalism created by public involvement and done “on behalf of our community” is working against us, as far as separation. Just like pretending the elimination of cameras at the Gazebo is going to save someone’s rights. Working on BEHALF of our community and all the residents says NOT.
We want ITFederal here. If we are upsetting him, then stop and move forward. As the Branding Committee says, ONWARD!
Thanks for wanting to see Front Royal and Warren County continue to strive forward and remain “A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE”.
Who is to Blame for the Public Discussion of ITFederal?
Writer’s Reply, Roger Bianchini
George, as for the role of “today’s media” carrying information “out into the public before the courtship and its results culminate” – I don’t believe it is the media’s role to suppress available information of public interest to citizens that information impacts. And I would hope you agree that it is, indeed, the business of elected officials to be informed of the dynamics of economic development being recruited by their own quasi-governmental agencies created to do so – in this case the Town-County Economic Development Authority.
But I also understand the need for privacy in early business negotiations to keep from undermining those deals during their early stages. My expectation as a Town citizen is that the Town’s elected officials would be informed behind closed doors about those early-stage dynamics that will impact the future of the community they are elected to represent. – As you note, THAT is an important function of Closed Sessions.
Judging from the public discussion, in the case of the Town of Front Royal, the EDA, ITFederal and Royal Phoenix that has NOT happened – not even in the wake of Councilwoman Egger’s publicly voiced questions of October 24. That vacuum of internally-circulated substantive information surrounds publicly-available information, much of it cited by Egger on October 24. As we have previously reported, that information revolves around funding sources for the project such as the previously undisclosed EB-5 visa program under the auspices of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services; ITFederal’s contract base and its financial ability to accomplish what has been publicly promised; ITFed CEO Tran’s purchase of other Town land for other business purposes unrelated to the Royal Phoenix plan; and how those peripheral purchases were financed and might impact the plan for 30-acre Lot 6 at Royal Phoenix.
I contend these are legitimate inquiries for a member of Town Council. – Where the fault lies that those questions were not INITIALLY addressed in CLOSED SESSION with the EDA remains to be seen; however, I would suggest the fault lies with Council itself.
I say that because Council discussion since October 24 indicates an apparent 5-member majority does NOT believe it is their responsibility to stay informed in Closed Session or elsewhere about what the EDA is doing on the Town’s behalf. That stance has been repeated both during and after work session and meeting discussions since Egger went public with her questions.
Should Ms. Egger have first requested a joint Closed Session of Council and the EDA to discuss her and her constituents’ concerns? – Probably.
But if she had, would a Council majority have agreed to such a meeting? – My guess is NOT. I base that guess not only on the above-referenced Council comments, but also upon the fact NO such Closed Session appears to have occurred in the seven weeks since Egger first publicly confronted the EDA Executive Director about details of the ITFederal project.
After all, Councilman Tewalt has publicly stated he doesn’t believe Avtex redevelopment and EDA marketing of the property, or anything else the EDA now does on the Town’s behalf is any longer any of Council’s business. And Councilman Hrbek has publicly stated he believes it IS the media’s job, not Council nor perhaps even the EDA’s, to vet a company Council and the EDA immediately loaned $10-million in September 2015; and officially endorsed in November 2015. That latter act, approving Council’s first Resolution of Support of ITFederal, according to the EDA Executive Director, was made in order to achieve the bank loan of $10-million for the company, so that the Town’s $10-million “bridge” loan would not have to become more than a “bridge” to the bank loan, and be kept and used for the planned ITFederal construction project.
Has there been any other Council voice contesting Tewalt and Hrbek’s lack of interest in seeking details on the EDA’s recruitment of ITFederal to the Royal Phoenix site? – NONE that I have heard; and I’ve been listening pretty closely.
In such a vacuum, one might suggest a malfeasant vacuum, of public responsibility should we be surprised things took the public turn they did?
And once they did, George, what would you suggest is the role of media present when these questions were publicly posed? Should we join Council’s five-member majority and put our heads in the sand and pretend we didn’t hear them or have no interest in the answers?
I would contend in the perhaps disappearing world of independent, investigative journalism that Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers believed was a cornerstone – “the Fourth Estate” – of the American Republic, it IS media’s responsibility to seek answers to publicly-discussed questions; and use publicly-available information to seek not only those answers, but also pose new questions the answers to which impact the future of the communities they cover.
Perhaps the questions posed by Egger on October 24 would have best been first discussed in Closed Session with the EDA – they weren’t.
And if the resultant public discussion leads Mr. Tran to “take his promised $40-million investment and go home” – or perhaps elsewhere into the Northern Valley – I would suggest the blame most appropriately be placed on ALL those elected Town officials who do NOT believe it is their job, behind closed doors or elsewhere, to seek relevant information on business recruitment and the use of public funds to foster that recruitment.
After all, it’s only recruitment and financing of the business poised to shape development of a large swath of this Town and community’s employment future – what’s to know, right?
EDA in Focus
Supervisors explore budget carryover process and new software prior to light meeting agenda – THEN there was the closed session
A Tuesday evening, October 18, work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors began with Finance Director Matt Robertson’s explanation of his recommendation for a change in how annual budget carryover funds can be handled. The recommendation comes on the heels of some confusion expressed by supervisors in how carryover funds are handled by various departments, particularly in the county public schools budget. However, it did seem that once a Supervisors-School Board Liaison Committee was established to run thru the school system’s budget proposals or requests prior to supervisor meetings, things went smoother in the last weeks of the FY-2022/23 budget process.
But from whichever angle you approach the issue, Robertson hopes the recommended adjustments will answer any questions and pin down a process this board has approved for future carryover funding transfers between fiscal year budgets for departmental and outside agency operational uses. Robertson’s October 18th work session presentation relates directly to the necessity of a public hearing and subsequent board approval of a pending transfer of $2.05 million from the County’s Fiscal Year-2021/22 budget to its current FY-2022/23 budget. Robertson explained those funds were part of a $3.3-million surplus of revenues over expenditures in the FY-2021/22 County budget year.
As Robertson told the board, state codes require that budget amendments exceeding 1% of the total projected expenditures in the currently approved budget year require a public hearing allowing citizen input prior to final board action. That public hearing is targeted for October 25.
The balance of the work session was a briefing on use of the County’s new software and the laptop computers supervisors and staff have to access that software.
Other than board and staff reports, the regular meeting convened at 7 p.m. consisted of a seven-item Consent Agenda and an Executive/Closed Session. The Consent Agenda, which included authorization to advertise the above-cited October 25th public hearing on the $2.05-million budget-year transfer, was approved as presented by a unanimous vote. That Special Meeting is slated to begin at 6 p.m. at the Warren County Government Center (WCGC) main meeting room.
“New and exciting information”
When Board Chair Cheryl Cullers asked if the scheduled Closed Session remained necessary, County Administrator Ed Daley responded, “Yes, we (staff) have new and exciting information to present to you.”
The Closed Session topics were: “… the provision of legal advice” regarding the FR-WC EDA and all its various litigations, including its civil suits “vs. Jennifer McDonald et al.” and the dueling civil litigations between “the Town of Front Royal vs. the EDA, et al.” and “the EDA vs. the Town of Front Royal, and other potential claims and litigation relating to other possible liabilities of the EDA, the recovery of EDA funds and assets, and the outstanding indebtedness of the EDA.”
As has been reported by Royal Examiner, in four civil asset-recovery cases tried in July, juries awarded the FR-WC EDA a total of about $14 million. July civil case defendants included Truc “Curt” Tran and ITFederal, Donald Poe and Earth Right Energy, William Lambert, and April Petty. Coupled with an out-of-court civil “no-fault” settlement with former FR-WC EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald in which the EDA was awarded an estimated $9 million in real estate assets, among other settlements, the now unilaterally County-directed FR-WC EDA has been awarded, on paper thus far, approximately $23 million of the estimated $26-million allegedly misdirected to personal gain by McDonald and co-conspirators named in the EDA civil litigations related to the 2014/15 to 2018 FR-WC EDA financial scandal. There are several more civil trials looming. Attorneys for the six above-named civil case defendants (including the companies) have all filed motions to overturn the civil case jury verdicts as unsubstantiated by technicalities within civil code law.
On the “outstanding indebtedness” side, as mentioned during the joint Front Royal Town Council/Front Royal EDA (FREDA) meeting on Monday, United Bank has a $10-million claim against the FR-WC EDA. However, questioned about that claim on Wednesday, FR-WC EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne explained that there has been no litigation between the FR-WC EDA and any of the three banks it has dealt with in recent years. So, any bank claim has been a mutually agreed upon one involving bank financing of EDA-overseen projects undertaken on behalf of the Town and County governments in recent years.
Among those bank-financed projects was the ITFederal one in town, for which the Town Council authorized provision of a four-month, $10-million “bridge” loan at the request of then EDA Executive Director McDonald. McDonald explained to the then mayor and council, circa 2017/18, that the bank wanted such a gesture to assure that “the community was behind the project” before it agreed to the loan. From information Royal Examiner later obtained by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, concerns about a lack of ITFederal assets to accomplish what it presented may have created the bank’s hesitancy to authorize a $10-million loan for the project. As this reporter recalls, Tran and ITFederal listed assets of about $2,130,000 in its loan application. However, $2.1 million of that number was the publicly estimated value of the 30-acre Royal Phoenix parcel the EDA Board had “sold” to ITFederal for one dollar, ostensibly to “jump start” development at the federally overseen “brownfield” and former Superfund environmental reclamation site.
Another EDA-bank financed project was the $7-million-plus construction loan for the new Front Royal Police Headquarters, across Kendrick Lane from the FR-WC EDA office complex and the Royal Phoenix Business Park, where a lonely, unoccupied building marks the site of the aborted ITFederal project.
But as to any “new and exciting information” regarding any of these situations, it is known only to those supervisors and staff behind the closed doors of Tuesday evening’s Executive Session. And they, not even that fly on the WCGC wall I’ve been trying to catch, are talking.
So, while we can’t offer video of that Executive/Closed Session discussion of new developments on the FR-WC EDA legal front, see the two-pronged work session and subsequent regular meeting open session discussions in the County video.
EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne reacts to July civil litigation results ordering total of over $13.35 million paid to the County Economic Development Authority
As noted in our lead story on the “Warren Economic Development Authority” (EDA) versus Truc “Curt” Tran and his ITFederal LLC company civil liability case result (See: Jury awards WC EDA $11.9 million-plus in civil compensatory claims against ITFederal and Truc ‘Curt’ Tran), involved players on the plaintiff’s side deferred to current EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne for a reaction, not only to the Tran/ITFederal result, but a month in which four civil liability cases went the EDA’s way. After a day of reflection on this month’s civil liability trials, much of which he watched in the courtroom, often with other EDA board members, this is what Browne told Royal Examiner:
“As part of the Jennifer McDonald lawsuits, the EDA successfully sued six defendants this month in four civil jury trials and was awarded about $13 million in compensatory damages, $400,000 in punitive damages, and $75,000 in damages for statutory conspiracy. There will be additional civil trials in March 2023.
“The EDA’s main responsibility in these lawsuits is to recover assets that rightfully belong to the EDA and ultimately to the residents of Warren County. It’s a work in progress, but I’m pleased with the outcomes. Every defendant was found liable on multiple charges. Every defendant has to pay. A jury found that the EDA Board of Directors with oversight responsibility of Jennifer McDonald wasn’t negligent in retaining her as it took immediate steps after finding solid evidence of her misbehavior.
“But that isn’t the whole story. Members of the EDA Board were present on every day of every trial. We were impressed with the juries and Judge Albertson. Jury members listened attentively, took notes, and showed in their verdicts that they had a command of the facts in each case. Judge Albertson was fair to both sides of each case and did a good job of managing each trial. Prior members of the EDA Board, prior staff EDA members, a former county administrator, and former members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors all stepped up to testify and do their civic duty. We can be proud that our judicial system still works.
“The criminal process moves forward in other venues. In the meantime, some measure of justice is present in the jury verdicts in Warren County this month. For that, we are grateful.”
Coupled with the out-of-court “no-fault” settlement agreement with McDonald for an estimated $9 million in real estate assets, the courts have now ordered the return of $22 million to $23 million in assets to the EDA. At various points in the investigation into alleged embezzlement and misdirection of EDA assets between 2014 and 2018, the total involved amount has been cited from $21 million to $26 million. There have been significant legal fees involved, perhaps $6 million or more. But in the wake of this month’s results, it appears the EDA’s contracted civil counsel from the Sands Anderson law firm of Richmond are earning that money.
Asked for a reaction to the verdict, Tran and his attorney Gregory Melus declined comment. As noted in the above linked story on the verdict, Melus notified the court of his intention to file a motion to overturn the verdict as not supported by the evidence presented at trial, as have the other three involved civil case defense attorneys.
Click here to see the previous stories.
Jury awards WC EDA $11.9 million-plus in civil compensatory claims against ITFederal and Truc ‘Curt’ Tran
After five hours of deliberation beginning shortly after 9 a.m., at 3:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, July 28, a Warren County Circuit Court civil case jury awarded the “Warren Economic Development Authority” (aka EDA, WC EDA, FR-WC EDA) a total of $11,919,313.38, plus some interest payments from defendants Truc “Curt” Tran and his ITFederal LLC company. The finding of liability against the defendants related to exchanges of money for Tran and ITFederals’ plan to develop a 30-acre parcel at the 148-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park portion of the former Avtex Superfund site in Front Royal. That seven-person civil case jury also dismissed all counterclaims by co-defendants Tran and ITFederal related to breach of contract and surrounding claims against the EDA.
However, the jury did not find the defendants liable on claims of Conspiracy and Fraud that could have led to significant punitive damages up to $350,000, or as high as triple the compensatory claim of $11.9 million if found guilty of statutory conspiracy indicating malice against the plaintiff. Tran was found liable on claims of Conversion, Unjust Enrichment, and Ultra Vires, the latter actions outside the authority of involved officials. ITFederal was found liable on claims Conversion, Unjust Enrichment, Ultra Vires, and Breach of Contract.
The breakdown of liability of the defendants was $1,499,986 against Tran, plus 3-1/4 years of interest on that amount accumulated since the March 2019 filing of the EDA civil actions against defendants alleged to have worked with former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald between 2014 and 2018 to defraud the EDA out of an estimated $21-million. The $11.9-million claim of compensatory damages against Tran and ITFederal was the largest single portion of the EDA civil liability actions for recovery of lost assets. With approval of a bankruptcy court judge, McDonald settled EDA claims against her in an out-of-court “no-fault” settlement for what was cited as $9 million in real estate assets.
From testimony over four days of trial in the Tran/ITFederal liability case that $1.499-million finding against Tran related to EDA payments made to Tran under the pretense it was front money that would be reimbursed to the EDA by a $1.5 million Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) grant that was never acquired, or even applied for.
The finding of liability for $10,419,327.38 against ITFederal revolved around the $8,419,327.38 balance of a $10-million loan/promissory note the EDA gave the company to begin development of the ITFederal parcel behind the EDA offices in the old Avtex Administration building off Kendrick Lane. As noted in previous stories (see LINKS at end of story) on testimony and evidence presented during the trial, ITFederal was presented to the EDA Board of Directors in 2015-16 by then Sixth District Congressman Robert Goodlatte as not really needing the loan. Past EDA board members Greg Drescher and Ron Llewellyn testified that Goodlatte suggested the loan as a public relations move to illustrate Virginia’s positive work with the private sector to redevelop a former federal Superfund “brownfield” site.
Consequently, despite the written-in 30-year payback loan term, EDA officials believed it was actually being done as a short-term public relations effort, and would be paid back in a matter of months when what they believed was an existing $140-million ITFederal contract with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) kicked in. A McDonald representation to her board that Tran would become an “anonymous donor” of $8-million to a proposed Criminal Justice Academy project then being worked on by the EDA, was seen as the start of that early repayment, the former EDA board members testified.
It appears this civil case jury, as three before it this month, have rejected a defense theory of the case asserting that the defendants were unwitting victims of McDonald’s alleged lies concerning the movement of EDA assets, just as the EDA was victimized. Plaintiff attorneys from the Sands Anderson law firm of Richmond, Va., countered those arguments by asking the jury to “follow the money” to see who benefited from the misinformation they allege McDonald was giving the EDA board, as well as EDA auditors.
During the previous morning session on Wednesday, the two sides presented their final witnesses: for the defense Mark Viola, proprietor of Viola Engineering, who did geo-technical work for Tran on the ITFederal site regarding construction delays related to underground discoveries of old utility piping and substances; and in plaintiff rebuttal to some of the previous day’s defense assertions, former County and EDA attorney Dan Whitten.
Late Wednesday, the court heard motions from both sides to strike the opposition claims against their clients. After listening to extensive arguments from both sides, Judge Albertson denied all motions to strike claims by either side, preferring as he has reviewing similar motions in earlier EDA civil liability cases this month, to allow the jury to make the decision on the substance of each sides’ claims against the other. After adjourning to dinner of pizza ordered to the courthouse for them around 7 p.m., the jury returned at 7:25 p.m. to say they preferred to go home and begin deliberations Thursday morning, which Judge Albertson agreed to.
As the three previous defense attorneys have following findings in the EDA’s favor this month, Tran/ITFederal counsel Gregory Melus notified the court he would file a motion to overturn the jury verdict. Those motions appear based on a defense contention evidence produced at trial was inadequate to justify conviction. A 30/30/10 day filing and response time schedule was set, though plaintiff counsel indicated if Melus needed additional time due to scheduling conflicts, that would not be a problem.
With motions to overturn on the table, counsel for both sides declined comment following Thursday’s verdict. Current EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne, who observed much of the trial along with board members Jim Wolfe, Scott Jenkins, and Greg Harold, indicated that after speaking with counsel and some consideration he might have a response for the media shortly. See that EDA response in related story posted when available.
EDA civil liability defendant ‘Curt’ Tran on witness stand for over 4-1/2 hours as trial heads into final day
Tuesday, July 26, the third day of the “Warren Economic Development Authority” versus Truc “Curt” Tran and ITFederal LLC civil liability and counter-suit case was highlighted by the defendant’s 4-hours-and-37-minutes on the witness stand. That time started with a 2-hour-25-minute near monologue on direct examination, followed by 1-hour-58-minutes of sometimes contentious cross-examination by EDA co-counsel Lee Byrd and a fortuitously briefer 14 minutes of redirect examination by defense attorney Gregory Melus. On direct examination, Tran recounted his life story, beginning as an 11-to-12-year-old refugee to America in the wake of the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon, leading into his work in data storage with the federal government and private sector, culminating with his efforts to develop a federally funded data center and import/export business in Front Royal and Warren County.
During that direct examination, Tran managed to recount a series of circumstances involving not only former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and a lack of supervisory EDA Board of Directors oversight of McDonald, but also shifting federal program guidelines, former President Barack Obama, and failed 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton among reasons his projects here failed. The latter two involved a failure of the federal government during Obama’s presidential tenure to sign into law the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an international trade agreement that might have helped facilitate the import-export business Tran had hoped to create with his ITFederal company involving the cattle farm production of beef on acreage purchased off Happy Creek Road.
During a sometimes explosive cross-examination, Tran conditionally insinuated that several previous witnesses may have perjured themselves during testimony regarding circumstances of his agreements on the ITFederal project. Those witnesses in the defendant’s crosshairs of scrutiny included former EDA and County Attorney Dan Whitten, former EDA board member Ron Llewellyn, and Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) official Debbie Melvin.
In fact, Tran appeared to flirt with accusing former U.S. 6th District of Virginia Congressman Robert Goodlatte of, if not perjury, since he was not called as a witness for either side, but potential past lying were testimony from other witnesses, including Whitten, Llewellyn, and Greg Drescher, to be proven true regarding Goodlatte’s lobbying for Tran/ITFederal to receive the $10-million EDA loan for the Avtex site ITFederal project on a short-term basis as a positive public relations initiative for Virginia.
“I never say short-term, I didn’t say that – did he say that?” Tran wondered of multiple witnesses saying Goodlatte presented the $10-million dollar loan for the ITFederal project as a public relations effort to attract more business interest in Virginia rather than a loan Tran and his company actually needed to achieve their planned Avtex site federal data center development. With one defense witness remaining to be called Wednesday, one might wish Goodlatte was that witness to address that question, though he has not appeared on a prospective witness list.
Prior to sending the jury home at 7:02 p.m. Tuesday, Judge Bruce D. Albertson told that jury he anticipated deliberations to be handed over to them no later than early-to-mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Those deliberations involve an EDA base compensatory damage claim of over $ 11 million against Tran/ITFederal, as well as potential punitive damages up to $300,000 or more were the jury to find Tran and his company guilty of statutory conspiracy to defraud the EDA out of assets obtained under alleged fraudulent circumstances. Testimony indicated the defendants’ counterclaim at a base of approximately $4 million, with more at stake punitively as well.
EDA in Focus
EDA vs. Tran/ITFederal civil liability and counterclaim trial heads into third day with defense poised to call final series of witnesses
On Monday, July 25, the plaintiff “Warren Economic Development Authority” (aka EDA, WC EDA, FR-WC EDA) completed presentation of its case for liability for both compensatory and punitive damages during the morning session of its case against Truc “Curt” Tran and his ITFederal LLC company. Plaintiff counsel from the Sands Anderson law firm of Richmond, Virginia, called one witness after opening the day’s evidence with edited video of portions of two depositions they took from Tran, the first on October 8, 2021, the second three weeks later on November 1, 2021.
Both Tran’s responses to questions by plaintiff counsel at deposition and the testimony of the fourth and final plaintiff witness, former EDA Board of Directors member, Chairman, and Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Greg Drescher were presented to further the EDA contention Tran was an active participant and co-conspirator with former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald in an effort to defraud the EDA into believing he had the means for follow through on promised development of 30 acres at the 147-acre Royal Phoenix portion of the former Avtex Superfund site. Primary among that fraudulent behavior according to the EDA theory of the case was the assertion ITFederal had secured a $140-million contract with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as accessing a Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) grant related to job creation. Evidence indicated neither was true.
Drescher reiterated testimony from former EDA attorney Dan Whitten on the trial’s first day last Friday concerning former U.S. Virginia Sixth District Representative Robert “Bob” Goodlatte’s efforts to justify a $10-million loan to Tran and ITFederal as a positive public relations move, despite his assertion that Tran and his company didn’t really need the loan. Drescher added that due to the nature of how the loan was presented as a show of cooperation between Virginia EDA’s and the private sector, he had believed the money would be returned to the EDA in a number of months, rather than years. That belief led to acceptance of the idea brought to the EDA board by its executive director that Tran would be an “anonymous donor” in development of a police training academy to the tune of $8 million dollars that then-Sheriff Daniel McEathron was interested in developing here.
However, defense counsel Gregory Melus pointed out to Drescher on cross examination that the terms of the EDA-financed $10-million loan to Tran clearly states that the loan had a 30-year payback term written into it. During a 55-minute cross examination, Melus repeatedly pressed Drescher on the lack of oversight provided by the EDA Board of Directors that he claims made his client a victim, rather than a player in any conspiracy alleged by the EDA regarding the failed promises of development creating as many as 600 quality jobs related to a government contracted data center on the 30-acre ITFederal parcel at Avtex.
That fact, among other shortcomings he cited in direct evidence against his client, led Melus to move to strike the plaintiff’s case on the majority of claims against Tran and his company following the resting of the EDA case. However, after hearing both sides arguments in that regard, Judge Bruce D. Albertson overruled the defense motion to strike the plaintiff claims against Tran and his company. As it has in this month’s previous EDA civil liability trials, the court expressed the opinion that the plaintiff evidence presented was sufficient to let the jury decide on its weight, rather than the court midway thru the trial.
With the case thrown to it, the defense opened its witness testimony with a financial investor in ITFederal’s parent company American Commonwealth Regional Center (ACRC). Quincy Zhao testified that he invested $100,000 in ACRC due to its economic development plans related to the EB-5 Visa Program. The program, as previously noted, encourages foreign nationals investment in economic development in the U.S. in exchange for green cards for investor’s families. Zhao explained that wealthy investors from the four primary nations invested in the program, China, Vietnam, India, and Korea (he did not note a north or south), among others, often used the program to educate their children in America’s school system, particularly at the higher educational levels. Zhao noted that eventually Front Royal-Warren County were ruled ineligible to qualify for the EB-5 Visa Program, creating issues with ACRC and ITFederal being able to fund the project. The EB-5 Visa funding was believed still on the table when Goodlatte made his initial assertions to the EDA board about the viability of ITFederal to be a major job creator for this community.
Former County and EDA attorney Blair Mitchell was the defense’s second witness, first of two successive by remote hook up. Mitchell, Dan Whittens predecessor, was queried on his knowledge of difficulties in marketing redevelopment of the Avtex property as a developmentally limited, federal Superfund environmental reclamation project, compared to other EDA industrial and commercial properties. Having retired in April 2016, he was also questioned on his knowledge of McDonald’s work as EDA executive director and the EDA’s recruiting of ITFederal as the first commercial development project at the Avtex site.
In response to a question about whether McDonald or anyone with ITFederal had qualified the NRC $140-million contract as an IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity) federal contract, Mitchell replied, “No”. As plaintiff counsel has pointed out the IDIQ contract simply qualifies a company to bid on future federal contracts, guaranteeing nothing. In Tran’s second deposition video, asked about ACRC’s actual financial benefit from the $140 million NRC IDIQ contract, Tran replied $5,000. However, defense counsel has pointed to notations of “IDIQ” in some documents related to the ITFederal proposal to the EDA on Avtex Lot 6.
The defense’s second remote hook-up witness was James I. Marasco. After reviewing records of the EDA between 2014-17/18, from his home base in Rochester, New York, Marasco supported the defense contention that during that time period the EDA had very poor financial oversight and safeguards in place to prevent the type of financial misdeeds McDonald has been accused of. Marasco’s particular field of expertise is forensic auditing, he noted during direct examination.
Before dismissing the jury shortly after 5 p.m., Judge Albertson told them to expect to be in court later on Tuesday, to 6 p.m. or longer, despite the fact the case is still proceeding ahead of schedule. Due to a trip out of state for a real estate closing, final plaintiff witness and former EDA board member Ron Llewellyn is likely to open testimony at the trial on Tuesday prior to the defense calling its last series of witnesses, including defendant Truc “Curt” Tran. Defense counsel Melus has pointed out to the jury his client is not running away from questions about his role in the aborted ITFederal project at Avtex, as McDonald did in invoking her 5th Amendment right not to respond to questions at risk of self-incrimination during earlier testimony as a plaintiff witness.
First day of $11-million EDA vs. ‘Curt’ Tran civil liability trial concludes
Following opening arguments and the start of the plaintiff’s case, including presentation of its paper trail of nearly 50 Exhibits, we counted 48, it contends will illustrate Truc “Curt” Tran was not an unwitting but active accomplice of former “Warren Economic Development Authority” Executive Director Jennifer McDonald in acquiring a total of $11,913,308 in EDA loans and payments under false pretenses, a Warren County Circuit Court civil case jury was released for the weekend at 4:23 p.m. Friday afternoon, July 22. Attorneys, the media, and a few observers followed the jury out of the courtroom and courthouse two minutes later.
The evidentiary portion of the plaintiff’s case, which included its first three witnesses, hit a snag when lead EDA attorney Cullen Seltzer announced the plaintiff’s next evidence, a video of portions of a deposition interview of defendant “Curt” Tran. Defense counsel Gregory Melus objected to the introduction of that evidence. After the jury was sent out of the courtroom, Melus told the court he had not had time to review the video, having only seen a transcript of those sections of the deposition of Tran by plaintiff counsel. He also objected to the video being introduced, as opposed to the text of the deposition which the plaintiff had originally sent him.
After hearing from both sides, Judge Bruce D. Albertson overruled the defense objection to introduction of the video, but offered to recess the trial to Monday to allow Tran’s attorney to review the estimated hour-long video. Subsequent discussion with counsel indicated the plaintiff may complete presentation of its case Monday. Asked by the court if he was able to open his case at some point Monday, could he complete it by Wednesday, Melus replied in the affirmative. With that positive time-frame looming, if possibly with some longer days to achieve it early in the week, Judge Albertson allowed the perhaps unexpectedly early adjournment on the trials opening day. With the jury dismissed with instructions to avoid discussion, media or social media accounts of the case, and no further matters for consideration by the attorneys, court was recessed at 4:25 p.m. until 9 a.m. Monday.
Prior to that adjournment, in addition to introduction of its paper trail, EDA attorneys called three witnesses. They were in order of appearance, former Warren County and EDA attorney Dan Whitten, Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) Assistant Director of Accounts Solutions Debbie Melvin, and Jennifer McDonald. Whitten was on the stand for over three hours, 1-hour-38-minutes on direct, and 1-hour-43-minutes on cross examination as counsel for both sides attempted to paint their contrasting evidentiary “roadmaps” of the case.
And as in the three earlier EDA civil liability trials this month, those contrasting “roadmaps”, or theories of the case, revolve around whether defendants were, pick one:
1 – Like the EDA itself, lied to and taken in by McDonald misrepresentations, and victimized themselves due to the EDA’s inability to provide adequate oversight of the alleged criminal actions of its executive director, or:
2 – Were willing participants in individual portions of the series of schemes McDonald is alleged to have hatched between 2014 and 2018 to defraud the EDA out of as much as $21 million dollars in assets to her own, and the benefit of others willing to provide needed “outside” the EDA co-conspirators.
The base compensatory claim of $11.9-plus million against Tran and his ITFederal LLC company is the largest in the EDA’s series of civil liability cases; and Tran has also filed a counterclaim for damages from a lack of EDA oversight of their former executive director. That former director McDonald made an out-of-court “no-fault” settlement for about $9 million in largely real estate assets in the EDA civil claim case against her in the wake of her bankruptcy filing. The only other million-dollar-plus jury award came last week when Donald Poe and his Earthright Energy Solar (ERE) were found liable for a base compensatory claim of $945,000, coupled with combined punitive damages against the two defendants totaling about another $300,000. All attorneys in the earlier civil trial cases have indicated they will file motions to overturn the verdicts based on a contention of inefficient evidence to convict.
Testimony by former EDA and County counsel Dan Whitten in the plaintiff’s case Friday noted former U.S. Sixth District of Virginia Congressman Robert Goodlatte’s championing of Tran and ITFederal as an economic development opportunity here at the former Avtex Superfund environmental remediation site. Whitten testified that both McDonald and Goodlatte presented Tran as a successful Northern Virginia businessman, with a $140-million federal government contract with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the basis for his planned Data Center development based out of a 28,000 square foot building on a 30-acre parcel at the Avtex/Royal Phoenix Business Park. However, it turned out that federal contract was an “IDIQ” (Indefinite Demand Indefinite Quantity) that essentially puts one in a position to bid on coming government contracts, rather than any guarantee of a contract.
The Goodlatte-championed ITFederal project also suffered financially when it didn’t qualify as an EB-5 Visa project. Whitten noted the EB-5 program was utilized nationally to encourage foreign investment in the millions in local economic development projects in the U.S. in return for “green cards” and family access to U.S. citizenship. Not testified to was the fact that the program has a rather notorious reputation for not usually realizing exactly what was promised in the way of financial support at the outset.
Whitten testified that Goodlatte had suggested the $10-million loan to ITFederal and Tran to illustrate to the media and public a working cooperative relationship between a local municipal EDA and the private sector. Whitten said that Goodlatte even said that Tran didn’t really “need” the loan, but that it would be a good public relations effort. Whitten testified that the EDA had anticipated that the loan would be short-term as more of a public relations effort, than an actual business loan. That helped explain the EDA board’s acceptance of McDonald’s representation that Tran was going to be an “anonymous investor” to the tune of $8 million in a planned Criminal Justice Academy project.
Responding to a question, Whitten also said Tran had never come to an EDA Board of Directors meeting during the ITFederal recruitment, proposal, loan acquisition, and planning process. In fact, he said he, as EDA counsel, had never previously met Tran.
McDonald was on the stand a rather brief time compared to her previous EDA case appearances, three minutes for direct, and two minutes for cross examination. Asked about her interactions with Tran, and a false claim of VEDP grants for the ITFederal project at Avtex by EDA counsel, McDonald invoked her 5th Amendment right not respond at risk of self-incrimination a total of eight times. She added two 5th Amendment replies to cross examination questions, before defense attorney Melus cut his questioning off.
Plaintiff second witness Debbie Melvin testified that after one meeting with Tran in 2016, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership never received follow-up information sought from Tran about his company to verify its eligibility for a Virginia Jobs Investment Program grant, and that VEDP never authorized any grant funding for the ITFederal Avtex project or any Tran project in Warren County. Earlier Whitten testified that the EDA didn’t find out that paperwork indicating that grant was achieved had been forged, apparently by McDonald, until the EDA financial scandal investigation was underway in 2018-19.
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