Although neither she nor her attorney was present live or virtually for scheduled Economic Development Authority civil case hearings Thursday morning, June 18, Jennifer McDonald’s presence was apparent throughout defense motion’s hearing arguments in the cases of defendants April Petty and Jesse Poe.
Prior to those arguments a hearing date of July 30, beginning at 8:30 a.m. was set for pre-trial motions in the cases of Rappawan Inc., and principal William Vaught Jr. and Century 21, Campbell Realty Inc., and principals Walter and Jeannette Campbell. Attorneys for those defendants were among the few physically present in the older, larger Warren County Circuit Courtroom with Judge Bruce D. Albertson Thursday morning.
The Campbells were represented by Warrenton attorney Peter Hansen; Rappawan and Vaught by local real estate attorney Joseph Silek Jr., though it appeared Hansen might also have a hand in the Rappawan case. However, he said he would defer to Silek on the availability of the July 30 date for that client.
It was noted that coming motions reply dates were July 10 for a plaintiff response to defense motions, and July 24 for a defense reply to the plaintiff’s assertions in their reply.
‘They didn’t know’
In arguing for a pre-trial plea in bar hearing for his clients, April Petty and Jesse Poe – the latter not to be confused with fellow civil defendant Donald Poe – attorney William Shmidheiser III repeatedly told the court he was not disputing lead civil defendant Jennifer McDonald’s embezzlement of the amounts of money cited in real estate home purchases McDonald achieved for his clients, rather he was asserting his clients had no knowledge that that money (totaling $410,000) had been embezzled.
So, Shmidheiser told Judge Albertson his clients should have the right to present their cases to him at a plea and bar hearing prior to the primary civil trial alleging a conspiracy among all 15 defendants to benefit from McDonald crimes, admitted or alleged, in an amount totaling over $21 million dollars.
The amount of embezzled money he cited involving his clients was $125,000 in Petty’s transaction and $285,000 in Jesse Poe’s. Their attorney said his clients recruited McDonald to be their real estate agent for home purchases from knowing her through family connections. Poe dated a niece of McDonald’s at the time, his attorney said; and Petty knew McDonald as the successful “golden child” of relatives she knew socially.
Shmidheiser said that if his clients could be proven to not have been involved in the larger conspiracy alleged by the plaintiff in a pre-trial plea and bar hearing, it would serve the “judicial economy” in simplifying and speeding up the primary case.
Arguing for the plaintiff EDA after being introduced to the court over phone connection by lead Sands Anderson/EDA attorney Cullen Seltzer, was Sean Hudson. Hudson countered the defense “judicial economy” argument, noting that Schmidheiser’s clients weren’t denying that embezzled funds had been used in their real estate transaction, only that they weren’t aware it was embezzled at the time of their home purchases with former EDA Executive Director McDonald acting as their real estate agent.
EDA attorney Hudson also noted that neither Petty nor Poe had offered to return the embezzled money utilized in their home purchases; adding his firm had not yet been able to depose either defendant, a conversation between plaintiff and defendants that could lead to a pre-trial settlement offer.
Defense counsel Shmidheiser countered that once involved, he had offered multiple dates for depositions of his clients but that an impasse with Sands Anderson over a location for those depositions – the law firm’s Richmond home base or Warren County where the case will be heard – had occurred.
Their attorney also noted that neither April Petty nor Jesse Poe had been indicted by the EDA Criminal Case Special Grand Jury after testifying before it, in Petty’s case at least, multiple times. That indicated the grand jury believed his clients’ stories, Schmidheiser asserted to the court.
“She would like some closure. She has a lot at stake,” her attorney said, pointing to her federal emergency management job.
As the arguments concluded, Judge Albertson returned to the oft-touched topic of “fairness” and asked plaintiff counsel if he thought it “fair” that the court is allowed to at least “consider a pre-trial resolution for two or more defendants”.
After a long pause, Hansen offered that he thought keeping the defendants in the primary civil action would achieve the best chance of a pre-trial settlement, ultimately serving to streamline the case to the desired “judicial economy”.
Judge Albertson then took the arguments under advisement.
State Police investigate Culpeper Sheriff’s Office fatal shooting
At the request of Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office is investigating the deputy-involved shooting.
At approximately 9:40 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office responded to a request for a welfare check on an individual who resides within the 12000 block of Horseshoe Drive. When sheriff’s deputies arrived at the residence, they encountered Donald Francis Hairston, 44, in an already agitated state.
Within minutes of the deputies’ arrival, Hairston ran indoors and barricaded himself inside the residence. Despite the deputies’ attempts to communicate with Hairston in an effort to de-escalate the situation, Hairston exited the residence armed with a gun. He discharged the firearm and then pointed the firearm at the deputies. A deputy fired and struck Hairston, who succumbed to his injuries at the scene.
Hairston’s remains will be transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner for examination and autopsy.
No deputies or other persons were injured during the incident.
The investigation remains ongoing at this time.
Warren County Sheriff’s Office K9 Unit assists in arrest after driver flees vehicle
On February 22, 2021, at approximately 06:41 PM, members of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office Special Problems and Drug Enforcement Unit attempted to stop a vehicle for speeding on Stonewall Jackson Highway. The suspect vehicle failed to yield leading to a pursuit that was terminated on Gooney Manor Loop. After the pursuit was terminated, the suspect vehicle continued to drive recklessly, striking a Sheriff’s Office vehicle.
Due to the reckless and dangerous disregard for persons and property, the pursuit was then reinitiated continuing onto Bentonville Road, where the suspect lost control and wrecked at 07:02 PM. The driver fled the vehicle on foot and the passenger was apprehended at the scene. Warren County Sheriff’s Office K9 Unit consisting of Master Deputy C. Anderson and M. Griffith, along with their canine partners Rooster and Gator, apprehended the driver after a short track where the driver was found hiding in a nearby creek.
The driver, Garland Turner Jr., age 28 was charged with Possession of Schedule I/II, felony eluding, felony hit and run, assault on a law enforcement officer, and driving suspended.
The vehicle owner and passenger, Alicia Knott, age 21 was charged with Possession of Schedule I/II and obstruction of justice.
No one was injured during the incident.
Virginia Beach return preparer sentenced to prison for tax fraud
On February 22, 2021, Ryan Dalletezze was sentenced to 24 months in prison, followed by 12 months of supervised release. Dalletezze was also ordered to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $291,579.
According to court documents, from 2013 to 2016, Ryan Dalletezze, 42, prepared tax returns through a Virginia Beach company, D&D Tax Services LLC. Dalletezze was a “ghost preparer,” in that he received money as a paid preparer but failed to report or identify himself on his customers’ returns. Dalletezze routinely claimed exemptions on his customers’ returns that were false, such as education and business expenses, energy credits, and business losses. Dalletezze’s customers had no knowledge of the fraud. Dalletezze personally received the resulting refunds and kept substantial portions for himself. The filing of these false and fraudulent returns resulted in a tax loss of over $291,000.
“In the midst of the 2020 filing season, this case is a good example of why it’s extremely important to choose a reputable return preparer,” said Kelly R. Jackson, IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge of the Washington DC Field Office. “Taxpayers should cautious of preparers who fail to review their tax return with them prior to submission to the IRS and/or refuse to sign the return as a paid return preparer.
Although most preparers provide honest and professional services, there is a small number of dishonest preparers who set up shop during filing season to steal money, personal and financial information from clients. Taxpayers can avoid falling victim to unscrupulous preparers by following important steps.
Tips when choosing a tax preparer:
- Look for a preparer who is available year-round in case questions arise after the filing season.
- Ask if the preparer has an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), which is required for paid preparers.
- Inquire about the preparer’s credentials and check their qualifications.
- Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base fees on a percentage of their client’s refund or claim to offer a bigger refund than their competition.
- Never sign a blank or incomplete return and review it before signing. Refunds should go directly to the taxpayer, not the preparer.
For more tips on choosing a tax professional or to file a complaint against one, visit IRS.gov. Taxpayers who suspect tax violations by a person or business, may report it to the IRS using Form 3949A, Information Referral.
Richmond businessman sentenced to prison for employment tax fraud
On February 10, 2021, Rama Gogineni was sentenced to eleven months in prison for failing to collect, truthfully account for, and pay over employment taxes. Gogineni was further ordered to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $980,219.01 and three years of supervised release after his release from prison.
According to court records, Gogineni was the president and director of Computech Systems, Inc., a technology consulting services firm in Richmond, Virginia. Gogineni was responsible for collecting, truthfully accounting for, and paying over Social Security, Medicare, and income taxes withheld from his employees’ wages.
From approximately 2007 through 2015, Gogineni failed to pay nearly one million dollars in employment taxes to the IRS. Gogineni entered into three separate installment agreements with the IRS during this time, committing to make payments, but defaulted each time. Gogineni pled guilty to these charges on September 3, 2020. Gogineni must voluntarily report to the designated institution by noon on April 30, 2021, to serve his sentence.
South Carolina murder suspects apprehended in Frederick County after I-81 chase
On Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, the Anderson Police Department in South Carolina issued a “Be On the Lookout” for three suspects wanted in connection with a homicide investigation in the city of Anderson. At approximately 1 p.m., a Virginia State Police trooper observed the suspect’s vehicle, a 2014 Ford Fusion, traveling north on Interstate 81 at the 283-mile marker in Shenandoah County. The trooper waited for additional troopers and initiated a traffic stop. The suspect’s vehicle pulled onto the right shoulder and then accelerated at a high rate of speed. A pursuit was initiated.
During the course of the pursuit, the Ford Fusion ended up heading south in the northbound lanes. The driver lost control at the 309 mile-marker in Frederick County and the Fusion ran off the left side of the roadway and went down an embankment, through a fence, and struck a tree. The suspects then fled the vehicle on foot. All three suspects were apprehended a short time later without further incident.
The driver, Frank T. Rhoads, 39, of Anderson, S.C., suffered minor injuries during the incident and was transported to Winchester Medical Center for treatment. Rhoads was then transported to Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center and charged by Virginia State Police with one felony count of eluding police, reckless driving, and for having altered/fictitious license plates on his vehicle.
The two passengers in the Ford, Dominick M. Rhoads, 19, and William C. Flynn, 31, both of Anderson, S.C., were uninjured during the incident.
All three suspects are being held on warrants of extradition out of Anderson, South Carolina. Virginia State Police was assisted by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.
Cartel money launderer sentenced to 96 months in federal prison
Ana Bella Sanchez-Rios, the former owner and operator of a Martinsville business used to launder more than $4.3 million in profits for an international drug cartel, was sentenced last week in U.S. District Court to 96 months in federal prison. Sanchez-Rios laundered the funds for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), a Mexican-based criminal organization considered by the Department of Justice to be one of the most dangerous transnational organizations in the world. Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar, Special Agent in Charge Jarod A. Forgot of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Washington Division, and Raymond Villanueva, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Washington, D.C. Field Office announced the sentence.
“When individuals launder money for a drug cartel, they play a critical role for the organization by concealing and transferring illegally-obtained funds, which perpetuates the cartel’s illegal activity and the scourge of the narcotics the cartel pedals,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bubar. “Money laundering investigations can be particularly difficult, and I’m proud of the hard work of our federal and state law enforcement partners in bringing Sanchez-Rios to justice.”
“Drug cartels like CJNG perpetrate unspeakable violence across the globe and drive the spread of deadly drugs like fentanyl and heroin,” said Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Washington Division. “We are committed to working with our partners to shut down these violent organizations in our area, often by tracking their illicit proceeds and disrupting these organizations at their bottom line. Today, these criminals’ addiction to money and greed has met its consequence.”
Sanchez-Rios, 48, was indicted in March 2019 along with 12 members of CJNG on a variety of federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges. In June 2020, Sanchez-Rios pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and operating a business that transmitted criminally derived funds.
Sanchez-Rios owned and operated Bella’s Tortilla & Meat Market, a business that contracted with Intermex Wire Transfer, LLC. Sanchez-Rios admitted that from 2016 through 2018, she used the business to launder the drug trafficking proceeds on behalf of CJNG. Sanchez-Rios’ role was to receive U.S. currency from multiple individuals working for the CJNG, which she knew where the drug trafficking proceeds and derived from a criminal offense. Sanchez-Rios then wired that money to individuals in Mexico. The defendant conducted wire transfers in small amounts and falsified and fabricated the names and addresses of the senders in order to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the funds.
In total, between May 10, 2016, and September 11, 2018, Sanchez-Rios transferred or caused to be transferred $4,394,959 in the proceeds of drug trafficking via Intermex from Bella’s Tortilla & Meat Market in Martinsville to individuals in Mexico.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security-Homeland Security Investigations, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, and the Virginia State Police. Assistant United States Attorney Sean Welsh is prosecuting the case for the United States.
This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.