The level of authority given former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald to pursue client contact leads and a consequent lack of oversight from her board of directors was a primary issue in testimony and closing arguments on Friday, May 31.
In fact, some professional tension was palpable between McDonald defense counsel Jay McDannell and lead EDA attorney Cullen Seltzer as they summarized the cases they had presented over 2-1/2 days leading to closing arguments beginning at 12:45 p.m., Friday afternoon. The result of that third and final day of the EDA civil suit motions hearing was previously reported in Royal Examiner, below:
In beginning his rebuttal to the plaintiff attorney’s closing statement McDannell referenced what he termed “vitriolic attacks on my client”. They were attacks he said he had tried not to respond in kind to – “That ends today” he told the court.
And he wasn’t kidding – McDonald’s attorney called the plaintiff case “craven and stupid” adding, “They put the cart before the horse” in an attempt to cover what he called “a failed filing” of the EDA $17.6 million civil action against nine defendants alleged to have engaged with McDonald in a wide, if compartmentalized conspiracy to embezzle or misdirect millions of dollars in EDA assets.
“The largest claim is a breach of contract claim for a contract that has never been breached – and it is against someone else,” McDannell noted of the $10 million loan the EDA secured from United Bank for ITFederal LLC and its CEO Truc “Curt” Tran.
In fact, a significant portion of former EDA board member Ron Llewellyn’s testimony, which was by far the lengthiest of four current or former board members called to testify Friday, addressed the process and rationale in acquiring that loan.
A nine-year board member prior to his resignation effective March 23, Llewellyn told the court that the ITFederal project “was considerably different than any other project we ever worked on … We were all excited about the first Brownfield site project,” Llewellyn noted of the first commercial client drawn to a planned 147-acre business park on the former 467-acre Avtex federal Superfund site in the Town of Front Royal.
Llewellyn testified he had concerns about the project early on due to an inability to find any substantive information about the company and its alleged $140-million or so in annual federal government contracts online. However, he noted that the EDA’s executive director always assured him she had verified the validity of the information about ITFederal and its government contracts.
“Did you ask how she verified it?” McDannell pressed Llewellyn on cross examination.
“No, not precisely,” Llewellyn admitted.
“Maybe because it was brought to us by the congressman due diligence wasn’t done. I couldn’t find anything online but Jennifer always had an explanation, I thought was through the congressman,” Llewellyn said.
“So it got credibility from Congressman Goodlatte – what would you say the impact of that was?” McDonald’s attorney asked.
“More than it should have,” Llewellyn testified about three-and-a-half to four years down the road from then U.S. Congressman Robert Goodlatte’s championing of ITFederal in 2014-2015 as a $40-million investor who would bring 600-plus high-paying tech jobs to this community.
In fact, Llewellyn recalled a conversation with Goodlatte at the October 2015 ITFederal ribbon-cutting here launching the idea of a $10 million loan to Tran’s company. Llewellyn said he, McDonald, then-EDA Board members Patty Wines, who was board chair, and Jim Eastham who was in banking professionally, were in the group with whom Goodlatte first broached the ITFederal loan idea.
Llewellyn testified that McDonald reported back that when first offered the loan, Tran had balked. However, the EDA decided to continue pursuing the loan after Goodlatte explained he wanted to be able to promote the Avtex Brownfield site “to other prospects by saying, ‘We not only got you this nice piece of land but financing for your project too’.
“So Jennifer went back to Tran and explained that Goodlatte said it needed to be done anyway (whether he needed it or not), and he says, ‘Okay’,” Llewellyn said of the process he recalled achieving the ITFederal bank loan.
What Llewellyn didn’t explain, and wasn’t really asked to at this hearing level, was why the EDA board would agree to extend a 30-year payback on a $10-million loan to Tran that the EDA has a 7-year balloon payment due to First Bank & Trust of Abington on. For you non-bankers out there, on the surface, those conflicting schedules mean the EDA must pay the loan back to the bank in full after seven years, while Tran has another 23 years to pay the balance on the $10 million back to the EDA. Talk about economic development working for YOU!
However, EDA Attorney Dan Whitten explained to Royal Examiner that the EDA has the option of renegotiating the monthly amount of Tran’s payback; and will likely attempt to refinance its loan payment to First Bank & Trust after those seven years. So if things go well the EDA may be able to continue to have Tran’s payments cover the cost of a refinanced bank loan. Whitten said the discrepancy likely occurred because the EDA-Tran terms were signed in September 2015 when the Town bridge loan was made to the EDA, and the EDA-First Bank & Trust terms were signed three months later when the bank loan was realized in December 2015.
And on the bright side, as Town Councilman Eugene Tewalt likes local media to stress, the Town of Front Royal DID get its twice-extended to three-months $10-million “bridge loan” to the EDA and Tran back in full when the loan through First Bank & Trust of Abingdon was accomplished. However as we also recall, the Town did lose out on two months of interest totaling around $8,000 because the term of the “bridge loan” was supposed to be a month and the bridge loan arrangement only included one month’s payment equal to what the Town had been collecting in monthly interest on those $10-million dollars in an investment account.
But back to the civil litigation hearing’s closing arguments of May 31, 2019: citing EDA “board failings of oversight” McDannell told the court of his clients’ culpability, “Her actions are attributable to them – not that she did everything right, but did she misunderstand the authority her board had given her?” McDannell asked rhetorically with a clear indication of his thoughts on an answer.
However in the plaintiff’s closing statement delivered first, Seltzer pointed to the testimony of the four former and current EDA board members heard that day. They were asked in to testify about Defense Exhibit 8 offered the previous day to illustrate board approval of a McDonald purchase of up to $2.5 million for potential use as an industrial cattle farm operation by a Tran company, Front Royal Farms LLC. Testimony indicated the planned Tran operation would produce beef to be sold in the Far East, particularly to Vietnam, Tran’s native country.
Former EDA Treasurer William Biggs, current Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond, current Front Royal Vice-Mayor William Sealock, and Llewellyn all testified that they had not previously seen the Closed Session, Confidential Resolution authorizing McDonald to spend up to $2.5 million on a property for the cattle ranch land purchase on Trans’ behalf. That was the defense exhibit EDA Attorney Dan Whitten described during his Thursday testimony as a “fabricated document” produced by McDonald.
All four past and present EDA board members said Friday that while it appeared their signatures were on the document, they had not previously seen that particular resolution. They also verified Whitten’s testimony of the previous day that such a resolution would not be signed in closed session or likely be marked “Confidential” as it was.
The quartet of EDA board members also expressed varying degrees of knowledge or a lack thereof about EDA board discussion of Tran’s prospective Front Royal Farms operation. However, all agreed whatever discussion had occurred was far from the authorization of millions of EDA dollars to be committed to the purchase of land for such an endeavor.
Previous hearing testimony indicated that those parcels referred to as “the Buck Mountain properties” were sold back to the original owner William Vaught Jr. a month or so after purchased by McDonald real estate company DaBoyz LLC at a $600,000 loss.
“Even after she left (the EDA) she continued to conceal against those board members we heard from today. She betrayed that trust in the most pernicious ways,” Seltzer told the court in summarizing his case for attachment of $3.17 million of McDonald or her real estate companies’ assets.
Of Defense Exhibit 8, the EDA attorney called it “unbelievable, bare-faced contempt”, not only of her former board members but of the court in its attempt to render a judgment on the freezing or releasing of McDonald assets related to the civil litigation.
“She has attempted to deceive the court – I’ve never seen anything like that in a courtroom,” Seltzer said of the introduction of an apparently fraudulent document in support of a defense motion not to enjoin defendant assets.
The Sands-Anderson attorney made it clear he was not implicating his legal adversary in that deception – “He has been used by his client to perpetuate shocking deceit,” Seltzer told the court.
However, McDannell disputed that assessment, noting his client’s agreement to withdraw the document and her voluntary assertion that two properties under her control were being held in a “constructive trust” for the EDA.
He also pointed out to the court that his client had not tried to convert her real estate assets into cash and flee prior to facing the civil and criminal charges now hanging over her head, those latter charges leaving her incarcerated as a flight risk.
As reported in our above-linked initial story of the court ruling, Judge Athey took a middle ground in attaching some McDonald cash and real estate assets and not others, on the latter front leaving those co-owned with other family members alone, and on the former leaving her funds to pay for her defense against the felony criminal charges she faces.
See Related Story:
Fairfax County teacher convicted of solicitation of a minor; jury recommends 7 years
HANOVER COUNTY (August 20, 2019) – Ryan Thomas Pick, 41, of Woodbridge, Virginia, was convicted yesterday by a Hanover County jury of two counts of Using a Communication System to Procure a Minor for an Unlawful Act and one count of Solicitation of a Minor Under the Age of 15, following a trial on the charges. The jury subsequently recommended that Pick serve a seven-year prison term for his offenses. Upon his release, Pick will be required to register as a sex offender in any jurisdiction in which he lives or works. He will be formally sentenced on November 22, 2019. Mark R. Herring, Attorney General of Virginia, made the announcement following the trial and conviction, which was presided over by Hanover County Circuit Court Judge J. Overton Harris.
“Individuals who sexually solicit children are robbing them of their childhood and their innocence, and what is even more troubling is that this man worked with children on a daily basis,” said Attorney General Herring. “Because of the work my team and local law enforcement agencies put into this, another dangerous predator is out of our community. My office will continue to seek justice against those who would exploit and harm children like this.”
The investigation of this case began in July of 2018 when an undercover officer with the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office conducted an undercover chat investigation on the social networking site Omegle. While posing as a 12 year-old girl, the officer was connected with Pick, who chatted with the officer and made comments that were sexual in nature. During the conversation, Pick sent a video of himself to the officer engaging in sexually explicit conduct. He then made several statements about sex acts he wanted to engage in with the purported 12 year-old. An investigation revealed that Pick held several jobs including as a music teacher for Fairfax County public schools, the music director at his local church, a private music instructor, and a seasonal pizza delivery man. In August of 2018, officers executed a search warrant at Pick’s Fairfax County residence. During the execution, Pick admitted to using Omegle regularly and to chatting with the purported 12 year-old.
This case was investigated by the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. Attorney General Herring’s Computer Forensic Unit provided digital forensic analysis of the evidence in support of the case. Assistant Attorney General Alexaundra Williams of Attorney General Herring’s Computer Crime Section prosecuted the case on behalf of the Commonwealth.
Spotsylvania County Schools phishing scam investigation
As a result of extensive investigative efforts, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office has been able to reclaim more than half of the money lost in a complex phishing scam targeting the Spotsylvania County Public School system.
On Thursday (Aug. 15) state police will be handing over checks to the Spotsylvania County Treasurer’s Office totaling $347,010.39. Additional checks will be forthcoming next week.
State police began the cyber investigation Aug. 1, 2019, and has been working with local and state law enforcement in other states in order to track down the fraudulent deposits made into accounts at multiple banks. State police are still pursuing the case and several individuals associated with the scam. No charges or arrests have been made at this stage of the ongoing investigation.
State police is also investigating two other potential cyber phishing scams involving county employees, but there is no evidence to suggest any of the three incidents is connected. Those investigations are ongoing, as well.
Virginia man facing multiple charges after I-81 pursuit
On August 14, 2019, at approximately 1 a.m., Virginia State Police Trooper M.T. Brill attempted a traffic stop on a 2018 Toyota Corolla that was traveling north on Interstate 81 at the 275-mile marker in Shenandoah County. The traffic violation was for speeding – 91 mph in a 70 mph zone. The Toyota refused to stop and a pursuit was initiated.
The Toyota, reaching speeds of up to 115 mph, continued north on I-81 into Warren County. On I-66, the suspect vehicle attempted to take Exit 13 when the driver lost control and struck the guardrail. The Toyota’s driver, Spencer J. Reiman, 31, of Vienna, Va., was taken into custody without further incident. Reiman was not injured in the crash.
Reimann was arrested for DUI and charged with one misdemeanor count of reckless driving, one felony count of eluding police, possession of marijuana and possession of controlled substances. He is being held at the Rappahannock Shenandoah Regional Jail.
Three passengers in the Toyota were also arrested, Kitkwan Karlo, 20, of Fairfax, Va., and Kyle Lujan, 20 of Vienna, Va., were charged with drunk in public and underage possession of alcohol. Frederick Maggi, 21, of Fairfax, Va., was charged with drunk in public.
‘Bawdy Place’ trial related to dropped Tharpe charge set day after Election
A hearing and trial date of Wednesday, November 6, at 2 p.m. was set in the cases of Cynthia Atkinson Bailey, her daughter, son and son-in-law regarding their alleged roles in operation of a Front Royal massage parlor in which sexual favors were allegedly offered as part of the business operation.
Misdemeanor charges against the 55-year-old Bailey, daughter Brandy Nicole Atkinson, son Jesse Thomas Atkinson and son-in-law Joshua Allan Stamper will go to trial that day, while the felony charges will face a preliminary hearing.
Responding to a question from Warren County General District Court Judge W. Dale Houff, defense counsel David Downes and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton concurred that the joined cases would likely require a couple of hours, leading to the setting to the 2 p.m. start time for cases likely to consume the rest of the court’s afternoon docket.
Layton also informed the court that he and defense counsel were “on the same page” regarding a variety of evidentiary motions regarding discovery and alleged offense dates. In fact, Downes withdrew a submitted Bill of Particulars, telling the court that audio tapes he had received from the prosecution today “may clarify” what he had requested from the prosecution in that filing.
Among the evidentiary motions that may be in the process of resolution is Downes’ “Giglio Motion” seeking information on potential prosecution witness Tiffany Amber Wymer. That defense motion cites a felony charge “on or about December 6, 2018” for “possession with intent to distribute marijuana” that according to the defense motion was dropped by prosecutors on May 28, 2019 in Frederick County General District Court.
Downes motion on his client’s behalf questioned if the resolution of that case related to Wymer’s anticipated testimony in the Bailey et al prosecution and “whether she has received immunity from prosecution for” a variety of other possible charges, including “her fraudulent welfare applications… operating an illegal sex chat website” and “prostitution charges”. Downes further asks how many incidents of prostitution Wymer may have received immunity for.
The two sides also appeared to agree to pin down the offense dates to between May 16 and June 7, 2018. The fact that Bailey had a June 7, 2018 charge and arrest on a prostitution charge nul prossed by the Commonwealth on October 2, 2018, appeared to play a role in some contentious accusations amidst dueling press releases between the defense attorney, the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office which took over as special prosecutor in a related case of solicitation of prostitution against former Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe, and FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis.
A political twist
Downes alleged the new charges against his client were “retaliatory” & “vindictive” due to his client’s intention not to testify in the Tharpe prosecution, invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate. The Tharpe prosecutor’s office and FRPD denied any wrong doing or vindictiveness in the “bawdy place” bust.
Tharpe’s misdemeanor solicitation case was dismissed at the request of Special Prosecutor Heather Hovermale during a July 15 hearing. As Royal Examiner reported at the time, Hovermale told the court the prosecution could not proceed in the wake of Cynthia Bailey exerting her Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate in response to several questions, including whether she knew Tharpe or if he had ever touched her in a way she did not invite.
His charge dismissed, Tharpe almost immediately announced that he would run in the November election to regain the mayor’s seat he announced four days after his April 15 indictment he would resign from effective May 2. As Royal Examiner has previously observed, ironically the foreman of the grand jury that handed down the indictment against Tharpe was Matt Tederick, a local Republican Committee operative and former chairman. A 4-2 council majority, Tewalt and Thompson dissenting, appointed Tederick interim mayor on May 28.
However it appears there will be no Tederick-Tharpe grudge match on Election Day, November 5. Tederick has announced he will not run in the special election to fill out the remainder of Tharpe’s term through 2020. But former mayor and current Councilman Eugene Tewalt, who announced his candidacy after Tharpe’s resignation and Tederick’s appointment, will oppose Tharpe’s attempt to regain his mayoral seat one day prior to the Bailey family trial and hearing.
Good Times, Bad Times
Bailey and her children were arrested by Front Royal Police on May 15, 2019 and charged with the misdemeanor offense of maintaining a “bawdy” (defined as gross, indecent or overly graphic) place. Other charges include receiving money from earnings of prostitution (felony), prostitution (felony), and cruelty to children, the latter charge according to the criminal complaint involving the presence of a juvenile in the Biggs Drive residence who “answered phone calls, arranged appointments and walked clients to the rooms.” The referenced juvenile is believed to be a grandchild of Bailey’s.
According to an FRPD press release issued on May 16, the arrests were the result of an ongoing investigation that began in late January of 2018. It also appears that investigation also resulted in the now-dismissed charge of solicitation of prostitution against Tharpe.
The indictment against Tharpe cited a May 31, 2018 incident in which Tharpe allegedly offered “money or its equivalent to another for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts… and thereafter did a substantial act in furtherance thereof against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth…”
That offer is alleged to have been made at the 312 Biggs Drive address out of which the massage parlor run by Bailey under the banner of Blue Ridge Services, operated.
Stay tuned as Hollis Tharpe seeks re-election on November 5; and Cynthia Bailey and her family fight the charges against them one day later.
Arrest made in connection with July arson fire
On Saturday, July 14, 2019, Warren County Fire and Rescue and Warren County Sheriffs Office along with Middletown Fire and Rescue units were dispatched to 600 Catlett’s Ford Road for a reported residential structure fire.
Units arrived on the scene at approximately 1:35pm to find a small, single-family home with fire and smoke evident from within the residence. Units quickly extinguished the fire and verified the homes sole occupant had escaped the blaze. The occupant was treated and released on the scene for smoke inhalation. There were no other injuries.
The cause of the fire was investigated by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office. Fire Investigators determined the fire was caused by an act of arson. Fire Investigators were joined by the Warren County Sheriffs Office Criminal Investigations Division to identify any suspect(s) in the case.
As a result of the joint criminal investigation; the owner/occupant of the home was arrested and charged in connection to the incident. Mr. Carl Wayne Robinson a 46-year-old male, the homes sole occupant, was arrested on August 10, 2019, and charged with §18.2-77 – Burning or destroying dwelling house.
Mr. Robinson is currently being held without bond. Anyone with information is asked to contact Fire Marshal, Gerry Maiatico, at 540-636-3830 or Sheriffs Office Lieutenant, Phillip Henry, at 540-635-4128.
Virginia State Police still pursuing leads in unsolved 1999 New Kent County homicide
RICHMOND – The Virginia State Police (VSP) Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s (BCI) Richmond Field Office continues to pursue new leads and tips connected to the 1999 unsolved homicide of a Mechanicsville teenager in New Kent County. To date, state police is still working to identify the male suspect who fired several rounds into the 1999 Nissan Altima Sara Bruehl had rented to drive to Virginia Beach with her two close friends on Aug. 8, 1999.
It was 20 years ago on the Sunday evening of Aug. 8 that Sara Bruehl and her two friends were shot at while traveling along Interstate 64 near Exit 205 for Bottoms Bridge. Tragically, Sara, who was driving, was shot and killed prior to her vehicle crashing off the right side of the interstate. Her 18-year-old female front-seat passenger was also shot, but survived her injuries. The 17-year-old female backseat passenger survived injuries resulting from the vehicle crash. All three were recent graduates of Atlee High School in Hanover County.
The suspect was described as a light-skinned African-American or Hispanic male, with dark eyes and a goatee. The suspect vehicle was described as a small, red car with tinted windows and halogen lights. Based on witness statements and other information gathered during the course of the investigation, it is believed that Sara and the driver of the red car had engaged in a “cat-and-mouse” game of speeding up, slowing down and changing lanes over about a 20-mile stretch of I-64. Both vehicles were heading eastbound when the other driver pulled up in the right lane next to Sara’s vehicle, rolled down the driver’s side window, and shot four times into the Nissan Sara was driving. The suspect sped away in the eastbound lanes of I-64 as the Nissan ran off the right side of the interstate at Exit 205 and struck a tree. The shooting occurred at about 9:10 p.m.
“We know there are people out there today, even 20 years later, who know who was responsible for taking this young girl’s life and injuring her friends,” said Captain Tim Ring, VSP BCI Richmond Field Office Commander. “State police is still committed to identifying this individual and bringing him to justice. We owe it to Sara and her family to solve this case once and for all. That’s why we are still pursuing leads and still asking for people to come forward with any information they may have to share on this drive-by shooting.”
Anyone with information related to this case is encouraged to contact the Virginia State Police at #77 on a cell phone or 1-800-552-9965 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.