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.
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Front Royal man charged for sexual solicitation of underage victims
On Wednesday, April 14, 2021, Front Royal Police detectives initiated an investigation regarding the solicitation of minors in the Warren County/Front Royal area. Detectives started a proactive approach to apprehend individuals soliciting underage victims for sexual purposes.
An undercover operation ensued, and an adult male began soliciting one of our detectives who he believed to be an underage female for photographs and sexually explicit material. The adult male suspect sent sexually explicit materials to the detective. The initial conversation was unsolicited and started by the offender in this case.
Police identified the suspect as 20-year-old Front Royal resident, Daniel Currence. Currence was arrested on 04/16/2021 and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail. Currence was ordered to be held on a $5,000 secured bond with a scheduled court date of May 20, 2021 at 9:00 a.m. in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
The Front Royal Police Department is an active member of the Northern Virginia/DC Metro (NOVA/DC) Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which is coordinated by the Virginia State Police. We request anyone with information regarding the exploitation of a minor to contact Front Royal Police Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four members of cocaine trafficking organization arrested following investigation
Four members of a cocaine trafficking organization were arrested on Thursday, April 15, 2021, following a yearlong investigation by the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force. Last April, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force identified members of a cocaine trafficking organization operating in Winchester and Frederick County, VA. Through the course of the investigation, task force officers completed numerous controlled purchases of cocaine from multiple suspects within the organization. As a result, approximately 203 grams of cocaine with a street value of $9,100.00 was seized by the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force over the last year. On April, 15, 2021, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force obtained and executed search warrants at four of the suspect’s residences located in Winchester and Frederick County, VA. Approximately 308 grams of cocaine with a street value of $14,300.00, 29 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of $1,300.00, 9 firearms, and $5,578.00 in currency was seized from the suspect’s residences.
Samuel Resendiz Hernandez, 24, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to distribute a schedule I/II controlled substance, two counts of distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and conspiracy.
Norberto Bautista Robles, 25, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with two counts of distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, two counts of possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and possession of a firearm by a person wo is not a citizen of the United States.
Charles Arthur Perkins, Jr, 68, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to distribute a schedule I/ll controlled substance, possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and conspiracy.
Rafael Velazquez-Bautista, 25, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance.
Additional charges against the suspects and other co-conspirators are forthcoming. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force was assisted by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Winchester Police Department, Virginia State Police, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during Thursday’s operation.
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is comprised of law enforcement personnel from Clarke, Frederick, Page and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Departments, Front Royal, Luray, Strasburg, and Winchester Police Departments and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office. The Northwest Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force is a HIDTA funded initiative.
Warren County Sheriff’s Office launches new enforcement blitz against speeding
Warren County Sheriff’s Office today launched a tough new speed enforcement blitz for the County of Warren and Town of Front Royal under the tagline: “Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine.” The intensified enforcement effort against speeding drivers underscores the severity of the problem, both locally and across the nation.
“Speeding translates to death on our roadways. It greatly reduces a driver’s ability to steer safely around another vehicle, a hazardous object, or an unexpected curve. Speeding drivers put themselves, their passengers and other drivers at tremendous risk,” said Lieutenant Steve Collins.
In 2015, speeding was a contributing factor in 27 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S. and more than 9,500 lives were lost in such crashes, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“During the “Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine” blitz, deputies will intensify enforcement of posted speed limits in Warren County and Town of Front Royal. We’ll stop and ticket anyone caught speeding—especially on John Marshall Highway, Remount Road, Winchester Road and Stonewall Jackson Highway, where most of our speed-related crashes occur,” said Lieutenant Steve Collins.
Fully 17 percent of all speeding-related traffic fatalities occurred on local roads — where the posted speed limits were 55 miles per hour or under. According to NHTSA, a crash on a road with a speed limit of 65 mph or greater is more than twice as likely to result in a fatality than a crash on a road with a speed limit of 45 or 50 mph and nearly five times as likely as a crash on a road with a speed limit of 40 mph or below. About 15 percent of the country’s speeding-related fatalities occur on interstate highways each year.
A NHTSA research report, “Analysis of Speeding-Related Fatal Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes,” shows that a major proportion of fatal, speeding-related single-vehicle crashes occur on rural roadways.
Across America in 2015, speeding was a factor in 17 percent of all fatal crashes on dry roads, and in 21 percent of those occurring on wet roads.
“Driving above the posted speed limit or speeding in bad weather conditions dramatically increases the probability that a motorist will be involved in a crash,” said Lieutenant Steve Collins.
“During this enforcement blitz, deputies will be out targeting and ticketing speeding drivers,” said Lieutenant Steve Collins. “Our goal is to save lives, and we’re putting all drivers on alert – the posted speed limit IS THE LAW. No more warnings and no more excuses. When it comes to speeding: Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine.”
NHTSA considers a crash speeding-related if the driver was charged with exceeding the posted speed limit or if the driver was driving too fast for conditions at the time.
For more information, please visit trafficsafetymarketing.gov.
Methamphetamine trafficker arrested after multi-jurisdictional investigation
On April 9, Christopher Shane Gonder, 33, of Waynesboro, PA, was arrested following a multi-jurisdictional investigation in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. The arrest was the result of an ongoing investigation involving the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force, West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, Maryland’s Washington County Narcotics Task Force, and the Drug Enforcement Administration Hagerstown Resident Office. In December of last year, members of the Northwest Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force identified Christopher Shane Gonder and other members of a methamphetamine trafficking organization operating in the Winchester, Frederick County, Warren County, and Front Royal areas.
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force identified Gonder as a leader within the organization and knew Gonder and other members would routinely travel between Virginia and Maryland selling and distributing large quantities of methamphetamine. During the investigation, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force completed multiple controlled purchases of methamphetamine from Gonder in Frederick and Warren Counties. Approximately ½ pound of methamphetamine with a street value of $6,000.00 was purchased from Gonder between December and March.
On April 9, members of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force arranged to purchase a ½ pound of methamphetamine from Christopher Gonder. When Gonder arrived at the prearranged location, members of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office attempted to arrest Gonder. Gonder fled the scene driving an Infiniti G35 coupe. Gonder’s vehicle was pursued from Warren County into Shenandoah County. Gonder’s vehicle became disabled on Back Road near Toms Brook. Gonder was taken into custody by deputies with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and Task Force Officers.
Following his arrest, members of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force obtained and executed a search warrant on Gonder’s vehicle. After a search, approximately ½ pound of Methamphetamine with a street value of $6,000.00, 16 fluid ounces of Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) with a street value of $3,000.00, 5 grams of fentanyl with a street value of $500.00, and $3,500.00 in US Currency was seized. GHB is a powerful depressant that affects the central nervous system. GHB is commonly referred to as a “date rape drug” on the street. In addition, members of Maryland’s Washington County Narcotics Task Force, and the Drug Enforcement Administration Hagerstown Resident Office executed a search warrant on a storage unit being rented by Gonder in Maryland. Approximately ½ pound of methamphetamine with a street value of $6,000.00, and $10,000.00 US Currency was seized.
Gonder was charged with three counts of distribution of a schedule I/II controlled substance, two counts of transporting more than one ounce of a schedule I/ll controlled substance into the Commonwealth with the intent to sell or distribute, and possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/II controlled substance. Additional charges against Gonder and co-conspirators are forthcoming. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force was assisted by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, Front Royal Police Department, and Strasburg Police Department.
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is comprised of law enforcement personnel from Clarke, Frederick, Page, and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Departments, Front Royal, Luray, Strasburg, and Winchester Police Departments and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office.
Purcellville man arrested for discharging firearm on Frederick County traffic stop
A Purcellville man was arrested today after the firearm he was handling, during a traffic stop, was fired while a Frederick County Sheriff’s Office deputy was approaching his driver’s window.
At 10:05 am, Deputy A. Cilento observed a grey VW passenger car, with no registration displayed, in the 600 block of Front Royal Pike. Deputy Cilento initiated a traffic stop and the vehicle pulled off Rt 522 and onto Front Drive. As Cilento exited his cruiser, and approached the suspect vehicle, he observed three small children in the backseat before hearing the distinct sound of a weapon being fired. Deputy Cilento immediately notified dispatchers that the subject had just “discharged a firearm” and requested additional units.
Deputy Cilento drew his service weapon and gave the driver verbal commands as the suspect dropped the gun onto the floorboard. With additional units arriving on scene, the suspect was removed from the vehicle and detained. Units began checking the wellbeing of the three children and one adult passenger. Luckily, no one was struck by the round which exited out the bottom of the suspect’s vehicle, past Deputy Cilento, and coming to rest beside the left front tire of his sheriff’s office cruiser.
The suspect was identified as Daniel Zachary Cook of Purcellville. Cook made statements to investigating deputies indicating that he removed the weapon from his center console because he “seen what cops do to white and black people with guns”. As far as firing the weapon, Cook stated he was attempting to hide it when it went off. Cook’s passenger, Douglas Burke of Winchester, is the father to the three children present who range from ages 2 – 7. Burke stated he asked Cook what he was doing when he removed the gun from the console and, when Cook made the statement about what cops do, Burke demanded that Cook put the gun away.
It remains unclear why Cook would remove the weapon from the locked console in the first place if his intent were to simply hide it. Sheriff Lenny Millholland is both thankful and extremely concerned with today’s event. “Can you imagine if one of those small children would’ve been hit by this stray bullet on its way out of that vehicle?” Sheriff Millholland said before adding, “I truly believe this individual had it in his mind to harm my deputy when he pulled that gun out of that console after being pulled over. It is sad how the men and women of law enforcement are being perceived and treated these days.”
Cook was taken to the regional adult detention facility where numerous warrants, to include reckless discharge of a firearm, brandishing and carrying a concealed weapon, were obtained and served. Charges for the reckless endangerment of the three children were sought but denied by the Magistrate on duty who held Cook without bail.
Church Street shooting incident results in charges against local woman
The woman who appeared at a June 2020 Front Royal Town Council meeting with props to publicly criticize then-Mayor Eugene Tewalt and then Town Councilman Chris Holloway’s 2020 mayoral campaign opponent and Royal Examiner Publisher Mike McCool for participating in or filming a ribbon-cutting at the Virginia Beer Museum to celebrate reopening from eased COVID pandemic restrictions the day before a bikini motorcycle wash event, was arrested Monday, March 29 on firearms charges.|
Alisa Nichole Carson, 41, is charged with “reckless handling of a firearm” and “unlawful discharge of a firearm, missile in, at occupied building”. She was booked into RSW Regional Jail at 11:58 p.m. Monday night and released the following morning at 8:38 a.m. on a $5,000 unsecured bond. She has a hearing date in Warren County General District Court scheduled for May 4, on the 10 a.m. docket.
A check at the General District Court Clerk’s Office offered no other detail on the circumstance or address at which the incident occurred, other than that the Front Royal Police was the arresting agency. A subsequent check with FRPD provided an address of 17 Church Street as the site of the incident, which may have evolved from a domestic situation.
Prior to her June 2020 Public Comments appearance before the town council, Carson had been seen at Warren County Republican Committee meetings, occasionally seated next to now Mayor Holloway. Friday, committee officials verified her past membership and a district committee chairmanship they believed is still active.
Her June 2020 public criticism of the moral values of Beer Museum proprietor David Downes for hosting a ‘Bikini Bike Wash’ and sideswipes at Tewalt and McCool for their presence at the Virginia Beer Museum ribbon cutting was interpreted by some observers as, at least in part, a not-too-subtle promotion of then-Councilman Holloway’s Republican Committee-endorsed campaign for mayor.