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 pleads guilty to dealing two fatal doses of fentanyl-laced heroin
A Front Royal, Virginia man, who in the fall of 2017 distributed two fatal, fentanyl-laced doses of heroin, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg to a drug charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the possibility of a life sentence, Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar, Special Agent in Charge Jarod A. Forget of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington Division, and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, announced.
Glenn Eugene Sovereign Jr., 43, of Front Royal, pleaded guilty today to two counts of distributing fentanyl. Because the recipient of the distribution died from overdose by ingesting the fentanyl within, Sovereign faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum possible statutory penalty of life at sentencing.
“When Sovereign trafficked fentanyl-laced heroin to an already-vulnerable group of people, he perpetuated their addiction and despair, and ultimately caused their death,” Acting United States Attorney Bubar stated today. “Because of the hard work and persistence of our federal and state partners, Sovereign has been brought to justice and will spend the better part of his life in federal prison.”
“The threat fentanyl brings to our Virginia neighborhoods and families cannot be overstated. With overdoses across the area spiking in the past year, DEA Washington Division has been working hard to investigate and arrest egregious criminals such as this, who are blatantly distributing poisonous drugs and spreading death and violence across our communities.”
Sovereign admitted today that in the fall of 2017 he made regular trips from Front Royal, Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland in order to purchase heroin.
On October 24, 2017, Sovereign met with victim E.R. in Front Royal. E.R. purchased a small packet of heroin from Sovereign which contained fentanyl. Later that night, E.R. ingested the contents of the packet, and as a result died.
On or about October 25, 2017, Sovereign traveled to Baltimore to meet his source of supply, where he purchased one gram of heroin. When Sovereign returned to Front Royal, he met with victim N.C. at Sovereign’s residence where he and N.C. ingested 4-5 Ritalin pills together. Later, before Sovereign left for work, he provided N.C. with a small packet of heroin, which contained fentanyl. On or about October 26, 2017, N.C. ingested the contents of the packet, and she died.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Warren County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh is prosecuting the case for the United States.
Sheriff’s Office seeks info on road rage shooting
On Sunday, January 17, 2021, at approximately 7:15 PM, an alleged road rage incident involving two passenger vehicles was reported eastbound on John Marshall Highway in the area of Ashland Court. Witnesses described hearing a single gunshot, and when inspecting the trunk of their car, observed what appeared to be a bullet hole. The suspect vehicle was described as black 2007 Chevrolet Trailblazer with dark tinted windows, last seen travelling eastbound onto Interstate 66. Thankfully, no one was injured during the incident.
Anyone who has information regarding this incident is asked to contact WCSO Deputy John Gregory at (540) 635-4128.
Delaware man facing multiple charges after I-81 pursuit
A New Castle, DE, man is behind bars on multiple charges after he fled law enforcement Sunday, January 10, 2021. Virginia State Police have charged Marquez D. Adams, 27, in Shenandoah County with one felony count of eluding law enforcement, one count of reckless driving by speed, one count of reckless driving failure to maintain control, one count of driving with a revoked license, and one count of driving with a phone in hand.
State Police initiated the traffic stop at approximately 7:50 p.m. as a 2002 BMW 330CI was traveling South on Interstate 81 at the 286 mile-marker in Shenandoah County. The violation was for speeding, as the BMW was driving 100 mph in a posted 70 mph zone.
The pursuit continued onto Rt. 42 in Woodstock, Rt. 11 in Edinburg, and in Mount Jackson before ending back on I-81 South. The BMW eventually ran off the left side of the roadway causing it to collide with a State Police patrol car before being contained on the right shoulder on I-81 at the 263-mile-marker. The driver, Adams, was taken into custody and transported to RSW Regional Jail and held without bond.
No troopers were injured during the course of the pursuit.
The pursuit reached speeds of up to 130 mph.
Vehicle pursuit through Warren County results in multiple struck vehicles before ending on 6th Street in Front Royal
On Monday, January 11, 2021, at approximately 4:32 PM, a Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputy observed a Mercedes travelling at a high rate of speed in the area of Riverton. The WCSO deputy attempted to stop the Mercedes for a traffic violation in the area of 522 Park and Ride, and the driver of the Mercedes refused to obey and yield for the deputy. The driver of the Mercedes then crossed a concrete traffic barrier, driving into the opposite lane of travel where the Mercedes struck an occupied vehicle, failed to stop and then continued eastbound onto Interstate 66.
The driver of the Mercedes continued to accelerate at a high rate of speed and the deputy lost sight of the vehicle and terminated the pursuit. Within a short time after the termination of the pursuit, local citizens began calling the Warren County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Communications 9-1-1 Center to report a Mercedes driving recklessly, forcing other motorists off the road and passing dangerously across the double yellow lined roadway of John Marshall Highway travelling into the Town of Front Royal. WCSO deputies responded to that area and located the aforementioned Mercedes. As WCSO deputies attempted to stop the vehicle, the driver of the Mercedes continued to refuse to yield and took flight at a high rate of speed onto Leach Run Parkway.
The pursuit ended on 6th Street in the area of Manassas Avenue, in Front Royal, when it struck several parked vehicles and one occupied vehicle. Charges against the driver of the Mercedes, whose name was not released because they were determined to be a juvenile, are pending the Virginia State Police investigation of the collision. Warren County Sheriff’s Office was assisted by Warren County Fire and Rescue, Front Royal Police Department and Virginia State Police. Any questions pertaining to the crash investigation should be directed to the Virginia State Police.
Accused 2008 murderer of Buddhist monk in Fauquier denied bond
The 62-year-old Korean man arrested November 30 in Georgia for the 2008 murder of Du Chil Park, also known as Buddhist Monk Mogu, was denied bail in his first court appearance since being extradited to Fauquier County on December 15.
Won Yong Jung was in Fauquier County General District Court on December 23 seeking release on a cash bond. As initially reported by “Fauquier Now”, that bond was denied following a 20-minute hearing during which the prosecution described the knife attack on the 56-year-old Park as “brutal” and contended Jung remains a threat, not only to flee due to the gravity of the Second-Degree Murder charge and the top end 40-year sentence it carries, but to the community at large.
As noted by Fauquier Now, in denying the bond request Judge Allison Coppage ruled for Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Jamey Cooke’s arguments that the defendant, who utilized an English to Korean translator during the hearing, had not effectively countered the prosecution’s case against bond. Jung’s next scheduled court date is April 8 for a preliminary hearing on the evidence at the root of the Commonwealth’s Second-Degree Murder case against Jung.
As Royal Examiner initially reported following Jung’s arrest in his home area of Duluth, in Gwinnett County, Georgia, over 12 years earlier Park’s body was discovered several days after his death from multiple stab wounds at his Free State Road property in Marshall. Information released by Fauquier authorities in the wake of his 2008 murder indicated Park came to America in 1998 and established the Jungtosa Zen Buddhist Temple in the Springfield area of Fairfax County, moving the temple to Marshall in March of 2004 and continuing his healing work in acupuncture and moxibustion, the latter also “an oriental medicine therapy”.
Born in Kyong Ju, South Korea around 1951-52, Fauquier authorities also noted that “in the 1970’s/80’s Park was an activist against former Korean military governments. He was imprisoned in 1974 for hiding an activist on the run and then became a Monk in 1978” and “operated a small temple in Chung Noung, a part of Seoul, where he treated poor people with acupuncture and moxibustion.”
A Warren County resident with connections to Park and his healing work as Monk Mogu, noted he often travelled to the Front Royal area to treat children and adults, some with serious physical disabilities. “His Mantra was always ‘to help alleviate pain for all sentient beings’,” that area friend told this reporter.
It will be interesting to hear the prosecution address motive in Jung’s alleged murder of Du Chil Park, or Monk Mogu as he was known to patients and friends of his temple.
Local man and woman arrested for vehicle theft
On Monday, November 30, 2020, the Front Royal Police Department received two reports regarding thefts from vehicles. Incidents occurred at Front Royal Christian School, located at 80 N. Lake Ave. and the other at Commonwealth Assisted Living, located at 600 Mount View St. Security video footage was reviewed at Front Royal Christian School, which showed a dark-colored Escalade entering the parking lot. A female driver and male passenger were both seen entering vehicles without consent, where money was reported missing. The victim from Commonwealth Assisted Living reported her purse and wallet missing.
The suspects were identified as James Warren, 33, and Shawnte Mullins, 22, both of Front Royal. Warren and Mullins were contacted and interviewed. Both suspects admitted to their involvement in these incidents. The suspects also admitted to committing similar crimes in Frederick County, VA. James Warren was charged with 3 counts § 18.2-147 Climb into Vehicle/Boat to Commit Crime and 2 counts § 18.2-96 Petit Larceny. Shawnte Mullins was charged with § 18.2-147 Climb into Vehicle/Boat to Commit Crime and § 18.2-96 Petit Larceny.
James Warren and Shawnte Mullins were arrested on December 21, 2020, without incident and transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail where they went before the magistrate and released on a $5000 secured bond. Their first court appearance will be December 29, 2020, at 10:00 am in Warren County General District Court.