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:
One vehicle accident downs power lines to Royal Village Wednesday afternoon
The power into Royal Village was interrupted early Wednesday evening as a result of a traffic incident. Town Director of Energy Services David Jenkins responded to Royal Examiner’s request for information on the situation early Thursday morning. Below is the full text of his reply:
“The Energy services department received an online submittal that the power was out in the W 11th St area. a crew was dispatched and upon arrival they found that a vehicle had struck a utility pole that feed’s directly from our Kendrick Lane substation and snapped it off. The crew than began to clear and isolate the primary wire and pole that was on the ground and then proceeded to get the power back on by transferring the loads to another circuit that feeds from our Manassas Avenue substation.
“The pole that was struck also had underground primary feeder attached to it as well. We called in our Public works department for a backhoe to dig up the damaged wire. A contractor for CenturyLink had to be called in to repair the phone lines.
“Power went off at 6:41 pm
“Power back on at 7:27 pm
“Number of customers affected 931”
Information gathered at the scene by Royal Examiner staff indicated the driver of the involved vehicle may have fled the scene on foot.
By late morning Thursday, Front Royal Police Captain Crystal Cline confirmed the arrest of Artavia Michelle Price-Bey for DUI, Property Damage over $1000, and Failure to Maintain Car Insurance, regarding the incident. Price-Bey was transported to RSW Regional Jail and booked into the facility at 9:26 p.m. Wednesday evening. She was released Thursday morning at 11:52 a.m.
Winchester Police on point of carjacking suspect arrest in Front Royal
Prior to 8 a.m., Thursday morning, April 2nd, not far from the Royal Examiner/National Media Services’ Commerce Avenue Front Royal offices, a joint law enforcement operation led by the Winchester City Police Department’s Investigative Unit arrested a suspect on multiple charges in a March 28 incident in the city. Below is the Winchester Police Department’s full press release on its investigation and Thursday morning’s joint-departmental operation:
On April 2, 2020, at approximately 7:15 a.m., the Winchester Police Department (WPD), assisted by other law enforcement agencies, executed a search warrant at 218 East 6th Street in Front Royal, VA following an ongoing investigation into a carjacking in the City of Winchester. As a result of the investigation and search warrant, Diontre Tyrese Bell, 20 years old, of the above address in Front Royal, was arrested and charged with carjacking, robbery, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
On March 28, 2020, at approximately 12:30 a.m., WPD was alerted to a motor vehicle theft that had just occurred in the 100 blocks of East Pall Mall Street. Upon investigation into the incident, detectives learned that the male victim was standing outside his 1990 Dodge Caravan when he was approached by a group of males. One of the males, later identified as Diontre Bell, grabbed the backpack the victim was wearing and took items including a firearm and keys to the van. Threatening statements were made during the encounter. No injuries were sustained during the incident. The van was later recovered on March 30th, parked and unoccupied, along the roadway in the 1300 block of South Braddock Street.
During the execution of the search warrant, two cell phones were seized and DNA was collected. Bell is being held at the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Detention Center without bond. The Winchester Police Department would like to publicly thank the Front Royal Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force for their assistance in the investigation.
Front Royal man arrested on robbery and weapons charges
Early this morning, D’Andre Lawrence was arrested on felony robbery and weapons charges stemming from an early morning incident at the Blue Ridge Motel. Front Royal Police were called at approximately 1:30am to respond to an alleged robbery that had occurred at the local motel. The victim alleged that two individuals assaulted him and took an undisclosed amount of money and ran in the direction of Massanutten Avenue.
Lawrence was arrested on the mentioned charges and transported to RSW Regional Jail and held without bond. The second individual in this incident was identified as a male juvenile and is wanted for questioning.
Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Z. King at 540-636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virginia State Police concludes investigation into inmate death at New River Regional Jail
The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Wytheville Field Office has concluded its investigation into the September 2019 death of an inmate at the New River Valley Regional Jail. The case is closed and no charges will be placed in accordance with the findings of the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke and at the advisement of the City of Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney and Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
The investigation was conducted at the request of the New River Valley Regional Jail. On the evening of September 11, 2019, Radford University Police responded to a call at a campus facility concerning Aris Eduardo Lobo-Perez, 18, of Culpeper, Virginia. Police took him into custody shortly before midnight on a charge of public intoxication. As is standard procedure, Lobo-Perez was transported by the arresting agency to New River Valley Regional Jail in Pulaski County.
At approximately 7:20 a.m. on September 12, 2019, jail personnel approached Lobo-Perez to offer him breakfast, which he declined. It was at 7:50 a.m. that jail personnel found Lobo-Perez unresponsive in his cell. Despite the immediate efforts by jail personnel to resuscitate the inmate, Lobo-Perez was declared deceased at the jail. His remains were transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke for examination and autopsy.
Fugitive since 2015 arrested
During the course of a preliminary investigation, Detective M.R. Ramey obtained credible information regarding the location of a wanted fugitive out of Prince George County, VA. With the assistance of the United States Marshal’s Service and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Derek S. Vrable, 34, was arrested without incident at a residence located in Warren County this afternoon. The underlying charges for this arrest were for Grand Larceny and Breaking and Entering. Vrable has been wanted on this violation since 2015.
Derek Vrable was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service and transported to the RSW Regional Jail by Warren County Sheriff’s Office where he is currently being held without bond. Other charges may be forthcoming in the near future regarding the initial criminal investigation. No further details are available in this case due to the pending nature of the active investigation.
The Front Royal Police Department would like to extend our thanks to the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in apprehending this individual.
Anyone who may have further information regarding this case is asked to please contact Detective M.R. Ramey at 540-636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
School bus driver arrested and charged with kidnapping and abduction
On March 4, 2020, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office received notice from the Warren County Middle School that a 13-year-old female student has made comments alleging an adult male bus driver has made inappropriate comments and advances toward her.
The school notified the School Resource Officer, and Warren County Sheriff’s Office Investigators arrived and contacted the victim’s parents and interviewed the young girl. WCSO Investigators located the alleged offender at his home. Agosto Andres Luzunaris, age 42 of Linden, Virginia, was arrested and charged with one count of Kidnapping and Abduction (class 5 felony) that occurred on or about December 2019 through March 2020. Luzunaris is currently being held without bond at the RSW Jail in Front Royal.
WCSO says the investigation is ongoing; however, it has been reasonably determined there was no risk of harm to other children, and this was determined to be a localized incident. There were no complaints of physical damage to the victim, and the charges stem from allegations that the offender made inappropriate comments and physically restricted the movement of the victim on the school bus.
Melody Sheppard, Interim Superintendent, Warren County Public Schools responded, “Our primary concern is always the physical and emotional well-being of our students. Warren County Public Schools will continue to support the Warren County Sheriff’s Office investigation.”
Code of Virginia
§ 18.2-47. Abduction and kidnapping defined; punishment.
B. Any person who, by force, intimidation or deception, and without legal justification or excuse, seizes, takes, transports, detains or secretes another person with the intent to subject him to forced labor or services shall be deemed guilty of “abduction.” For purposes of this subsection, the term “intimidation” shall include destroying, concealing, confiscating, withholding, or threatening to withhold a passport, immigration document, or other governmental identification or threatening to report another as being illegally present in the United States.
C. The provisions of this section shall not apply to any law-enforcement officer in the performance of his duty. The terms “abduction” and “kidnapping” shall be synonymous in this Code. Abduction for which no punishment is otherwise prescribed shall be punished as a Class 5 felony.
D. If an offense under subsection A is committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending, the offense shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor in addition to being punishable as contempt of court. However, such offense, if committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending and the person abducted is removed from the Commonwealth by the abducting parent, shall be a Class 6 felony in addition to being punishable as contempt of court.