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Sayre – McDonald defamation suit continued to September 11

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Happier times for this odd couple – Tom Sayre and Jennifer McDonald during the ITFederal ground breaking ceremony. Social Media Photo

Approaching 6 p.m. after nearly five hours of testimony in Warren County Supervisor Tom Sayre’s defamation of character civil suit against former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald Friday afternoon, Winchester-based Judge Ian Williams continued the trial to September 11 at 1:15 p.m. Sayre attorney Tim Bosson said he anticipated his client testifying for a half hour to 45 minutes that day, with a similar time frame anticipated in cross examination by McDonald attorney Lee Berlik.

Berlik also told the court he may call his client to testify on her own behalf that day. If he so chooses it is likely to result in more testimony than McDonald offered when she was called shortly after 1 p.m. Friday as the first witness for the plaintiff. It seems that the first thing that occurred when McDonald walked out of the RSW Jail on bond after two months in jail on Wednesday was the serving of a witness subpoena on behalf of the plaintiff.

When she was called to testify by Sayre’s attorney, Berlik alerted the court that “any and all questions relating to the EDA” would be met by his client’s right to assert her Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate.

McDonald and her two real estate LLC’s are named as three of nine human and LLC defendants in the EDA civil litigation seeking recovery of about $20 million in allegedly embezzled or misdirected EDA assets. She is also facing 14 felony criminal charges handed down by the special grand jury empanelled to investigate potential criminality related to the Cherry Bekaert EDA fraud investigation and consequent civil suit filed March 26.

McDonald wasted no time in asserting her Fifth Amendment right. At least five out of the eight questions asked of her were negated by McDonald’s plea of the Fifth. Judge Williams upheld McDonald’s Fifth Amendment responses.

Questions she did respond to included confirming her December 2018 resignation as EDA executive director; an assertion that an old personal assets statement was outdated; and verification that text and email messages dated between June 6 and July 14, 2017 were actual communications between her and Royal Examiner reporter Roger Bianchini. Those texts and emails were introduced as plaintiff’s Exhibits 3 and 4. They were exhibits that would significantly come into play during later testimony.

In asserting the plaintiff’s claim for $25,000 in damages for defamation of character Sayre attorney Tim Bosson called a series of witnesses to illustrate that McDonald had spread the idea of his client’s involvement in both the EDA office break in of May 18, 2017, and a series of trespass and vandalism incidents alleged to be occurring at her home property through May and June of that year.

To a great extent those witnesses and their testimony revolved around the content of a note found at the scene of the vandalism McDonald reported occurring around 9 p.m., Thursday, June 15. According to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office investigative report, McDonald pointed out a crumpled piece of paper in her yard she indicated was not there earlier in the day when she cleaned her yard.

The note mentions several names and instructions to conduct an effort to terrorize McDonald that appears to include the EDA office break in McDonald reported on May 18, 2017, and continuing through a series of events at her home property. The names “Tom” and “Matt” appear on the note, as well as “the Examiner” where “Norma Jean” was purported to have been waiting for files McDonald reported being stolen during the May 18 EDA office break in about a month before the purported home rock-throwing vandalism.

Two phone numbers of alleged participants in the conspiracy are also present at the bottom of the note. They turned out to be the business numbers of Sayre and former Town Manager Michael Graham.

As they did at McDonald’s 2018 Halloween Day false police report misdemeanor trial, Shaw and Graham both testified they knew nothing of the note or its alleged conspiracy, as Sayre is likely to on September 11. And while Warren County General District Judge W. Dale Houff dismissed the false police report case against McDonald last year, he did observe of the note that “something is made up and something is horribly wrong with this”.

There was also something apparently terribly wrong about a story Royal Examiner reporter Roger Bianchini testified McDonald told him several weeks later about identifying a suspect in the masonry stone vandalism of June 15, 2017. The Royal Examiner reporter said that in late June or early July 2017 McDonald said that while several security cameras on her property had been vandalized during earlier trespasses, one less obtrusive one near her front door had remained in tact.

That camera recorded a facial image of the suspect, whom her private investigator had eventually identified as a petty criminal type and former client of Tom Sayre’s law practice. One of McDonald’s emails to Bianchini, dated July 14, 2017 appeared to verify Bianchini’s testimony.

“He talked with PI and PI has asked him to wire himself and go talk to the culprit. we do not want a he said/she said situation,” McDonald emailed in response to Bianchini’s query, “Anything good to report” about the investigation into the vandalism.

“So he admitted to his own Russia collusion – who is his ‘Putin’ pulling the strings?!!? … and is it a lone wolf or multiple Putins,” Bianchini responded about the masterminds of alleged conspiracy against her.

“He did and multiple putins, but the first putin asked him to do it,” McDonald replies.

“Is the first Putin our photo boy?” Bianchini inquires.

“Yes sir,” McDonald replies ending the e-conversation of July 14, 2017.

On direct examination Bianchini explained the “photo boy” reference related to an earlier, June 11, 2017 text from McDonald: “May have a tip that an elected official is in cahoots with what is happening to me,” McDonald texted.

“Someone I have been trying to find photos of for you,” McDonald added in response to a request for an “off the record” clue as to an identity.

The only person Bianchini said he and McDonald had discussed acquiring a photo of from local newspaper archives dating to 1989-90 was Tom Sayre around the time he arrived in this area sporting what Bianchini described as a radically-different look.

Private Investigator Ken Pullen was asked about McDonald’s representations about a suspect requested to wear a wire on Sayre in discussion about the plot against McDonald. Pullen testified under direct examination by Sayre attorney Bosson that he had initially been hired by the EDA Board of Directors around June 6, 2017 to investigate the EDA office break in. Drescher testified that McDonald asked her board to ask that FRPD be taken off the case because she did not feel comfortable with the direction of their investigation, which appeared to be moving toward the three EDA staffers with access to a key to the office since there was no sign of forced or unforced entry.

Drescher has previously said that the private investigator-driven investigation was eventually turned over to McDonald and encompassed events alleged to be occurring at her home.

Asked about McDonald’s June 11 text to Bianchini that there was evidence “an elected official is in cahoots with what is happening to me” and “No one else knows what is happening this is from my PI,” Pullen stated he had no such evidence.

“You didn’t tell her that?” Bosson asked.

“No,” Pullen replied.

Asked about the alleged effort to have a suspect wear a wire on a co-conspirator Bianchini believed McDonald had identified as Sayre, Pullen said, “No I had not,” adding, “I had no suspect – I did not have anyone wired up.”

If Sayre’s counsel focused on evidence indicating the former EDA executive director had spread his client’s name into the community as a suspect in criminal behavior targeting her, McDonald attorney Lee Berlik took a “no harm, no foul” line with plaintiff witnesses. He argued that the presence of Sayre’s phone number and name on the mysterious note had not meaningfully impacted the Shenandoah District supervisor’s reputation.

Repeatedly he asked plaintiff witnesses what they thought Sayre’s reputation in the community was and had it been damaged by the talk of his phone number’s presence on the note found at the site of the June 15, 2017 vandalism.

A number of witnesses, including Sayre’s fellow Supervisor Archie Fox, former Town Manager Michael Graham whose number was also found on the note, and former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw said they thought Sayre’s reputation was a good one and not been terribly damaged by the talk of his involvement in a plot against McDonald.

Only Bianchini said he thought Sayre’s reputation varied widely depending on who in the community you talked to. But he also failed to say whether he believed that reputation had been damaged widely by the rumor of his participation in an alleged criminal targeting of McDonald.

Asked how many people he told about McDonald’s contention about Sayre’s number on the conspiracy note, Bianchini estimated five or less – his Royal Examiner associate Norma Jean Shaw and possibly Publisher Mike McCool, Michael Graham because of the (202) number, another local reporter using only the four 7’s as a clue, and a girlfriend to illustrate how crazy his job was getting.

Berlik made a point of noting to those others whose name or phone number was on the note that they had not filed a defamation suit over their being implicated in a fashion similar to Sayre’s.

Only Shaw, who along with “the Examiner” was cited as waiting for allegedly stolen material from the EDA office break in, replied that she had considered filing a defamation suit against
McDonald, but added, “I don’t think she has any more money and it would be a waste of time.”

And now there is a five-week wait for the dramatic conclusion of the first of dueling defamation lawsuits filed by Sayre and McDonald against each other – stay tuned for more developments …

Things continue to get interesting on the EDA and related fronts at the Warren County Courthouse. Royal Examiner File Photo/Roger Bianchini

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Crime/Court

Front Royal man arrested on robbery and weapons charges

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D’Andre Lawrence. Photo / RSW Regional Jail

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 zking@frontroyalva.com.

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Virginia State Police concludes investigation into inmate death at New River Regional Jail

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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.

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Fugitive since 2015 arrested

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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 S. Vrable, 34, was arrested without incident at a residence located in Warren County.

 

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 mramey@frontroyalva.com.

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School bus driver arrested and charged with kidnapping and abduction

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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.

Agosto Andres Luzunaris, age 42 of Linden, Virginia, was arrested and charged with one count of Kidnapping and Abduction (class 5 felony). Photo courtesy of RSW Jail.

 

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.

A. 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 deprive such other person of his personal liberty or to withhold or conceal him from any person, authority or institution lawfully entitled to his charge, shall be deemed guilty of “abduction.”

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.

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Harrisonburg man charged following Loudoun County pursuit and shooting

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A Harrisonburg, Virginia, man faces multiple charges following a pursuit and a non-fatal officer-involved shooting Thursday evening (Feb. 27, 2020) in Loudoun County. Michael E. Bonner, 54, was released from Reston Hospital Center Friday afternoon (Feb. 28, 2020) and taken in state police custody. He has been charged in Loudoun County with grand larceny of a vehicle, eluding police, hit and run, driving without a driver’s license and unauthorized use of a stolen vehicle, and is being held at the Loudoun Adult Detention Center.

Michael Bonner – Courtesy Photo/Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office

The incident began at approximately 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 27, 2020) when a 2017 Ford Escape passed a Virginia State Police trooper as they were traveling east on Route 50 in Loudoun County. The trooper’s license plate reader alerted the trooper that the Ford had been reported stolen out of Fairfax County. The trooper attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the Ford refused to stop and sped away on Route 50 near Tall Cedars Parkway. During the course of the pursuit, the Ford Escape reached speeds of up to 100 mph and rammed two state police vehicles that were attempting to contain the fleeing vehicle in order to bring it to a stop.

State police again surrounded the suspect vehicle and forced it to a stop on South Sterling Boulevard near Shaw Road in Loudoun County. During the course of engaging with the pursuit suspect in order to take him into custody, Bonner was shot at by state police. Bonner was transported to Reston Hospital Center for treatment of the non-life threatening injury.

The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Fairfax Field Office responded to the scene to investigate the officer-involved shooting, which remains under investigation at this time. Once the investigation is completed, state police will turn its findings over to the Commonwealth’s Attorney for review and adjudication.

No law enforcement personnel were injured in the incident, which remains under investigation at this time. In accordance with Department policy, the trooper involved in the shooting has been placed on administrative leave.

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Front Royal man arrested and charged for felony eluding and reckless driving

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On February 25, 2020, Front Royal Police Officer J. Treese attempted to conduct a traffic stop at approximately 8:30pm on a 2013 Chevy Corvette that was traveling at a high rate of speed in the 1400 block of N. Royal Avenue. The vehicle did not display a license plate and when the officer activated his emergency lights, the vehicle failed to yield, and a pursuit was initiated. The pursuit continued through several jurisdictions to include Warren County, Shenandoah County, Strasburg and Frederick County.

Front Royal officers discontinued the pursuit; however, the pursuit was re-initiated by Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police while on I-81. The vehicle stopped in Clarke County, where the driver fled from the vehicle on foot. The area was searched by Frederick and Clarke County deputies and the Virginia State Police; however, the driver was not located.

With the assistance of Upper Pottsgrove Township Police Department located in Pennsylvania, Front Royal Police has identified the driver as William Watson Allen IV. Charges were obtained on Allen for Felony Eluding and Reckless Driving. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office arrested William Watson Allen IV this morning just over the West Virginia state line. Allen was transported to the Eastern Regional Jail. Other charges may be forthcoming in this matter.

William Watson Allen IV. Photo courtesy of Front Royal Police Department.

Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Ramey at 540-636-2208 or by email at mramey@frontroyalva.com.

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