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her December 2018 resignation as EDA executive director; an assertion that an old personal assets statement was outdated; and verification that text and email messages dated between June 6 and July 14, 2017 were actual communications between her and Royal Examiner reporter Roger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 …
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.