It was somewhat of a mixed message handed down by Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. following nearly three days of a motions hearing on the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority civil litigation. That litigation seeks recovery of a minimum total of $17.6 million from nine defendants – kind of like the federal Mueller indictments from the Russia probe, a mix of human and corporate entities.
At primary issue was a plaintiff request to freeze $3.56 million dollars in assets of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. EDA lead attorney Cullen Seltzer noted that in the wake of information from the previous day that requested levy had been reduced to $3.17 million dollars. Seltzer apparently was referencing McDonald defense attorney Jay McDannell’s assertion from his client that two real estate parcels in possession of McDonald real estate companies were being held in “a constructive trust” on behalf of the EDA.
That assertion goes to the heart of the defense presented on McDonald’s behalf during the motions hearing, which may be a clue to her defense at trial. That defense, addressed by McDannell during his closing argument Friday afternoon, is that his client may have misinterpreted exactly how much authority to initiate real estate transactions on the EDA’s behalf her board had granted her.
Testimony from several current and former EDA board members Friday indicated that the amount of trust and confidence they had placed in their executive director often led to initiatives being undertaken and reported and/or approved later as necessary.
However, several of those EDA board members also testified they had never authorized the executive director to unilaterally transfer the large amounts of money involved in some of the real estate transactions in question.
Simple misunderstanding with a laissez-faire board of directors or something more nefarious? Stay tuned as the case moves toward a July 17 hearing.
As for the court’s motions ruling of Friday, May 31, as he hinted he would during the hearing, after closing arguments Athey granted the plaintiff request for a freezing of real estate or bank accounts under sole control of McDonald or her two real estate companies, while leaving those she owns jointly with her husband or parents unattached as potential collateral against damages being sought.
That same principal was used by Athey in attaching levies on a number of automobiles – those jointly owned with relatives were not attached, while those in her name alone were.
In addressing the bank account issue the judge said he thought it important to leave McDonald, who as of May 24 is charged with four felony criminal counts related to the civil litigation, access to personal resources with which to present a defense against the charges against her.
In approaching his ruling on specific McDonald, DaBoyz and MoveOn8 LLC assets, the judge went through the specific EDA projects cited in the plaintiff response to the defense demurrers and motions. Athey noted that such hearings place the court in a difficult position because it faces what is essentially a mini-trial before discovery and all relevant evidence is before it.
After ruling the plaintiff had met the initial burden proving the basic validity of its complaint with the adjustments made in response to the initial defense motions for added specificity, Judge Athey moved through each EDA project cited to have been involved in embezzlement or misdirection of its assets:
- Workforce Housing – plaintiff likely to succeed in presenting its case.
- Afton Inn – not enough evidence yet presented by plaintiff, not included in determining judgment.
- Skyline Criminal Justice Training Academy – likely to succeed, included.
- ITFederal $10 million loan – not likely to succeed, not included.
- Earth Right Energy contracts – cannot find evidence likely to succeed at this juncture, not included.
- Unlawful Town, County funds to McDonald-owned/controlled real estate – likely to succeed, included.
- As to the specific involved real estate, the judge did not include in the plaintiff attachment McDonald and her husband’s Faith Way Drive home, her mother’s home or a day care property.
- Properties attached against movement included 1321 Happy Creek Road and 2951 Rileyville Road in Page County.
Athey noted that he would not likely preside at the next hearing in the case on July 17 due to his September 1 departure for a seat on the Virginia Appeals Court. To accommodate the judge who takes over the case, Athey ordered a transcript of this week’s motion hearing put in the court file.
See other detail of Friday’s hearing in an upcoming Royal Examiner story, including closing arguments and the testimony of current and former EDA board members William Biggs, Ron Llewellyn, Bruce Drummond and William Sealock, called to question Defense Exhibit 8 referenced in yesterday’s motions hearing story.
All did testify that they had not signed the “Confidential” Closed Session Resolution document in question, despite McDonald attorney McDannell’s attempt to head that testimony off by withdrawing the disputed document from evidence. Noting the exhibit had already been introduced and commented on by a previous witness, Athey denied McDannell’s request to withdraw the document.
Front Royal man arrested and charged for felony eluding and reckless driving
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.
Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Ramey at 540-636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roy’s Express in Front Royal robbed
On February 21, 2020, the Front Royal Police Department responded to Roy’s Express, located at 239 North Royal Ave, Front Royal, for a reported robbery. Upon arrival, it was determined that a white male had entered the store and demanded money from the clerk. The suspect took an undisclosed amount of cash and fled the store on foot. No weapons were displayed during the incident.
The suspect is described as a tall, thin, younger white male. The suspect was last seen running in the area of Chester Street. The Front Royal Police were assisted at the scene by Frederick County Sheriff’s Office K9 tracking team. The suspect has not yet been located. The investigation is on-going.
Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Waller at 540-636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
Open air fire causes wildfire, occupant charged
Just after 2:00 pm on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, Warren County Fire and Rescue units were dispatched to the 1800 block of Oregon Hollow Road for a reported brush fire which was threatening multiple structures.
Units quickly arrived on the scene to find approximately 3/4 of an acre of wooded area involved in fire with the fire spreading away from any structures. Firefighters were able to quickly control the blaze before any structures were damaged. It was determined that the fire was caused by an open air fire spreading to the wooded area when winds increased.
The occupant of the home where the fire started was issued a summons by the Virginia Department of Forestry for violation of VA Code 10.1-1142. The occupant faces being guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor and may be liable for the full amount of all expenses incurred in suppressing the fire.
This incident should serve as a reminder as to why the 4pm Burn Law is in effect between February 15th and April 30th.
Briefly, the 4pm Burn Law regulates the open air burning before 4pm and after midnight. This law was adopted to reduce the number of wildfires during this period of risk associated with weather conditions that include elevated winds, lower relative humidity, and dryer forest floor fuels.
For more information on the 4pm Burn Law, visit www.dof.virginia.gov/fire.
Units on the call:
- Engine 1
- Brush 8
- Brush 9
- Brush 10
- Tanker 3
- Tanker 8
- Tanker 9
- Ambulance 4
- Fire Marshal 1
- Forest Warden 1 (Department of Forestry)
Suspect arrested and charged for fraudulent use of stolen debit card
On January 14, 2020, the Front Royal Police Department initiated an investigation into fraudulent use of a stolen debit card. The stolen card was used at BB&T, Target and 7-11. Jessica Nicole Shell was identified as the suspect and warrants were obtained for §18.2-192 Credit Card Theft and §18.2-178 Obtain Money by False Pretenses.
On February 10, 2020, Shell was arrested by the Hardy County Sheriff’s Office in West Virginia where she was detained until extradited on February 13, 2020. Ms. Shell was transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail and is currently being held without bond. The court date for these offenses are set for February 25, 2020, at 9:00am, in Warren County General District Court.
Anyone with further information in reference to this case is asked to contact Front Royal Police Detective L. Waller at 540-636-2208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Front Royal man arrested and charged with larceny at Peebles Department Store
On Tuesday, February 11, 2020, James Lathon, 56, of Front Royal, was arrested and charged with §18.2-95 Grand Larceny, §18.2-96 Petit Larceny 3rd+ offense, and §18.2-103 Concealing or taking possession of merchandise. This is in connection with an ongoing investigation of several larcenies that were reported at the Peebles Department Store located at 425 South Street in Front Royal. The Regional Manager of Peebles made contact with the police department after his employees observed the same individual enter their store on 3-4 different days and walk out with unpaid merchandise.
Mr. Lathon was arrested and transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail and is being held without bond. Mr. Lathon was additionally charged with a violation of his probation. The court date for these offenses is set for February 25, 2020, at 10:00am, in Warren County General District Court.
Anyone with any further information in reference to this case is asked to contact Front Royal Police Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
Juveniles charged in dumpster fire incident, officials warn of youth fire setting behaviors
On Thursday, January 2, 2020, at 12:57 am, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services was dispatched to the area of 40 Crescent Street for a reported dumpster fire.
Units arrived on scene to find a garbage dumpster significantly involved in fire. Crews were able to quickly contain the fire, there were no reported injuries. The cause of the fire was investigated by the Warren County Fire Marshals Office which determined the fire to be caused by an intentional act.
A joint investigation conducted between the Fire Marshal’s Office and the Front Royal Police Department Criminal Investigations Division determined that the fire resulted from the actions of two juveniles. After consultation with the Warren County Commonwealths Attorney’s Office, petitions have been sought for these two juveniles in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Anyone with further information pertaining to the fire incident is encouraged to contact Fire Investigator Austin Cucciardo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (540) 636-3830, or contact Detective Dave Fogle at email@example.com or 540-636-2208.
This type of incident should serve as a reminder that youth fire-setting behaviors put our community at risk. If a child you care about has played with matches, lighters, fireworks, candles, etc. or has set a fire, or has shown a curiosity of fire that worries you, the Department of Fire and Rescue Services Youth Fire-setter Intervention Program may help. The Youth Fire-setter Intervention Program provides a simple risk assessment for youth to help understand their situation. It also provides fire safety education for the child and other family members. Everything is confidential and intended to help keep your family safe from fire. This is not a punitive program; rather a program to prevent a tragic incident from occurring. The goal is to help families learn about the dangers of fire setting and provide assistance and support to families with fire-setting concerns.
Anyone who feels they have a juvenile that can benefit from participation in this educational program is asked to contact the Department of Fire and Rescue Services Youth Fire Setter Intervention Program at 540-636-3830.