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.
Local man arrested for robbery of City National Bank
On November 17, 2021, the Front Royal Police Department and the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force arrested Phillip Michael Fincham for the robbery of City National Bank and possession of a controlled substance. Mr. Fincham was taken into custody without incident in the 500 block of Manassas Avenue.
On November 12, 2021, a male subject entered the City National Bank located at 600 North Commerce in the afternoon hours and presented a note to the teller demanding money. The Criminal Investigations Division was also able to connect the same suspect to an attempted robbery of the Circle K Convenience Store on Sunday, November 7, 2021, and attempted Break and Enter of the Knotty Pine Restaurant on Sunday, November 8, 2021, and a Break and Enter with larceny of the Knotty Pine Restaurant on Wednesday, November 10, 2021.
On November 17, 2021, the Northern Regional Drug Task Force determined that Fincham was in possession of narcotics and made contact with him in the 500 block of Manassas Avenue. After a short interview, Fincham was taken into custody and charged with possession. Fincham was also in possession of U.S. currency that matched the serial numbers of the money taken during the robbery from City National Bank on Friday.
Mr. Fincham was subsequently interviewed and confessed to the robbery of City National Bank. Additional charges will be obtained against Mr. Fincham regarding the break and enter of Knotty Pine and the attempted robbery at the Circle K in the next couple of days. Mr. Fincham was held without bond pending his court appearance on the current charges.
The Front Royal Police Department would like to thank the businesses and public for their assistance in this investigation that led to a quick conclusion to this investigation and the ensuing arrest of the suspect. Anyone with any further information is requested to contact the Front Royal Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division at (540) 636-2208.
UPDATE: FRPD seeking suspect in City National Bank robbery
Town of Front Royal Police are seeking what is described as a young, white male suspect 5-foot-3 to 5-foot-6 in the Friday afternoon, November 12, robbery at the City National Bank located at the busy mid-town intersection of Sixth Street and Commerce Avenue. Here is the FRPD Press Release issued shortly after 4 p.m. Monday in its entirety:
“On Friday, November 12, 2021, at approximately 3:45 pm, Front Royal Police Department responded to a reported robbery at the City National Bank located at 600 North Commerce Avenue. Arriving officers were advised that a male suspect had entered the bank and showed the bank teller a note requesting money. The male suspect was given an undisclosed amount of U.S. currency and fled the bank on foot. He was last observed crossing Commerce Avenue heading east on 6th Street. There weren’t any injuries reported in the incident.
“The suspect is described as a young white male possibly in his 20’s, 5’3-5’6, 140-160 lbs. He was last seen wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and a white covid style mask with sunglasses. The suspect did not display a weapon. The police department advises that anyone with information please contact Detective DL Fogle at (540) 636-2208 or email@example.com”
Little civil consequence of more criminal prosecution delays in EDA case
Contacted about the new dates in late 2022 of trials in the now federal prosecutor-handled criminal indictments against former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, current EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne said while it has little, if any, impact on the EDA’s civil litigation seeking recovery of assets, he understands public frustration from continued delays on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal.
“I don’t believe the delay in the criminal case impacts our civil case. We have no control over the criminal case, but it is frustrating that Warren County residents must wait so long for justice to be served. I understand the reasons for the delay, but it still is frustrating,” Browne told Royal Examiner.
The reason for the delay continues to be, as it has been from the outset for the most part, the volume of evidentiary documentation in the case, as well as the introduction of new attorneys into the legal equation who must absorb the information in that documentation estimated at well over a million pages.
Most recently, federal Judge Elizabeth Dillon granted McDonald’s newest attorney, court-appointed Andrea Harris’s request for a continuance of McDonald’s criminal trials slated for the first week of this month. The federal prosecutor from the Western District of Virginia did not object to the continuance. Consequently, new trial dates between October 11 and November 18, 2022, are now on federal docket. Since the delay came at the request of the defense, speedy trial guidelines will not come into play.
As Royal Examiner previously reported, on August 31 McDonald was re-arrested on a 34-count indictment handed down by the Western District of Virginia Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg.
Of those 34 counts, 16 were for money laundering, 10 for bank fraud, 7 for wire fraud, and 1 count of aggravated identity theft regarding someone identified as “T.T.” – our best guess representing ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran. The 40-paragraph True Bill elaborating on the charges to a Harrisonburg Grand Jury is dated August 25, and signed by then-Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel P. Bubar. McDonald was once again released on bond.
The charges and outline of the case in support of them echo earlier criminal indictments filed at the state level before the State Special Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg turned the case over to federal authorities in late 2019. The state special prosecutor had dropped the indictments it had filed to avoid speedy trial issues due to the volume of evidentiary material – estimated at 800,000 to over a million pages at the time. Failure to meet speedy trial deadlines could have led to defense motions for dismissal of charges on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal case.
Jury convicts Winchester man of distribution of heroin resulting in an overdose
A federal jury convicted a Winchester, Virginia man yesterday for conspiring with others to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin as well as distributing heroin that resulted in serious bodily injury.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Robert Bradley Lockhart, 33, was a heroin dealer connected to a drug pipeline between Baltimore, Maryland and Front Royal, Virginia. During the course of the investigation, the Northwest Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force (NWDGTF) Front Royal Team identified more than 30 overdose injuries connected to that heroin pipeline, and conducted dozens of controlled heroin buys, traffic stops, search warrants and interviews with Virginia-based heroin sub-distributors. This investigation led to the arrest of many individuals, including the defendant, Robert Bradley Lockhart.
“Stopping the flow of heroin and other powerful drugs from out-of-state is a top priority of the Justice Department,” United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said today. “Lockhart, and others, brought hundreds of grams of deadly drugs into Virginia and caused multiple overdoses. I am grateful to the work of the Front Royal Police Department, the DEA, and the Assistant United States Attorneys who prosecuted this conspiracy for closing this deadly pipeline.”
According to cooperating witnesses, Lockhart obtained quantities of heroin ranging from 10 to 30 grams each time he traveled to Baltimore between the summer of 2016 and December 2017, sometimes going to Baltimore several times a week. His heroin sales led to three different overdoses, one of which was the basis for the second count. Law enforcement conducted six controlled purchases of heroin from Lockhart and recovered 24 grams of heroin concealed in his anal cavity on the date of his arrest.
The Front Royal Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Northwest Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathryn Rumsey and Heather L. Carlton prosecuted the case.
Citizen-filed ‘Stalking’ warrant against former school board chairman dismissed, accuser arrested on second ‘Stalking’ charge
On Tuesday, October 26, a misdemeanor “Stalking” warrant filed by Robert L. Shipley III against former Warren County School Board Chairman Arnold M. Williams Jr. was dismissed in Warren County General District Court at the request of the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. The motion for dismissal cites inconsistencies between information in the citizen-acquired warrant and that shown in two video sources, body-cam footage of responding Front Royal Police officers and security video from the public retail site of Shipley’s initial complaint.
“Review of the body camera of the initial report is not consistent with the complaint presented to the magistrate,” Commonwealth Attorney John Bell wrote in his motion for dismissal. In addition to the police body camera recording, Bell references security camera footage at the Martins Grocery store site of the law enforcement response to Shipley’s complaint, noting, “Neither the original report nor the recorded events on the security cameras are sufficient to establish probable cause for a stalking warrant.”
Presented with this information Judge W. Dale Houff granted the request for dismissal.
Had the case not been dismissed, Bell explained that he would have recused himself from it due to familiarity with one of the involved parties, in this case the defendant and his wife, the latter as an attorney a familiar face around the Warren County Courthouse. “If there was an arguable case with at least evidence for probable cause, I would have asked for a special prosecutor to take the case to trial. Since there was no evidence that even amounted to probable cause, I was ethically obliged to dismiss the case,” Bell told Royal Examiner.
It might also be noted that despite the law enforcement response to Martins, FRPD did not file a warrant from officers’ investigation at the scene. Rather, Shipley presented information to the magistrate requesting the warrant. As FRPD Major Kevin Nicewarner told us, FRPD only served the warrant after the magistrate issued it based on the information provided by Shipley.
And there are more layers to this story. It turns out that Williams’ wife, attorney Nancie Williams, had a previous stalking warrant filed against Shipley. RSW Regional Jail records indicate Shipley was booked into the jail on August 26 on a misdemeanor stalking warrant and released September 1, on a $5,000 bond.
And then on October 27, one day after Williams’ charge was dismissed, the 45-year-old Shipley was again booked into RSW Jail, this time on a charge cited as “Stalk person with protective order” believed related to his August arrest on the stalking of Nancie Williams warrant. A second stalking charge with a protective order in place makes it a felony charge. A bond hearing on that felony charge is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, November 3 (which is Shipley’s 46th birthday according to the RSW website). A trial on the original misdemeanor stalking charge is slated for December 11, at 1:30 p.m. in Warren County General District Court.
Contacted about the situation, Nancie Williams said that Mr. Shipley had been an opposing party in a civil matter she worked, the result of which she termed “quite agreeable” between the opposing sides. As to any ongoing civil matters involving Shipley, Williams added that she is no longer counsel in the case and has not been since the conclusion of the original case. However, she observed that from her perspective, “Mr. Shipley’s behavior seemed to escalate following the conclusion of the original case.”
Contacted about his entanglement in what had primarily been a legal situation between his wife and Shipley, Arnold Williams told us, “I guess it was his way to remove me from being protection for my wife and boys. And to be falsely accused is really a hard pill to swallow. But it’s good my charge was dismissed and I hope and pray for my family that Mr. Shipley gets the help he needs to resolve his obsession with my wife.”
Linden man arrested, charged for child abuse
On October 12, 2021, at approximately 8:20pm, Warren County Sheriff’s Office received a call about an 8-year-old juvenile walking on Freezeland Road, Linden, Virginia. The caller stated the juvenile advised them they were running away from home due to being abused by their father. Deputies responded to 78 Lookout Point Way, Linden, Virginia, where the juvenile resides to perform a welfare check. Upon arrival deputies spoke with Matthew Steven Lewis, the juvenile’s father, and made contact with the juvenile. During the welfare check, deputies observed that the juvenile had sustained multiple injuries. Deputies had Warren County Fire & Rescue respond to the residence, and the juvenile was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital for further treatment.
After the initial investigation Matthew Steven Lewis was placed under arrest for Domestic Assault (M), Child Endangerment (F), and Strangulation (F). Matthew Steven Lewis was held without bond at RSW Regional Jail, preliminary hearing is set for November 4, 2021.
Warren County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank Front Royal Police Department, Virginia State Police, and Warren County Department of Social Services for their assistance.