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Supervisors Immunity arguments denied, Removal Petition moves forward

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On January 2nd Judge Bruce D. Albertson filed a written decision on dueling motions in the citizen’s Removal Petition against two Warren County Supervisors not retired or turned out of office in the new year. The Removal Petition targeting the entire elected county board was filed on October 18. However, after retirements and the November Election result only two of the then-sitting supervisors, Happy Creek’s Tony Carter and the Fork District’s Archie Fox who were not up for re-election in 2019, remain impacted by the Removal effort.

For Supervisors Tony Carter and Archie Fox, the criminal allegations of municipal negligence are behind them, but the civil court fight to retain their board seats continues. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Judge Albertson gave the petitioners, now represented by Rockingham County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Parker (and privately-secured attorney Timothy Johnson), 21 days to file an amended petition; and denied a defense motion seeking dismissal of the Removal Petition against County Supervisors on claims of Legislative Immunity and Separation of Powers.

The court ruled that, “legislative immunity does not apply to exempt the governing bodies of localities when there have been allegations of ‘unauthorized’ appropriation or misappropriation of funds,” continuing to observe that, “In this case embezzlement is the main contention of the petition for removal. Therefore, Respondents (defendants) cannot succeed on a plea of legislative immunity in this case for that reason as well.”

As to the separation of powers argument that the judicial branch of government should not be involved in interfering with the legislative branch process, Judge Albertson split some fine legal and political hairs.

“In this case, if the Court were to find against the Board on all counts and award the full relief sought, no legislative act would occur. The Court would be exercising ‘the essential function of the judiciary – the act of rendering judgement in matters properly before it’ and not ‘the function of statutory enactment, a power unique to the legislative function.”

EDA civil and criminal case Judge Bruce D. Albertson has ruled the citizen Removal Petition against two remaining County supervisors has grounds for an amended filing and further judicial scrutiny.

In prefacing that observation the judge wrote that, “the separation of powers doctrine and legislative immunity are distinct concepts lying with separate entities: the first establishing our form of government and ensuring the protections of the people against aggrandizement leading to tyranny, and the second ensuring the independence of a legislator. One belongs to and is for the benefit of the people while the other belongs to and is for the benefit of the individual legislator.”

So, Judge Albertson appears to be ruling that in cases of alleged misappropriation of public funds, neither the legislative immunity nor separation of powers doctrines can be utilized to protect legislators from legal scrutiny demanded by their constituents.

As to the rewording of the original petition the judge noted that during the December 17 motions hearing both sides agreed that several paragraphs reference “inapplicable statutes” because while Warren County has an elected county board, its legislative-administrative form of government is not categorized as a “county board form of government”.

“As a result, the Petition does not outline a cause of action as currently written with regard to those paragraphs,” the judge wrote, adding that, “The Commonwealth asserts that other statutes and authorities implicitly impose some or all of the duties outlined in Paragraph 3 of the Complaint, so leave to amend is granted.”

So amended to reference the proper codes the Commonwealth asserts will support the Removal Petition’s claims of administrative negligence against county supervisors, it appears the case will continue to revolve around the dueling arguments as to whether the county board of supervisors had the necessary level of direct administrative oversight to stem the alleged activities of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald through 2018 after alleged “red flags” appeared; and more particularly over the final three-plus months of that year.

Citizens seeking removal of two County supervisors believe that myriad red flags regarding former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, including a February 2018 claim of a three-year run of luck at Charles Town’s Hollywood Casino slots totaling around $2 million, were ignored by those supervisors and their former colleagues.

Those red flags eventually led the County and EDA Boards to contract a financial fraud investigation into EDA finances in September of 2018. Despite that investigation that zeroed in on the activities of EDA Executive Director McDonald, the Removal Complaint asserts that McDonald’s financial authority was not adequately reined in by either her board of directors or the county supervisors who appoint the EDA board.

Now dismissed criminal misdemeanor charges of misfeasance and nonfeasance against past and current EDA and county board members cited McDonald’s movement of $309,000 of allegedly misdirected EDA assets over the last three-plus months of 2018 as the Cherry Bekaert investigation of EDA finances was under way.

McDonald resigned on December 20, 2018, under increased scrutiny by her board in the wake of closed session reports from contracted forensic auditor Cherry Bekaert regarding McDonald’s use of EDA assets. She has since been named the central of 14 human or business entity defendants in what is now a $21.3 million EDA civil litigation; and has been indicted on 32 financial felony counts related to the Cherry Bekaert findings. However, many involved citizens wonder if the EDA investigation’s focus has been too narrow in determining peripheral accountability.

McDonald and a number of her fellow EDA-related criminal defendants are scheduled to be in court on civil and/or criminal motions hearings Friday, January 10.

Removal Petition organizer comments on judge’s motions ruling

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RSW inmate found dead day after checking in to serve DUI sentence

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On Friday morning, January 10, Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Jail (RSW Jail) announced the death of an inmate the previous day. William Rodger Wines, 54 of Front Royal, was found unresponsive during a routine security check at 12:39 a.m. Thursday morning. He was pronounced dead at Warren Memorial Hospital less than an hour later.

According to an RSW Press Release, Wines had reported to the jail the previous day, Wednesday January 8, to serve “a delayed confinement/non-consecutive sentence for Driving While Intoxicated, imposed by the Warren County General District Court.”

Wines arrest date on the DUI charge is listed as August 19, 2019 on the jail website. It appears his conviction dates to January 8, the day he reported to the jail. His “Inmate Status” is described as “weekender”.

William Rodger Wines – Photo RSW Jail website

Of the circumstance of the discovery the press release issued late Friday morning said, “On January 9, 2020, at approximately 12:39 a.m., while conducting security rounds, Mr. Wines was found unresponsive. RSW medical staff was immediately notified, responded to the scene and emergency medical treatment was administered. Warren County 911 Emergency Medical Services were called and responded to the scene. Mr. Wines was transported to the Warren Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1:21 a.m.”

RSW staff contacted the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to conduct an investigation into Wines death – “Further information will be released later based on the ongoing investigation by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office,” the RSW press release concluded.

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McDonald has bad day in civil court – how bad remains to be seen

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Former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald remains free on bond.

On Friday afternoon, January 10, former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald was found guilty of civil contempt regarding the movement of a piece of property frozen by the court during earlier EDA civil litigation hearings; and had a default judgment regarding a failure to respond to civil court orders for information on her two real estate companies, go against her as well.

McDonald was fined $375 to cover County-EDA legal costs pursuing the civil contempt judgement, and ordered not to repeat what she and her sister Gail Addison into whose name the frozen real estate parcel was moved, testified was a simple mistake. Those two sanctions were all EDA attorneys were seeking in the way of punishment on the civil contempt ruling.

As for the default judgement for failing to heed court-requested documentation on her two real estate companies, DaBoyz and MoveOn8 named along with her as three of 14 defendants in the amended EDA civil litigation, a date of April 17 was set for attorneys to argue McDonald’s liability on that ruling.

Judge Bruce D. Albertson will hear, not only those civil case arguments on April 17, but further motions arguments from a number of EDA-related criminal case defendants who were in court on the 1 p.m. docket.

On Friday afternoon Judge Albertson also granted the Commonwealth’s request to nolle prossed (drop) all current EDA-related criminal charges against Earth Right Energy principal Donald F. Poe.

Prosecutor Michael Parker restated the reasons cited in his written submission of the previous day, regarding the amount of material recently received concerning the Poe prosecutions and gaps in that material and a lack of time available with Poe’s first criminal trial on a count of perjury slated to begin January 22.

Poe attorney William Ashwell did not object to the prosecution’s request.

“We could jump up and down and say we want (the charges) out altogether now … but functionally this is a great example of the State acting as gatekeeper (of legal processes),” Ashwell told the court.

The amount of material involved in the EDA civil and criminal litigation – cited as approaching a million pages – played into many of the motions arguments heard Friday. Like Special Prosecutor Parker of the Harrisonburg Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office before him, EDA civil counsel Cullen Seltzer told the court that the amount of involved material and documentation was in issue in their respective cases.

Seltzer said the volume of material made it impractical and prohibitive cost-wise to reproduce traditionally in hard copy. He said a data base was being created with portions flagged to different defendants’ names to ease the online search process.

In arguing against the civil contempt charge against his client, McDonald attorney Peter Greenspun, pushed into dual criminal and civil case duties due to McDonald’s financial problems that led her initial civil case attorneys to withdraw, pointed out once the real estate movement mistake was discovered, the sisters’ corrected their mistake.

“When the attorney said, ‘wait, can we do this,’ she did everything to restore the situation without court intervention,” Greenspun told the court.

Greenspun argued that the involvement of local attorney David Crump in the transaction indicated it was, in fact, a mistake rather than an act of contempt of a court order installed by initial EDA Judge Clifford “Clay” Athey Jr.

“This was not done in a parking lot or a jail cell – her conduct was not contemptuous; it was a mistake that was corrected,” Greenspun told the court.

However, EDA co-counsel Lee Byrd pointed to Addison’s own testimony to argue that deceit was a motivation in the transfer. Addison said the move was made so she, a former real estate agent, could market the parcel in her name rather than her sister’s due to “the bad name” McDonald had developed as a result of the EDA litigation.

And while Greenspun pointed out the jailed McDonald was not present for any of the three-day hearing at the end of which Athey froze some McDonald real estate assets, EDA counsel pointed to the courthouse documentation on the court order freezing McDonald assets and scoffed at the idea the experienced real estate agent wouldn’t know how to find out which of her assets had been frozen by the court.

“Their only excuse is ‘I wasn’t aware’ – they can’t say the order didn’t exist,” Byrd told the court.

And it was the plaintiff argument that held sway with the judge.

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Former Case Manager at Northwestern Community Services Board pleads guilty to federal charge

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A former case manager at the Northwestern Community Services Board [NWCSB] pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg to illegally accessing the health care information of another individual, United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced today.

Melissa Thomas, 45, of Winchester, Va., pled guilty yesterday to one count of accessing the individually identifiable health care information of a minor child for whom she was not the case manager.

According to court documents, Thomas worked as a case manager at NWCSB from September 2009 through January 2014. In December 2013, an individual lodged a complaint that Thomas had accessed her minor child’s health record, breaching confidentially. Thomas was subsequently investigated by the NWSCB and the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services and it was determined she willfully and knowingly violated the law by illegally accessing the record of the minor child. Thomas was terminated from her employment for the illegal access on January 7, 2014.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the United States Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services Roanoke Field Office. Assistant United States Attorney Ronald M. Huber is prosecuted the case for the United States.

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Donnie Poe EDA criminal charges dropped – but could be re-filed

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On Thursday, January 9, Rockingham County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Parker filed a motion to nule prossed (drop) charges brought by a Warren County Special Grand Jury against Earth Right Energy principal Donald F. Poe, at least for the time being.

The Special Grand Jury was empanneled to investigate potential criminality tied to the $21.3 million Economic Development Authority (EDA) financial scandal. Parker was appointed special prosecutor for EDA criminal cases in December following the announced recusal of incoming Warren County Commonwealth Attorney John Bell and his staff and the withdrawal of Acting Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton as his tenure in the department drew to a close.

Earth Right Energy principal Donald Poe outside the Warren County Courthouse following a recent hearing – Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

During previous hearings related to the EDA civil and criminal litigations it has been noted that the EDA financial scandal and consequent investigations has generated an unusually large amount of documentation, cited at between 700,000 and one-million pages.

In the prosecutor’s motion to drop the charges at this point Parker wrote, “The Commonwealth received its portion of discovery, purportedly containing all evidence that has been considered by the special grand jury to date, via hard drive on 12/30/2019. Initial review of that hard drive indicates that it may be missing a substantial number of exhibits considered by the grand jury.

“It would be imprudent for the Commonwealth to prosecute any criminal matter for which the investigation has not concluded.

“Even if the ongoing investigation reveals nothing further with respect to Defendant, the Commonwealth cannot prepare for trial when its existing evidence remains unclear.”

Of the decision not move forward with the Poe prosecutions with a motions hearing and possible three-day trial on the perjury charge against Poe looming on January 22, Parker told Royal Examiner in a Thursday afternoon email, “This decision was not made lightly. As the gatekeeper of criminal charges, it is my responsibility to determine whether to prosecute and how to prosecute. Making those decisions requires a thorough grasp of the evidence supporting any allegation. Unfortunately, I am not fully caught up with the ongoing special grand jury investigation, thus I do not have a thorough grasp of the evidence that might pertain to Mr. Poe’s charges. I believe it would be unethical to attempt a prosecution under these circumstances.”

Motions hearings for Poe and other EDA criminal and civil defendants are scheduled for Friday afternoon, January 10. Parker said the motion for the nolle prosequi dropping of the charges against Poe will be heard during those hearings on the 1 p.m. Warren County Circuit Court docket.

“If the motion is granted by the Court, the charges will be dropped without prejudice to the Commonwealth. This would not prevent the Commonwealth from prosecuting the same charges in the future,” Parker explained in a Thursday afternoon email.

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Attorneys appointed for accused Brinklow murderers, hearing date set

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On Wednesday, January 8, attorneys were appointed to represent the accused murderers of 20-year-old Tristen Brinklow. A preliminary hearing date of April 1, at 2 p.m. was also set for both Richard Matthew Crouch, 35, and George Lee Good, 28.

On December 31st, both men were indicted on three charges, First Degree Murder, Abduction by Force and Concealment of a Dead Body, related to Brinklow’s late September death. In a first court appearance Thursday, January 2, it was determined the two men, who were already incarcerated on unrelated violent crime charges, qualified for court appointed attorneys.

George Lee Good, 28

Richard Crouch, 35

Eric Wiseley was present in the courtroom to accept appointment as Crouch’s attorney. Reportedly in court in another jurisdiction Thursday morning, Ryan Nuzzo was appointed to represent Good. Comments by Warren County General District Court Judge W. Dale Houff indicated Nuzzo was aware of the pending appointment and had submitted a list of available dates to appear on his new client’s behalf at a first preliminary hearing.

Crouch appeared first on the 11:30 a.m. docket. Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell told the court it appeared that Wiseley, whom it was noted has represented Crouch on previous charges, had no professional conflicts regarding potential witnesses.

Wiseley asked the court to appoint co-counsel to help in Crouch’s defense due to the severity of the charges. He informed the court that Marguerite Wood had indicated she was amenable to the appointment. The Commonwealth had no objection to the dual appointment. Wiseley did not request a change in his client’s bond status – Crouch was being held without bond at RSW Jail at the time the new charges were filed.

During discussion of potential preliminary hearing dates 90 days out, five of which in April were rejected due to various scheduling conflicts, Bell told the court it was likely the case against Crouch would move more quickly than Good’s.

After about 10 minutes in the courtroom Crouch was escorted out by deputies. Three minutes later Good entered the courtroom. With his attorney situation already addressed and the April 1 date accommodating Nuzzo’s schedule as his counsel established, Good was in the courtroom for less than two minutes.

Prior to his departure Judge Houff told the defendant he could consult with his attorney on any motion for a change in his bond status. Good is incarcerated in the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center (NRADC) in Frederick County. He is also being held without bond on previous charges.

As previously reported those charges relate to a non-fatal shooting on the 200 block of Cloud Street in Front Royal on November 27. Good was taken into custody in Frederick County on December 7 during a DUI checkpoint stop. In addition to the November 27 incident charges, Good accumulated additional charges related to possession and transport of a firearm by a convicted felon at the time of his Frederick County arrest.

According to court records, Crouch’s most recent previous charges date to a September 24, 2019 domestic or family member incident involving the alleged abduction and assault of a woman named Iness Driss. The criminal complaint states that Crouch got Driss to enter a truck driven by his mother with the promise of getting something to eat. However, once she was in the truck Crouch told his mother, Maria Crouch, to drive to their house.

Driss said her requests to be let out of the vehicle were ignored and an attempt to leave the vehicle was unsuccessful, apparently due to child safety locks being engaged.

The criminal complaint states, “Later Richard brought Driss back into the Town of Front Royal where Richard choked Driss to the point of unconsciousness at least three times. Richard has threatened Driss on this occasion, and several others, that he would kill her, her parents, and her children. Driss believes that Richard was trying to kill her.”

The new indictments against Crouch and Good date Tristen Brinklow’s death to September 28-29, 2019.

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Harrisonburg man sentenced for distributing fatal mixture of heroin and fentanyl

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Richard Mansfield, a Harrisonburg man who was previously convicted of distributing a fatal mixture of heroin and fentanyl, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg to nine years in prison, United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced.

Mansfield, 39, pleaded guilty in September 2018 to one count of distributing a mixture and substance containing heroin and fentanyl.

According to evidence presented to the court by Assistant United States Attorney Jeb Terrien, on December 12, 2017, Mansfield sold a mixture of heroin and fentanyl to Matthew Jason Murphy. The following day, December 13, 2017, Murphy was found deceased following a drug overdose. A medical examination and toxicology analysis determined that Murphy died from fentanyl and heroin intoxication.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Virginia State Police, and Harrisonburg Police Department, with the assistance of Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha L. Garst. Assistant United States Attorney Jeb Terrien prosecuted the case for the United States.

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Upcoming Events

Jan
25
Sat
11:00 am Goldilocks and the Three Bears @ Samuels Public Library
Goldilocks and the Three Bears @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 25 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Goldilocks and the Three Bears @ Samuels Public Library
A Story Ballet. Join us in a celebration of classic literature through dance! The whole family will enjoy this ballet performance, presented by the Northern Virginia Academy of Ballet.
1:00 pm Moving Mindfully: Finding and ke... @ Ruby Yoga
Moving Mindfully: Finding and ke... @ Ruby Yoga
Jan 25 @ 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Moving Mindfully: Finding and keeping your footing @ Ruby Yoga
Join Ruby Yoga and Deborah Romero of Optimal Posture LLC for a series of workshops on moving more mindfully through life using the principles of yoga and the Alexander Technique. Slated for Saturday, Jan. 25,[...]
2:00 pm Aspiring Artists @ Samuels Public Library
Aspiring Artists @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 25 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Aspiring Artists @ Samuels Public Library
Are you aged 7 or older? Do you enjoy art? If so, please join us for our children’s art class. Using the classic scissor cutting art of Scherenschnitte, we will make silhouettes in a nature[...]
Jan
29
Wed
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 29 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, January 29 and Thursday, January 30: Puppies are cuddly! Puppies are cute! Our stories, songs, and craft will be about our friends, the puppies! Siblings[...]
Jan
30
Thu
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Jan 30 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, January 29 and Thursday, January 30: Puppies are cuddly! Puppies are cute! Our stories, songs, and craft will be about our friends, the puppies! Siblings[...]
Jan
31
Fri
7:00 pm Love Revival – FREE Monthly Comm... @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Love Revival – FREE Monthly Comm... @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Jan 31 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Love Revival - FREE Monthly Community Dinner @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Free Community Dinner for everyone! Come enjoy a hot meal on the last Friday of every month at Love Revival Ministry Center.
Feb
1
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10:00 am Books and Barks @ Samuels Public Library
Books and Barks @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 1 @ 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Books and Barks @ Samuels Public Library
Come to our extremely popular monthly program that gives developing readers the chance to read and relax with a trained therapy dog.  For beginning readers and up.  Choose a time slot at registration, which begins[...]
11:00 am HSWC Polar Plunge @ Northern Virginia 4-H Center
HSWC Polar Plunge @ Northern Virginia 4-H Center
Feb 1 @ 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
HSWC Polar Plunge @ Northern Virginia 4-H Center
The Humane Society of Warren County will hold their 1st annual Polar Plunge event on February 1st at the Culpeper Lake, located at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center in Harmony Hollow. “Plungers” are asked to[...]
2:00 pm World of Lego @ Samuels Public Library
World of Lego @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 1 @ 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
World of Lego @ Samuels Public Library
Children ages 5 and up are invited to explore all the amazing things you can do with Legos.  Registration begins January 1.
Feb
4
Tue
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 4 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, January 29 and Thursday, January 30: Puppies are cuddly! Puppies are cute! Our stories, songs, and craft will be about our friends, the puppies! Siblings[...]