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Tran credited McDonald with saving ITFederal project – but what was saved?



The end of the road: Part One of Phase One of the ITFederal construction plan appears to be nearing completion, as does the Town’s West Main Street connector road project – what’s next? Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Contacted by phone on April 20, ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran said he was limited in what he could say about his plans for his 30-acre parcel at the Royal Phoenix Business Park in Front Royal.

“On the advice of my attorney, no comment,” Tran said in reply to a question about how being named a defendant in EDA civil litigation filed March 26 might impact his plans as the first commercial tenant recruited to the former Avtex Superfund site.

However Tran did reply briefly when asked if he would continue to attempt to market the nearly completed, one story, 10,000 square-foot Phase One building as a rental space despite reports he no longer plans to re-locate his ITFederal tech company here from Northern Virginia.

“When did I say that?” Tran replied, seeming to focus on the ITFederal aspect of the question. Told it has been a general topic of conversation since both Royal Examiner and the Northern Virginia Daily reported an altered ITFederal plan on March 14, Tran added, “There is so much misquote and rumor.”

And while this paper’s source was protected Daily reporter Josh Gully cited Tran himself as the source of the information in a March 12 phone conversation. Pressed about his current plan for the property Tran returned to his attorney-instructed “no comment”.

But when this reporter and Gully encountered Tran in the EDA parking lot during a December 20, 2018, EDA Board of Directors closed session he was upbeat about the Front Royal project.

During a Dec. 20, 2018 Royal Phoenix/EDA site visit ‘Curt’ Tran spoke with media about the history of his project – now lawyers are advising ‘no comment’ after Tran and ITFederal were cited among nine defendants in EDA civil litigation.

“You know every project on a brown field (environmental remediation site) has issues, okay, so we were very hesitant but here we are. So the building is going up, the road is coming in, business is coming in. And so I just met the governor on Monday (Dec. 16) and I try to tell him about the project out here – local, state, federal we all work together – we sing ‘Gumbaya’ and we make it happen because this is a beautiful piece of land and we try to market it,” Tran said.

“The EDA has been very supportive – we’ve had some glitch, some challenge, like the road issue – that was a mistake,” Trans said of a dispute with the Town over drainage issues tied to construction of the West Main Street connector road through the Royal Phoenix Business Park property.

Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe and Tran discuss development status behind pick up truck during ITFederal principal’s Dec. 20 site visit.

We asked Tran if he was aware that EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald was under closed session board scrutiny for the second time within a week during that day’s EDA meeting. Tran replied, “I heard about this and it’s blowing my mind.”

Told there were suspicions McDonald might be terminated or asked to resign when the meeting re-adjourned to open session, Tran said, “Oh that would be sad. She’s done so much for this area of the county and the town to redevelop, and even me – I was just about to move on and she,” Tran hesitated before adding of the prospect of a turnover at the top of the EDA, “So, so we have to go do this with the next guy’s ideas or something?”

As Tran punctuated his question with a glance southward what he saw was a 30-acre property he acquired for one dollar from the EDA in a stated effort to jump start commercial redevelopment at the former Superfund site that from 1941 to 1989 housed a synthetic fibers manufacturing plant that though three ownerships was this community’s largest employer.

It is a property 3-1/2 years down the road from an October 2015 ribbon cutting with a one-story, 10,000 square-foot building nearing completion out of three buildings promised to total 67,000 s.f. and house hundreds of new jobs. As early as a June 2015 press release, Sixth District Congressman Robert Goodlatte lauded the coming of ITFederal as a $40-million investment in this community that would create 600-plus jobs, primarily high paying tech jobs brought here by ITFederal’s relocation from Northern Virginia.

Happy Day: Tom Sayre and Jennifer McDonald at Oct 26, 2015 ITFederal groundbreaking – a lot has changed since then. Social Media Photo

Recently acquired FOIA material also indicates that it was Goodlatte that pushed the Town of Front Royal and the EDA toward facilitating a $10-million loan to ITFederal eventually accomplished through First Bank and Trust with the 147-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park property used as collateral.

”When we did the EDA to ITFederal closing in mid-September, things got a little confused because of Curt Tran’s changing of things and the added $10,000,000 loan that Congressman Goodlatte asked for,” then EDA and County Attorney Blair Mitchell wrote McDonald and a TLC Settlements staffer named “Lucy” on November 19, 2015.

Mitchell referenced bank questions about how the loan would be secured. “Was the 410 million (apparent typo for $10 million) just unsecured because we expect Curt to repay it from his other investor and financing?” Mitchell’s email concludes.

Due to delays in achieving the bank loan the Town of Front Royal gave ITFederal a $10-million “bridge” loan through the EDA to facilitate the project until the bank loan was agreed upon.

File photo of a Bob Goodlatte visit to Warren County – Goodlatte was center stage in presenting ITFederal as the impetus for Royal Phoenix/Avtex site economic redevelopment.

Despite Goodlatte’s promotion of ITFederal as an economic development opportunity for this community and his involvement in securing a $10-million loan now being sought for recovery as part of the $17.6-million EDA civil suit, on December 20 Tran downplayed Goodlatte’s involvement in bringing him to Front Royal and Warren County.

“And so initially it’s not Congressman Goodlatte – a lot of people think Congressman Goodlatte got me out here – in fact it was Frank Wolf,” Tran said of the former 10th District Congressman. Warren County was redistricted out of Wolf’s 10th and into Goodlatte’s 6th District in a 2012 Republican-led redrawing of the commonwealth’s legislative map.

“So I was talking to their (Wolf’s) office and they say, ‘Hey Curt, come out here and help because Warren County is a rural area and they need kind of investment support.’ I went out here and the next thing I know they were redistricted, and that’s why Congressman Wolf’s office hand me over to Goodlatte.

“Front Royal, Warren County – they need help developing, so that’s why we start looking at this place. And then there was all kind of challenge with the federal government running the program – that this is not rural (designation)… they have a separate one and the housing; so it’s really messy.

“So then they told me it was rural and is why I went out here… and then it’s NOT… so that was another crazy challenge,” Tran said of discrepancies in how the federal government classified Warren County regarding economic and demographic variables qualifying his project for access to federal program funding sources.

“So we were about to move out of Warren County because it’s hard to get federal grants and support for programs. So then fortunately enough it wound up Jennifer (McDonald) was around to help bridge it and then I think the congressman (Goodlatte).”

That “bridge” appears to have been the $10-million bridge loan from the Town of Front Royal to help the EDA secure the $10-million First Bank and Trust loan. And from information being circulated about the ITFederal project as late as 2017 a $10-million Town “bridge” – since repaid – to a $40-million investment producing 600, largely high-paying jobs doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

As explained to Royal Examiner by former EDA Executive Director McDonald in a January 2017 interview (See Related Story), Tran’s originally-presented plan for his 30-acre ITFederal site was multi-phased, three-building project including a total of 67,000 square feet of construction in three structures, one of which would include 20,000 s.f. of rental space, 10,000 s.f. on each of two floors; 37,000 s.f. for an ITFederal office building and another 10,000 s.f. for an ITFederal cloud data center.

Artist’s renderings of the planned three-building ITFederal complex: above, the ITFederal office and cloud data center slated for the western side of the property toward the Old Virginia Plant; below the two-story retail center, one story of which is nearing completion.

“As for job creation you can see from the table below what the anticipated ITF jobs will be salary wise and a total of jobs for the entire ITF operation,” McDonald told Royal Examiner in early 2017, noting that delays in the start of the project would result in year one numbers “a little lower” but adding that the below chart were “strictly ITF jobs and not related to the retail component” of the project.

However 27 months later, year one of the ITFederal plan has yet to begin.

Personnel Plan Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5
Executive Staff $180,000 $298,000 $317,800 $400,000 $500,000
Executive Assistance $45,000 $74,000 $64,800 $77,760 $93,312
Operation $90,000 $94,500 $99,225 $104,186 $109,396
SG&A Staff $180,000 $848,062 $1,122,093 $1,346,499 $1,750,449
Overhead Staff $330,000 $941,180 $1,246,770 $1,496,110 $2,468,550
NRC Contract Staff $2,249,724 $5,155,900 $6,233,850 $7,480,550 $8,228,500
Other Contracts Staff $889,000 $1,778,000 $2,667,000 $4,000,500 $6,000,750
NRC Subcontractors Staff $642,779 $1,187,400 $1,781,100 $2,137,300 $2,351,000
Other Subcontractors Staff $254,000 $508,000 $762,000 $1,143,000 $1,714,500
Other Government Staff $0 $225,000 $337,500 $675,000 $1,012,500
Commercial Business Staff $67,500 $525,000 $1,050,000 $2,100,000 $4,200,000
Office Assistance $41,392 $49,136 $49,163 $49,259 $49,385
Total People 168 366 465 525 616

As for the current status of ITFederal’s promised jump start of economic redevelopment at the former federal Superfund site, it seems there can only be unanswered questions amidst a flurry of attorney-instructed “no comments” from all sides – so much for “Gumbaya” and timely movement on that $40-million, job-creating economic investment in this community with a 2020 deadline for completion.

Was it all a pipe dream from the start, as former Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger warned in 2016-17 from her research into ITFederal, its contract history and possible reliance on EB-5 Visa Program money – a reliance later verified by FOIA’ed communications between Tran and McDonald dated October 24, 2014*.

Somewhere over the rainbow – there is a rainbow out there, isn’t there?…

Or could it be something worse, or more promisingly a project like its site’s name that might rise like a phoenix from the ashes of current civil litigation, criminal investigations, public finger-pointing and municipal scurrying for explanations?

Stay tuned for the next chapter of “As the EDA forensic audit turns.”

*Footnote: In Tran’s October 24, 2014 email to McDonald stating acceptance of an IDA/EDA offer on “Lot 6 of the Royal Phoenix Park” Tran writes, “Once ACRC (Tran’s American Commonwealth Regional Center) has received final approval from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), it can immediately start raising the EB-5 investments to provide loan financing to ITFederal to development (sic) the property and to perform work on the $140 million NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) contract.”

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Town Announces Withdrawal of its Civil Litigation Against the FR-WC EDA



At 2:12 p.m., Wednesday, November 15, the Front Royal Town Council Clerk’s office issued a press release announcing the dropping of the Town’s civil litigation against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA, FR-WC EDA). The release portrays the withdrawn litigation as a good faith effort to reduce EDA “financial scandal”-related legal expenses ultimately falling on the shoulders of town and county taxpaying citizens. The fifth paragraph of the six-paragraph release, opening with a reference to former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, recently convicted on 34 criminal counts related to the EDA “financial scandal” in the 10th Western District of Virginia federal court, reads:

“The legal proceedings flowing from McDonald’s misdeeds have been ongoing for several years. The local community, as both town residents and county taxpayers, has already shouldered substantial legal costs. In order to prevent further financial strain on the citizens and in recognition of the actual amounts remaining in dispute between the Town of Front Royal and the EDA, the Town of Front Royal has decided to non-suit its lawsuit against the EDA. This move is intended to save public funds and reflects our commitment to the community’s welfare. We hope this gesture will be met with a similar commitment from the EDA.”

It might be noted that after the Town filed its civil litigation against and withdrew from future involvement with the jointly created EDA, the now unilaterally County-overseen EDA filed a countersuit, citing financial obligations of the Town related to the EDA “financial scandal” and projects, including funding the construction of a new town police station, done on behalf of the Town during that time-frame.

One familiar with the dueling litigations and a portion of the Town’s justification framed around the fact that town officials no longer appointed EDA board members (a voluntarily given up authority*), thus had no EDA oversight responsibilities, might wonder if a reassessment of the strength or weakness of Town’s legal position in the now-abandoned litigation might have also factored into the decision to abandon the civil suit.

But whatever the driving factor, let’s celebrate what seems a positive move toward improved County-Town relations.

Click here to read the Town of Front Royal Press Release.

* FOOTNOTE: The Town-County compromise on withdrawing the Town’s responsibility for EDA operational funding may be recalled as part of the effort to end the double-taxation of town citizens for joint Town-County operations, since town citizens are also county citizens and ended up paying taxes twice for jointly overseen operations. The EDA funding agreement was part of a move that put operational funding of jointly beneficial operations totally on the County side. As we recall, other departments where similar agreements were reached to stop town citizens from being double taxed included Fire & Rescue, Parks & Recreation, and Samuels Public Library.

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McDonald Found Guilty on All 34 Criminal Counts in EDA ‘Financial Scandal’ Prosecution



Just after 1 p.m. on Wednesday, November 1, slightly over four hours after beginning deliberations on the 34 criminal counts against former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer Rae McDonald regarding allegedly embezzled or misdirected EDA assets, the six-man, six-woman 10th Western District of Virginia federal jury returned guilty verdicts on all 34 counts. McDonald and her two federal court-appointed attorneys sat quietly at the defense table as each charge, and each verdict was read into the court record consecutively by a court clerk.

Over the objection of lead prosecutor Sean Welsh, Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon allowed McDonald to remain free on bond under the existing guidelines under which she has been free since the 34 federal criminal indictments were handed down by a federal grand jury on August 25, 2021. As has been reported, federal prosecutors inherited the case from two state prosecutors offices, Warren County (recusal due to staff work familiarity with some defendants) and Rockingham County (complexity, time involvement). After her arrests at the state level in mid-2019, McDonald was also free on bond or home arrest for the bulk of the time since she was initially charged at the state level.

Judge Dillon cautioned McDonald, as she said she would any defendant, against violating the terms of her bond, including showing up for her sentencing hearing at an as-yet undetermined point of time, or risk facing additional criminal charges carrying as much as 10 years imprisonment and $250,000 in fines. The judge noted a common 90-day time-frame between conviction and sentencing. She gave the defense 30 days to file any post-conviction motions.

File photo of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, circa 2012, in a playful mood with, from left, former Town Engineer/Manager Steve Burke, County Attorney Doug Napier, and Town Attorney Blair Mitchell. Royal Examiner File Photos Roger Bianchini

In challenging the continuation of McDonald’s bond, prosecutor Welsh pointed to conflicting stories told by two of the defense witnesses the previous day as an indicator the defendant was continuing a pattern of deception to the court to justify her actions in moving EDA assets she now stands convicted of moving fraudulently. Those witnesses were former prosecution witness and former EDA Board of Directors member Ron Llewellyn, and former post-EDA financial scandal-era McDonald employer Justin Simmons. They told conflicting stories about an incident the defense asserts happened this October 22, involving McDonald and Simmons encountering Llewellyn at a church parking lot, leading to an unpleasant verbal exchange. Llewellyn denied the encounter occurred, citing that he was out of town that day at a football game in Salem. The prosecutor asserted certain evidence about a law enforcement search of McDonald’s home property when she wasn’t there and descriptions of her state of mind from a live-stream viewing of it on her phone indicated the church parking lot incident could not have occurred that day.

Defense counsel Andrea Harris countered that the incident time-frames were not mutually exclusive of both possibly having occurred. She said there was no evidence her client posed a threat to her community or to herself, and asserted that her track record of compliance with bond conditions and court appearances with all the charges facing her, indicated she was not a flight risk.

Judge Elizabeth Dillon cautioned defendant Jennifer McDonald not to violate the ongoing conditions of her bond as she awaits a sentencing hearing on her 34 convictions in federal court on Wednesday. Or she could face an additional decade in prison and $250,000 in fines, the judge warned.

In the wake of defense counsel Harris recounting McDonald’s track record of appearing for scheduled hearing and trial dates, other than when she was being treated medically, as noted above Judge Dillon extended McDonald’s bond conditions pending sentencing.

As previously reported, after inheriting the case from two state prosecutors offices, Warren County (recusal due to staff work familiarity with some defendants) and Rockingham County (complexity, time involvement), on August 25, 2021, a 10th Western District of Virginia Federal Grand Jury handed down 34 federal criminal indictments against McDonald on charges including bank fraud (10 counts), wire fraud (7), aggravated identity theft (1), and money laundering (16). While total EDA “financial scandal” losses have been estimated at $26-million, including $12 million in the ITFederal loan and related EDA investment, evidence presented at trial indicated McDonald moved over $5 million, perhaps as much as $6.5 million, to her personal benefit. She was initially arrested and charged criminally at the state level in mid-2019.

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After a Spooky Courthouse Halloween McDonald Criminal Trial Goes to the Jury



After over four hours of closing arguments (prosecution 2:33; defense 1:32; prosecution rebuttal:21-minutes) in the wake of presentation of the defense case in less than an hour with the calling of just three witnesses, the 34-count federal criminal case against former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald went to the jury at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, October 31.

But that wasn’t until after court was delayed for nearly a half hour by an alarm and recorded message: “Fire Emergency reported in the building. Please evacuate the building by the nearest exit. Do not use the elevators,” that went off repetitively for nearly a half hour after beginning at 4:45 p.m. To our knowledge, Fire and Rescue first responders found no fire in the building this Halloween day. But it was a pretty spooky interlude on the final day of the off-again, on-again trial that began on August 21 and saw two delays, the second one of a month, due to various involved party health issues.

First responders may have been as puzzled as building occupants who evacuated as told despite no signs of the ‘fire emergency’ they were told was reported in the building. Royal Examiner Photos Roger Bianchini

Perhaps the most interesting legal development of the day was defense counsel Abigail Thibeault’s closing argument focus on what the prosecution had dismissed as one of the more unbelievable defendant explanations of her movement of EDA money to her own use. That was the defense-alleged secret “Voluntary Settlement Agreement” between the EDA Board of Directors and McDonald to assure her silence and non-suit over what she claimed were sexual harassment and sexual assaults by County officials, including former County Administrator Doug Stanley, among other high-profile local officials. The price of that silence was an alleged $6.5 million the defense contends was agreed to be secretly paid to McDonald, thus explaining some of the movements of EDA assets to her own use that the prosecution presented as evidence of fraud and criminal misdirection of EDA money.

“This is about sexual assault … This story is much bigger” than what the prosecution had presented to them, Thibeault told the jury of the notion that an economically and sexually privileged, male-dominated county elite had set McDonald up to take a fall for challenging their dominance.

During closing arguments, the defense contended their client actually did have significant Hollywood Casino slot machine winnings, evidence of which the prosecution and its investigative teams downplayed. Below, boys will be boys? Jennifer McDonald on the job prior to her December 20, 2018 resignation among escalating questions about her movement of EDA assets into personal uses. The defense contended in closing arguments that McDonald is the victim of a predatory male elite in Warren County and that, in the end, the EDA board became a tool of that elite.

Lead prosecutor Sean Welsh countered Thibeault’s assertions in rebuttal, telling the jury the Voluntary Settlement Agreement theory was countered by multiple pieces of evidence the prosecution had presented to them. He pointed to other prosecution witness-testified false allegations McDonald is alleged to have made to explain some of her financial transfers to achieve real estate and other transactions. Among those were Larry Tuttle’s alleged financing of several McDonald/Da Boyz LLC real estate deals he testified he had no financial assets to accomplish. Why lie about such things if there was a simple explanation, such as the EDA Board of Directors authorizing the transfer of assets to McDonald? Welsh asked the jury.

The defense team and defendant, among others, wait for the all-clear to re-enter the federal courthouse in Harrisonburg Tuesday afternoon around 5 p.m. after a ‘fire emergency’ announcement cleared the building on Halloween Day.

After the 10th Western District of Virginia federal courthouse building was evacuated and cleared of any fire and the prosecution’s closing rebuttal was completed, a final round of procedural instructions from Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon was given to the jury. The jury was then sent out to select a foreman and determine whether they wanted to begin deliberations immediately or return the following day. After 10 minutes, the court was informed the jury had decided to return on Wednesday to begin the final chapter of this trial. Questioned about a preferred starting time by the judge, they opted for a 9 a.m. start Wednesday morning.

As previously reported, after inheriting the case from two state prosecutors offices, Warren County (recusal due to staff work familiarity with some defendants) and Rockingham County (complexity, time involvement), on August 25, 2021, a 10th Western District of Virginia Federal Grand Jury handed down 34 federal criminal indictments against McDonald on charges including bank fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. Those charges are related to the alleged misdirection of an estimated $ 26 million in municipal and EDA assets to personal use and enrichment of McDonald and alleged co-conspirators.

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Judge Denies ‘Renewed’ McDonald Defense Mistrial Motion – Defense Case to Open Tuesday, October 31



Following a closed evidentiary hearing Thursday afternoon, October 27, Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon denied a “renewed” defense motion for a mistrial due to repeated delays in the federal criminal prosecution of former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer Rae McDonald. The defense initially called for a mistrial on September 26. While taking that motion under advisement, Judge Dillon expressed a preference for the alternative of “briefly suspending the trial” to accommodate apparent health issues with the defendant and resuming it as an alternative to a mistrial. The trial is now scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, October 31, with the anticipated opening of the defense case. November 1 has also been set aside to accommodate the defense presentation, any motions, closing arguments, and jury instructions before the case is handed over to the jury for deliberations.

The scheduled start of what is expected to be a brief defense presentation, perhaps taking less than a full day with three or less witnesses being called, was again delayed on Friday, October 27. The scheduled 10th Western District of Virginia federal court starting time of 8:30 a.m. was adjusted late Thursday to a 3 p.m. Friday start. And shortly after that late Friday start and the beginning of the remote connection of several witnesses to be called during the hearing, Judge Dillon asked if either counsel wanted to request that the hearing be closed to the public.

Tuesday and Wednesday, October 31 and November 1, have been set aside for the conclusion of the criminal trial of Jennifer McDonald at the federal courthouse in Harrisonburg, Va. – Royal Examiner File Photo Roger Bianchini

“Yes, your honor,” was the reply from the court-appointed defense team of Andrea Harris and Abigail Thibeault. It might be noted that defendant McDonald was again not present at the defense table, as she had not been after lunch break the previous day. A clue as to that absence and the defense request for a closed hearing may have been heard during the beginning of the remote witness connection process. One of those witnesses was referred to as “doctor” and a comment concerning “the name of the patient you’ll be discussing” was made. According to the PACER court website, a total of five people testified during the closed hearing of October 27, all of them cited as doctors: “1. Dr. Miklos Szentirmai – via Zoom 2. Dr. David Saenz – via Zoom 3. Dr. John Craig Henry – via Zoom 4. Dr. Anne Bagley 5. Dr. Melanie Matson – via Zoom …”

As noted in yesterday’s story on the closing of the prosecution case and delay in opening the defense case, defense counsel told the court that their client had a cardiac pacemaker installed recently in the wake of health issues leading to a recurring elevated heart rate and blood pressure that led to a delay of a month, Sept. 26 to Oct. 26, in the trial.

File photo of Jennifer McDonald following one of her arrests at the state level in July 2019. Following one of those arrests, McDonald was transported for medical care believed related to elevated heart rate and blood pressure issues that have seemingly recurred during this trial.

As previously reported, after inheriting the case from two state prosecutors’ offices, Warren County (recusal due to staff work familiarity with some defendants) and Rockingham County (complexity, time involvement), on August 25, 2021, a 10th Western District of Virginia Federal Grand Jury handed down 34 federal criminal indictments against Jennifer McDonald on charges including bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft. Those charges are related to the alleged misdirection of an estimated $ 26 million in municipal and EDA assets to personal use and enrichment of McDonald and alleged co-conspirators. The latter are yet to be indicted criminally at the federal level, likely due to speedy trial issues. A number of alleged co-conspirators were charged criminally at the state level, with charges then dropped by Warren County prosecutors to prevent defense motions for dismissal due to looming speedy trial statute violations. The case has been defined as “complex” due to the amount of evidentiary material involved, cited at well over a million pages of doc

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Prosecution Rests in McDonald Trial – Recent Health Procedure of Defendant Revealed as Start of Defense Case Delayed After Lunch Break



The prosecution in the federal criminal trial of former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA, EDA) Executive Director Jennifer McDonald rested after the testimony of the final of its 57 witnesses Thursday morning, October 26. That witness was Kevin Nicholson, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) forensic accountant. In direct examination, Nicholson testified about the path of funds originating with the EDA to McDonald, as well as her husband Samuel North, that were used in a series of personal real estate and other transactions, including the paying off of various personal bills, as well as the use of ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran’s name in one of those real estate transactions on property located at 2890 Buck Mountain Road.

During Monday’s hearing announcing the two-day delay of the trial to Thursday due to technical evidentiary issues, the prosecution had estimated Nicholson being on the stand for 90 minutes to two hours. After an hour and 20 minutes of direct examination tracing those multiple financial transactions the prosecution asserts were evidence of the various levels of fraud and the one aggravated identity theft charge involving Tran that McDonald is accused of, Nicholson was cross-examined for five minutes by the defense, with another two minutes of re-direct examination. During cross and re-direct examination defense and prosecution counsel sparred over the exclusion of some transactions in Nicholson’s chart references and the terminology of “loan” or “line of credit” used by Nicholson during his testimony. The defense also elicited an admission by Nicholson that he had worked with the prosecution in the assembly of some of the evidence presented in support of the prosecution’s case.

The lengthy and often delayed federal criminal trial of Jennifer McDonald related to the EDA ‘financial scandal’ seems to be winding down to a close at Harrisonburg’s federal courthouse – if the defendant’s health holds up. Royal Examiner File Photos Roger Bianchini

Following Nicholson’s hour and 20 minutes on the stand, the prosecution rested at 10:35 a.m. However, rather than moving directly to the opening of the defense case, the jury was dismissed as the defense filed motions for dismissal of several of the charges against their client as unproved by the prosecution evidence presented. Those dismissals involved several cases of bank and wire fraud, as well as the aggravated identity theft involving the use of Tran’s name in the Buck Mountain Road transaction. After an involved defense presentation, the prosecution argued against the standards cited by the defense, asserting that they had proved not only fraud but the use of Tran’s name to facilitate a real estate transaction they believe the bank would not have approved with only McDonald’s name attached to it.

Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon said she would need time to review some of the evidence cited in the dueling arguments, and she would reserve a decision on the defense motions for dismissal of some counts — 8 thru 10 and 14 thru 17 — “at this time.” Judge Dillon then asked if the defense was ready to present evidence in their case. This led to a brief consultation with their client, after which the defense team of Andria Harris and Abigail Thibeault asked for five minutes to consult with their client. At that point, at 10 minutes of noon, Judge Dillon called the jury back in and released them for lunch. Following the five-minute break, the judge noted that defense counsel had told her that McDonald would invoke her Fifth Amendment Constitutional right against self-incrimination, declining to testify. Judge Dillon then queried McDonald on her decision, asking if it was, in fact, her decision alone not to testify.

“Yes, mam,” McDonald responded.

The judge then overruled a prosecution objection to the calling or recalling of certain witnesses by the defense. Former EDA board member Ron Llewellyn, who had testified for the prosecution, was present in the hallway outside the courtroom as a potential defense witness. It was a situation he did not seem overly pleased about. However, Judge Dillon noted that the prosecution could object to certain lines of questioning during the disputed witness’s testimony.

Court then adjourned for lunch at 12:01 p.m. When court was reconvened at 1 p.m., the judge took both prosecution and defense counsel into chambers for discussion. The jury was brought in at 1:15 p.m. while the judge and counsel were still in chambers. Twenty minutes later, the judge and counsel returned to the courtroom. Judge Dillon then dismissed the jury, instructing them to return for an 8:30 a.m. start of the defense case the next day, adding that she anticipated the case being turned over to them for deliberations before the end of the day on Friday.

Ongoing health issues?

An unexpected piece of information was revealed by defense counsel shortly after court was convened Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. That was that their client had recently “had a pacemaker installed” in the wake of her health issues that delayed the trial for a month, from September 26 to October 26. Those issues, according to sources, were a collapsed lung due to pneumonia and consequent raised heart rate and blood pressure that sent McDonald back to the hospital when the trial had been expected to resume in the last week of September.

McDonald was not in court with her counsel after the lunch break. One person present outside the third-floor courtroom after lunch said there had been word EMTs were present outside the courthouse. Attorneys on both sides of the aisle declined comment on whether EMTs had been summoned for the defendant. However, with her recent elevated blood pressure and heart rate issues, it might be noted that the courthouse elevator became un-operational early in the day on Thursday. While leaving for lunch break, McDonald had stepped aside to let several people following her to the stairs to pass, as she said it might take her a while to make it down. One might wonder how the long climb up those stairs after lunch might have impacted her health-wise, apparently not too long after having a pacemaker installed.

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McDonald Trial Again Delayed on ‘Unanticipated Circumstances’ — But Only Till Thursday



After a delay four days short of a month (Sept. 26 to Oct. 23) due to “unforeseen circumstances” or “unforeseen health issues” depending on which attorney’s table you were describing that situation from last month, on Monday morning, October 23, the federal criminal trial of former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer Rae McDonald was again put on hold — though this time only for two days. Well, three if you count Tuesday, October 24, which was going to be lost anyway due to the Harrisonburg Federal Courtroom being committed to another case that day.

After court convened at 8:30 a.m. Monday morning (Oct. 23), Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon made the ruling to reschedule the trial to restart Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. after hearing of an evidentiary situation delaying defense counsel’s ability to review some material that was apparently not transferred to the federal level from state prosecutors offices in a timely or usable manner. Lead prosecuting attorney Sean Welsh described “approximately 5,000 emails and 10,000 attachments” forwarded recently to McDonald’s federal court-appointed attorneys that apparently had what Judge Dillon described as “issues with the flash drive”. Those issues may have had to do with document encryption.

If this reporter heard correctly, lead prosecutor Welsh indicated the bulk of the new material did not directly involve the defendant. Despite that, and those flash drive issues being corrected as the prosecution noted, the defense still needed additional time to review the newly readable material to see if it impacted their defense case strategy in any way. The judge referenced a “status conference” held the previous day, Sunday, perhaps explaining defendant McDonald’s absence from the defense table again on Monday, as both sides appeared to know the trial would not be reconvened that day.

Jennifer McDonald after the second of her two state prosecution arrests in the summer of 2019. Below, VSP and FBI at EDA offices in April of 2019, when they searched premises for potential ‘financial scandal’ evidence, including McDonald’s former office and work computer. She was charged criminally at the state level in July and August of that year. Mug Shot Courtesy RSW Jail; Royal Examiner File Photo

Judge Dillon closed the hearing convened at 8:30 a.m., to the public after five minutes of public discussion of the issue. The hearing was reopened about 15 minutes later at 8:50 a.m. After some discussion on the trial reconvening date, having earlier acknowledged the loss of Tuesday to another scheduled case being heard in the Harrisonburg federal courtroom, Judge Dillon said she was inclined to go with her first suggestion of Thursday morning, giving the defense ample time to review the newly available evidence.

With the prosecution down to the final of its 57 witnesses, estimated Monday to be on the stand two hours or less, and the defense likely to call just one or two witnesses, Judge Dillon forecast the 34-count criminal case against McDonald going to the jury by Friday after closing arguments. The jury was then called into the courtroom to explore their availability for deliberations through the coming weekend. Two of the 15 jurors and yet-to-be-named alternates were absent Monday due to health or travel issues. After polling the 13 jurors present, if the case proceeds as expected, in addition to Friday, jury deliberations were slated for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, October 29 through November 1, as necessary. Due to two jurors schedules, Monday deliberations would conclude at 2 p.m., and Tuesday’s at about 4:25 p.m.

With the jury released at 9:15 a.m. until Thursday morning following the deliberation scheduling, Monday’s hearing was recessed at 9:17 a.m. It was scheduled to reconvene at 1 p.m., with the prosecution and defense slated to discuss with the court technical issues moving forward, among those jury instructions.

The 10th Western District of Va. federal courthouse in downtown Harrisonburg. Royal Examiner Photo Roger Bianchini


As previously reported, with well over a million pages of documentation related to the EDA “financial scandal” the McDonald case has been labeled “complex” at the state level. That “complexity” contributed to its being handed over to the 10th Western District of Virginia Federal Court by the State Special Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg/Rockingham County.

Consequently, after inheriting the case from two state prosecutors offices, Warren County (recusal due to staff work familiarity with some defendants) and Rockingham County (complexity, time involvement), on August 25, 2021, a 10th Western District of Virginia Federal Grand Jury handed down 34 federal criminal indictments against defendant Jennifer McDonald on charges including bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft. Those charges are related to the alleged misdirection of an estimated $26-million in municipal and EDA assets to personal use and enrichment of McDonald and alleged co-conspirators. The latter are yet to be indicted criminally at the federal level, likely due to speedy trial issues. A number of alleged co-conspirators were charged criminally at the state level, with charges then dropped by Warren County prosecutors to prevent defense motions for dismissal due to looming speedy trial statute violations.

In addition to McDonald settling out of civil court in a “no-fault agreement” to give an estimated $9-million in real estate assets to the EDA, last year a number of alleged co-conspirators were successfully prosecuted in Warren County Circuit Court civil actions by FR-WC EDA contracted counsel. Several other people also settled out of court with the EDA. Total recovery or civil liability on paper was around $24+ million. However, several of those jury civil liability verdicts have been appealed.

EDA civil cases liability chart from around July 2022 – It does not include out-of-court settlements or Samuel North’s liability case ruling several months later.

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