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Trial date of Oct. 25 set in Tharpe solicitation case – prosecution seeks change of venue

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Attorneys for former Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe say they will vigorously fight a change of venue request made by Special Prosecutor Heather Hovermale during a Monday hearing. Tharpe was in court with attorneys David Hensley and Beau Bassler on June 17 to set a trial date on his misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution charge related to a May 31, 2018, visit to a massage parlor on Biggs Drive.

In what was likely his last hearing on the case Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. set a trial date of October 25, at 9 a.m., for the jury trial requested by Tharpe’s attorneys and July 15, at 2:30 p.m., for arguments on the prosecution’s change of venue request.

Bassler and Hensley called the special prosecutor’s request for a change of venue on a misdemeanor case “extraordinary” in their legal experience.

“Justice is supposed to be local to where a community is affected by crime unless there are unusual circumstances that would make a fair hearing of the case questionable,” Tharpe’s legal team observed. Obviously they do not believe Tharpe’s high profile in the community as a former mayor and councilman, not to mention long-time ice cream man, fits the “unusual circumstance” criteria, particularly in a misdemeanor case of this nature.

Hollis Tharpe at Town Hall meeting room chairing a council work session – Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Tharpe’s high profile in the community was illustrated in the wake of Athey’s setting of the hearing and trial dates – “Well, someone will be here to see you but it won’t be me,” Athey said to Tharpe of the July 15 hearing date.

“You have a good time in Richmond,” Tharpe replied to another former Front Royal mayor, turned state delegate, turned judge who will be leaving for a seat on the Virginia Appeals Court this September.

When Athey asked Tharpe’s legal team if they wanted speedy trial statutes in play in the setting of a trial date, Hensley replied for his client, “He would like a speedy trial.”

The judge’s setting of a date four months away that fit all involved party’s schedules means a verdict will be rendered about two weeks before the likely November date of a special election to fill the mayor’s seat for the duration of Tharpe’s term, which expires at the end of 2020. That seat is currently occupied by long-time Republican activist and former county supervisor Matt Tederick, who was appointed interim mayor on May 28 by a 4-2 vote, Tewalt and Thompson dissenting. Tederick has said he does not plan to run for the mayor’s office in the special election.

While proclaiming his innocence following his indictment on April 15, Tharpe initially placed himself on administrative leave and then announced four days later on April 19 that he would resign as mayor effective May 2. Tharpe explained his decisions as not wanting the charge against him to distract town government from the conduct of its business pending a resolution of his case. The 67-year-old Tharpe has called the misdemeanor charge against him “embarrassing” and “baseless”.

On March 25, flanked by Vice-Mayor William Sealock and Councilwoman Letasha Thompson then-Mayor Tharpe listens to former Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger address town officials on lessons to be learned from the EDA financial scandal.

A Virginia State Police press release announcing Tharpe’s pending indictment in April indicated Tharpe’s charge stemmed from an investigation launched at the direction of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.

That there was an investigation into Tharpe went public on August 30, 2018, when Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden filed notice he would recuse himself from any possible prosecution relating to an “Investigation Concerning Hollis Tharpe”. Special Prosecutor Hovermale works out of the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office of Marc Abrams, which was handed the case following Madden’s recusal announcement.

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Crime/Court

Clear Brook woman charged in South Royal Avenue traffic incident

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A 44-year-old Frederick County woman has been charged regarding a Monday evening traffic incident on South Royal Avenue in Front Royal. According to the RSW Jail website, Susan Miller Harbaugh, from Clear Brook, Virginia, was booked on two charges, Driving While Intoxicated and Vandalism, Intentional Destruction of Property (monument).

Harbaugh was booked into the jail at 12:29 a.m. Tuesday morning, December 10, and released at 5:28 p.m. that afternoon.

Susan Miller Harbaugh at time of processing into RSW Jail – Photo RSW Jail website

According to Front Royal Police Sgt. Jason Winner, “On December 9, 2019, at approximately 9:50 p.m. FRPD officers were dispatched to the area of the 200 block of South Royal Avenue for a report of an accident. While responding to the area, officers were informed that a vehicle had left the scene of that accident and was traveling North on Royal Avenue.

“Officers located the vehicle that left the accident and conducted a traffic stop. It was determined during the accident investigation that the vehicle had struck a light pole on the side of the road.

That pole was knocked down into the roadway and was struck by another vehicle.”

Harbaugh was apprehended on North Royal Avenue.

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Front Royal man arrested after reported shooting in the 200 block of Cloud Street

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George Lee Good. Booking photo, courtesy of Front Royal Police Department.

On November 27, 2019, at approximately 11:55 pm, the Front Royal Police Department responded to a report of a shooting in the 200 block of Cloud Street. When Officers arrived on scene, they encountered a male subject with non-life-threatening injuries, including a gunshot wound to his inner thigh.

Based on investigative findings, a suspect was identified as George Lee Good, 28, of Front Royal. Warrants were obtained on Good for 18.2-51 Maliciously Shoot or Wound; 18.2-53.1 Use of a Firearm in the commission of a felony; and 18.2-308.2 Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Other charges may be forthcoming regarding other involved individuals.

George Good was taken into custody without incident by Winchester Police Department during a DUI checkpoint. Good is currently at Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center where he is being held without bond. This investigation is on-going and anyone with further information is asked to contact Detective D. L. Fogle at (540)636-2208 or via email dfogle@frontroyalva.com.

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Warren County Sheriff’s Office seeking information after discovering a deceased male

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On December 2, 2019, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office was called to the area of Digs Landing in the Rivermont area of Warren County for the discovery of a deceased individual. The remains are that of an unknown male with the following clothing description: green baseball style shirt with blue sleeves and a blue pocket and black denim shorts.

The deceased has not been identified at this time. Identification is pending findings from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Further details in the matter are not being released at this time due to the ongoing investigation. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office was assisted at the scene by the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office and Warren County Fire and Rescue. The manner of death is considered suspicious and the investigation is ongoing. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office wants the citizens to know that this appears to be an isolated incident and there is no immediate threat to public safety.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Investigator Emily Young of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at 540-635-4128 or at invyoung@warrencountysheriff.org. Citizens can also utilize the Warren County Sheriff’s Office website to submit a tip by going to www.warrencountysheriff.org. Anyone with information can remain anonymous.

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Front Royal man arrested on two sex related felony charges

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Anthony Harry Sutton. Photo / RSW Regional Jail

On November 25, 2019, Anthony Harry Sutton, 67, of Front Royal, Virginia, was charged and arrested with two felony charges: 18.2-67.2 Object Sexual Penetration and 18.2-67.1 Forcible Sodomy. These felony charges are in connection with an ongoing investigation regarding Mr. Sutton. Authorities were notified that a juvenile victim had reported to her mother allegations of inappropriate sexual contact by Mr. Sutton. Further details regarding this matter cannot be released at this time due to the pending nature of the investigation.

Mr. Sutton was taken to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail where he is currently being held without bond. Further charges may be forthcoming as a result of this active investigation.

Anyone with any further information in reference to this case is asked to contact Front Royal Police Detective L.J. Waller at (540) 636-2208 or by email at lwaller@frontroyalva.com.

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Removal Petition hearing on County Board continued to December

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An as-yet undetermined date in December was set for the continuation of a hearing on the citizen-launched Removal Petition against the five sitting Warren County Supervisors. The hearing was on the Warren County Circuit Court docket Friday morning, November 22, at 8:45 a.m.

Judge Bruce D. Albertson heard motions and the reasoning for the continuance by video hook up from his home courtroom base in Harrisonburg. When a suggested date of December 6, when Albertson will be in court on EDA-related criminal hearings, did not work for one of the two defense attorneys, James Cornwell, the judge said he would like a specific December date agree upon within two working days.

As he had the previous day during hearings on EDA-related criminal charges, Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton notified the court of his intention to remove himself from EDA prosecutions with a newly-elected Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell slated to take over at the turn of the year, prior to any EDA-related trials getting under way. And with Bell planning to recuse himself from EDA prosecutions to assure there is not even a perception of possible conflicts of interest that might impact future EDA legal proceedings, Layton suggested that despite his desire to continue with the EDA cases, that they, like yesterday’s criminal cases, be turned over to the office of Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst.

Rockingham Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Parker appears poised to take on the bulk of cases Layton has been working, along with the EDA Special Grand Jury investigation. Layton again noted Parker needed time to get up to speed on the background of the various cases he is taking on.

See you again in December – primary motions arguments on the Removal Petition targeting the WC Board of Supervisors will be heard on an as-yet determined December date following Friday’s continuation. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Defense co-counsel Cornwell and Acting County Attorney Jason Ham had no objection, by remote phone hook up, to Layton’s call for the continuance of the Removal Petition hearing.

During Friday’s hearing it was reported that notice of certification of the required amount of signatures had been received from Warren County Voter Registrar Carol Tobin. That certification, which came despite the loss of 107 signatures that could not be verified as registered county voters, allows the Petition for Removal from office of the supervisors to proceed.

The filing required a minimum of 10% of the number of registered county voters who voted in the last election. That number is cited as 6,958, requiring a total of 696 countywide. Even with the 107 lost signatures, the petition contained 835 verified signatures.

The petition was filed October 18 as part of the grass roots public reaction to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial scandal that has led to a number of dueling civil litigations surrounding the EDA’s attempt to recover $21.3 million dollars in allegedly misdirected or embezzled EDA assets. The EDA civil litigation alone has already cost the County and its taxpayers $1.31 million dollars in legal and investigative financial audit costs.

And with a $750,000 cap on attorney’s fees payable to the Sands Anderson law firm of Richmond removed by the supervisors on Tuesday, that number is anticipated to keep climbing over the coming year or more as the civil cases proceed and what is anticipated to eventually be in the neighborhood of a million pages of related documentation is submitted for those civil, and related criminal, cases.

The Removal Petition contends the County’s elected Supervisors were directly negligent and in dereliction of their official duties in allowing the alleged EDA financial embezzlements to develop under their indirect stewardship since at least 2014-15.

After the Front Royal Town Council voluntarily abdicated certain oversight functions several years ago when the County took over the Town’s operational funding of the EDA, the County Board alone now appoints EDA Board of Director members. It is those appointed members of the quasi-governmental EDA that have direct oversight authority of EDA staff, a defense motions filing in the Removal Petition case states.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton, left, with FBI and VSP during April 16 search of EDA offices. Leaving the office in January, Layton is fazing himself out of EDA cases and Commonwealth’s Attorney-Elect John Bell is recusing from them. So the Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office will take over those prosecutions.

The Removal Petition cites the board members’ three misdemeanor criminal indictments on misfeasance and nonfeasance charges filed September 20 as one primary legal basis of the recall. Those charges targeted the supervisors, along with current and former EDA board members, for an absence of due diligent oversight of the actions of former Warren County Economic Development Executive Director Jennifer McDonald in the final four months of 2018.

However, the fact those indictments were dismissed by Judge Albertson as non-criminal by Virginia Statutes, even dating to English Common Law under which they were filed, may complicate the petitioners’ argument.

Just two days before Friday’s hearing defense co-counsel Cornwell and Ham filed a Demurer with the court seeking dismissal of the petition. Grounds cited for dismissal include a lack of jurisdiction for the filing; a lack of legal authority for the supervisors to act directly to limit the activities of EDA staff; and “Legislative Immunity” precluding the Judicial Branch of State Government from a “quasi-criminal” investigation of a Legislative body such as the county supervisors regarding how they conduct their business.

It would appear that while the timing of the defense Demurrer filing might have precluded proceeding with arguments Friday, a December hearing date could see arguments on these crucial legal points of contention.

On October 28, Judge Albertson denied a petitioner’s motion to immediately remove the five sitting supervisors prior to any arguments on the legal dynamics of the Removal Petition.

Warren County’s incumbent supervisors continue to await a decision on a citizen-filed Removal Petition – for three of them it will soon be a moot point.

Targeted by the Removal Petition are Daniel J. Murray of the North River District, Thomas H. Sayre of the Shenandoah District, Tony F. Carter of the Happy Creek District, Archie A. Fox of the Fork District, and Linda Glavis of the South River District. As of the turn of the year in the wake of Murray and Glavis’s retirements and Sayre’s defeat at the polls in November, only Carter and Fox will be impacted by the Removal action.

See Related Stories:

County Supervisors removal petition filed with 941 signatures

County officials, EDA board members have good day in court – will it last?

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Delays in EDA criminal cases due to transfer of prosecutorial authority

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On Thursday, November 21, four Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority criminal defendants saw preliminary hearings, and in one case trial dates over the objection of Donald Poe’s attorneys, continued to future dates. Those defendants were former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, her husband Samuel North, former EDA small business client B&G Goods principal William Lambert, and former EDA solar panel contractor Earth Right Energy principal Donald Poe.

A date of January 10, at 1 p.m. was set for motions hearings and possible trial date settings on joint defense-commonwealth motions in McDonald’s, North’s and Lambert’s cases. Only Poe co-counsel William Ashwell objected to the delays, noting his client was in a somewhat different position that the other defendants.

That position is trial dates on all four charges against Poe already set for December 6 (perjury to the grand jury) and three financial charges of obtaining or conspiring to obtain money by false pretenses set for a three-day trial January 22 to 24.

Ashwell told the court his client was “pretty anxious to clear his name” adding, “I think we need to get things going now.”

Noting the defendant’s objection, Judge Bruce D. Albertson included the Poe cases in the continuations granted Thursday to the 1 p.m. docket on January 10.

The Warren County Courthouse will see both new and familiar faces in coming hearings and trials related to the EDA financial scandal. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

As explained by Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton, primary among the reasons for those continuations is the naming of a new prosecutor’s office to handle the EDA-related criminal prosecutions. Layton has been leading the Special Grand Jury empaneled to investigate potential criminality tied to the $21.3 million dollar EDA civil litigation since former Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden left the office to assume a judicial appointment in Frederick County.

However, with a newly-elected Commonwealth’s Attorney, John Bell who was hand to observe Tuesday’s proceedings, poised to take office at the turn of the year Layton notified the court he was withdrawing as special prosecutor for the EDA grand jury investigation into EDA affairs.

And Bell told the court due to peripheral past legal representations or political affiliations, he would recuse himself from EDA prosecutions to “avoid any appearance of impropriety so the people of Warren County are assured there are no thumbs on the scales (of justice).”

Chief 26th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Albertson, himself a replacement after all Warren County Circuit Court judges recused or left for higher court appointments prior to pending recusals, accepted Layton’s recommendation of the Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to take over the EDA criminal prosecutions.

Rockingham Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael J. Parker was present to represent the office of Rockingham Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst. Courtroom discussion indicated Parker would take the point for Rockingham’s work on the EDA cases.

Related to various motions hearings scheduled for Thursday afternoon’s 4 p.m. docket, Layton noted the “voluminous material” related to the EDA cases and asked the court for “an extra period of time to get Mr. Parker up to speed.”

That voluminous material was referred to as a “terabyte” of digitized information ordered by the Virginia Supreme Court to handle what has been referred to in previous hearings as 700,000 to one million pages of related documentation.

Despite his counsel’s objection and Poe not joining the other defendants in waiving their rights to speedy trials, Earth Right Energy principal Poe will join the other three defendants in court for hearings on January 10 on the 1 p.m. docket.

Donald F. Poe outside the courthouse following an earlier hearing.

Judge Albertson continued Poe’s scheduled jury trial on his perjury charge from December 6, to the previously scheduled first day of an anticipated three-day trial on the EDA financial fraud charges, January 22, with the following dates available were that trial to go beyond one day.

Albertson also set a hearing for the aborted December 6 perjury trial date to set a new date for Poe’s now in limbo financial charges trial.

Albertson also granted North attorney Frank Reynold’s request for a Bill of Particulars on the three charges his client faces related to actions cited as occurring “on or about August 1, 2015” to be responded to by January 8, two days prior to the newly scheduled motions hearing date.

Reynolds, like Lambert attorney Phil Griffin, told the court he and his client did not want to have to navigate the perhaps digital planetary-sized “terabyte” of EDA financial fraud-related documentation for information on a limited, yet thus-far unspecified accusation against his client.

McDonald is facing 32 felony financial fraud indictments; her husband North three; Lambert three, and Poe four, including the perjury charge, related to information contained in the $500,000 County-EDA contracted Cherry Bekaert financial fraud investigation of EDA financial affairs during McDonald’s executive directorship of the EDA.

Jennifer McDonald on the job, here circa 2016 with then EDA Board Chair Patty Wines, during her decade long tenure as chief executive of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.

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‘Tis the Season

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Upcoming Events

Dec
13
Fri
6:00 pm Holiday Open House @ Ruby Yoga
Holiday Open House @ Ruby Yoga
Dec 13 @ 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Holiday Open House @ Ruby Yoga
Ruby Yoga will host a Holiday Open House Friday, Dec. 13. Doors open at 6 p.m. with free gentle yoga starting at 6:20, followed by refreshments and door prize drawings.
7:30 pm Canticum Novum: Sing a New Song @ Front Royal Presbyterian Church
Canticum Novum: Sing a New Song @ Front Royal Presbyterian Church
Dec 13 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Canticum Novum: Sing a New Song @ Front Royal Presbyterian Church
The Blue Ridge Singers presents its 2019 Christmas concert titled “Canticum Novum:  Sing a New Song” featuring some of the finest Christmas choral music across the centuries at one of the most popular events in[...]
Dec
14
Sat
11:00 am Celebrate George Washington @ Samuels Public Library
Celebrate George Washington @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 14 @ 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Celebrate George Washington @ Samuels Public Library
December 14 is the 220th anniversary of George Washington’s death. Today we will learn more about this great leader of our country and celebrate his legacy. Refreshments will be served. For ages 7 to 18.[...]
11:00 am Saturday with Santa @ Warren County Community Center
Saturday with Santa @ Warren County Community Center
Dec 14 @ 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
Saturday with Santa @ Warren County Community Center
Bring the kids and your camera for yummy snacks, crafts, and a picture with Santa and Mrs. Claus! All are welcome!
1:00 pm “Clara, Little Mouse & the Golde... @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
“Clara, Little Mouse & the Golde... @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Dec 14 @ 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
"Clara, Little Mouse & the Golden Key" @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Join us for this original version of the timeless story ballet The Nutcracker Suite. Follow Clara and Little Mouse on a journey to find what the Golden Key unlocks… Christmas will never be the same[...]
Dec
15
Sun
4:00 pm R-MA Hosts Community Christmas C... @ Randolph-Macon Academy | Boggs Chapel
R-MA Hosts Community Christmas C... @ Randolph-Macon Academy | Boggs Chapel
Dec 15 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
R-MA Hosts Community Christmas Concert @ Randolph-Macon Academy | Boggs Chapel
The local community is invited to join the Randolph-Macon Academy family for an afternoon of holiday spirit with the R-MA Band and Chorus! The annual R-MA Christmas Concert will be held on Sunday, December 15th,[...]
Dec
17
Tue
4:30 pm Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 17 @ 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Tuesday, December 3: Kids will explore popular books and book series through science, games, food, and more! After reading a Christmas story, we’ll discuss giving and how it affects us and the people around us.[...]
7:30 pm Christmas Concert @ Boggs Chapel on the R-MA Campus
Christmas Concert @ Boggs Chapel on the R-MA Campus
Dec 17 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Christmas Concert @ Boggs Chapel on the R-MA Campus
Christmas Concert | Presented by the American Legion Community Band Tuesday, December 17, 2019, at 7:30 pm Boggs Chapel on the R-MA campus in Front Royal, VA
Dec
18
Wed
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 18 @ 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, December 4 and Thursday, December 5: Gingerbread and Candy Canes will be the delicious theme of our stories, songs, and craft this week! Siblings welcome.[...]
Dec
19
Thu
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 19 @ 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, December 4 and Thursday, December 5: Gingerbread and Candy Canes will be the delicious theme of our stories, songs, and craft this week! Siblings welcome.[...]