The Warren County Board of Supervisors at the June 4th regular meeting approved an additional $250,000 for EDA legal fees. This includes an additional $200,000 to the Sands-Anderson law firm and an additional $50,000 to Cherry Bekaert. It appears the County has authorized at least $1 million dollars in this pursuit of truth.
The Royal Examiner’s camera was at the BOS meeting:
See related story:
Tederick discusses status of EDA, Crooked Run 2 water request & his brief tenure as interim mayor in this Royal Examiner video interview
Front Royal’s Interim Mayor Matt Tederick sat down with the Royal Examiner and yours truly on Thursday, August 15. Over nearly an hour Tederick discusses his decision to accept the May 28 appointment as mayor in the wake of Hollis Tharpe’s May 2 resignation; as well as his decision not to run in the November Special Election to serve out the final year of Tharpe’s term; as well as two prominent issues – the EDA and Crooked Run 2 central water request – facing council over the final three months of his tenure as mayor.
Included in the EDA discussion is the revelation Tederick plans to seek appointment of a citizens’ committee to review the report of the Town-County governmental personnel-staffed EDA Reform Committee announced at Tuesday’s joint meeting of the Town Council and Warren County Board of Supervisors.
Regaining public trust will be crucial to successfully moving forward with a re-tooled EDA mission, Tederick told Royal Examiner. The interim mayor hopes a citizens’ review committee can help achieve that trust.
Tederick also discusses the status of the County’s request for Town central water to facilitate the revamped Crooked Run 2 plan to establish a primarily residential development outside the town limits just west of the Crooked Run Shopping Center near the Route 340/522 and I-66 intersection.
Tederick also responds to our suggestion that the status of the planned Front Royal Limited Partnership (FRLP) residential development of approximately one thousand homes on about 750 acres of town land be included in discussion of the Crooked Run 2 request.
And if you hang to the interview’s conclusion you will hear the interim mayor promise other potential “exclusive” revelations regarding planned residential development in the community in future Royal Examiner interviews during his term of office.
It is a term slated to end shortly after the November 5 Special Election in which Tharpe will try to regain his mayoral seat in a two candidate face-off with current Councilman and former Mayor Eugene Tewalt.
Good Bye, Warren County; Good Bye EDA controversy – Whitten moves on
A hint was dropped at Tuesday night’s joint Town-County meeting on the EDA about County and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten’s pending availability to serve as a member of the newly-formed EDA Reform Committee. That hint came from Shenandoah District Supervisor Tom Sayre’s comment that Whitten wouldn’t be serving on the seven-member committee despite his inclusion and approval as the county attorney.
Reached for comment on Sayre’s allusion to his unavailability, Whitten confirmed that he had taken a job as County Attorney for Prince George County, Virginia. He said a press release would be forthcoming Wednesday morning, adding that the only ones who knew of his acceptance of the Prince George County job were his bosses, the county supervisors. This reporter agreed to sit on the news overnight as a negotiating tool for a follow-up interview.
While that negotiation is still being hashed out – you sure, no camera, Dan – we can now verify Whitten’s pending move to the county attorney’s role in Prince George County. Reached by phone Wednesday morning Whitten confirmed he will realize a $13,486 salary increase with the move. He is taking his new job at a salary of $117,300, compared to the $103,486 he makes here.
With the move Whitten leaves behind the EDA financial scandal that has immersed him as both County and EDA Attorney since the March 26 filing of the EDA civil suit naming nine human and corporate “people” defendants seeking the return of as much as $20 million in allegedly misdirected or embezzled EDA assets.
To varying degrees the media, public and social media have questioned whether “scope limitations” imposed by county and EDA officials described by the contracted investigative public accounting firm Cherry Bekaert might indicate an investigation that was “channeled” toward certain financial irregularities and away from others.
An indicator of the public mood surrounding, not only the EDA civil and criminal actions, but his role as attorney for the primary governmental and quasi-governmental involved entities was illustrated by a question from Town Councilman Chris Holloway and the public reaction to it at last night’s joint Town-County meeting.
“Who do you represent tonight, the EDA or Warren County?” Holloway asked, creating the only public outburst of the meeting as a low murmur of approval of the question and applause ensued.
Whitten’s answer of “both” explaining no direct conflict of interest in answering questions about various legal dynamics of the EDA and County situations drew no public reaction.
In the press release received by the media at 11:06 a.m., Wednesday morning, August 14, Whitten expresses gratitude for his professional and personal experience in Warren County:
“Since starting my employment with Warren County on February 16, 2010, I have thoroughly enjoyed working for Warren County. I would like to thank the Board of Supervisors for offering me the opportunity to serve as the Warren County Attorney for the past three years. I will treasure the friendships that I have made with numerous Warren County employees and officials over the last nine years,” he stated in the release.
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Murray added, “I am sorry to lose Dan as his knowledge and experience will be hard to replace. I appreciate how he has handled many contentious situations with grace, patience and respect. I consider him to be a friend and he will be sorely missed. He has been an asset to the County and the agencies he supports.”
Whitten did an internship at the State Attorney General’s Office while in law school. He also interned in Richmond immediately after his 2009 graduation from William and Mary Law School. Whitten received his Undergraduate Degree with a major in American Politics from the University of Virginia. He arrived as assistant county attorney to Blair Mitchell here in 2010 and took over as Warren County Attorney in September 2016 upon Mitchell’s retirement.
Town, County undertake substantive discussion on future path of the EDA
At 6 p.m. on Tuesday evening, August 13, the full Front Royal Town Council and Warren County Board of Supervisors and their staffs sat down face to face to discuss the future of the Town-County Economic Development Authority. The full joint meeting discussion was prompted by Interim Mayor Matt Tederick’s July 18 Town-County Liaison Committee meeting comment about the possible unilateral dismantling of the EDA.
Such a thought was prompted by an initial separation in information sharing regarding the EDA financial fraud investigation and consequent legal action the County has unilaterally footed the bill for to the tune of approximately $1.35 million. Of course the County voluntarily took on full operational funding of the EDA several years ago as part of its long and ongoing compensation to the Town for its North Corridor central water-sewer service extended into the county without annexation.
However, given the floor by Joint Meeting Chairman and County Board Chair Dan Murray, Tederick made it clear his agenda was achieving unified Town-County action to try and get to a shared bottom line on exactly how much of each municipality’s money was misdirected, to where and if it is recoverable.
Consequently much of the ensuing discussion surrounded legal ramification of joint action in the face of the Town’s now-$15 million suit against the EDA seeking recovery of lost Town assets and the concurrent EDA civil suit seeking recovery of around $20 million in allegedly misdirected EDA assets from eight human and corporate entities. As noted above, due to its larger annual budget Contingency Fund the County has fronted all of the thus-far spent $1.35 million paid to contracted public investigative accounting firm Cherry Bekaert and the law firm Sands Anderson that is handling the EDA civil action stemming from the Cherry Bekaert report.
Among a room full of interested spectators were five of the seven current EDA Board members and new EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons. By meeting’s end around 7:35 p.m., Parsons had been appointed by joint consensus to an EDA Reform Committee along with Councilman Jacob Meza, Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox, Town Manager Joe Waltz, County Administrator Doug Stanley, Town Attorney Doug Napier and County/EDA Attorney Dan Whitten.
See the discussion, votes, questions and answers as two municipal governments try to come to terms with the consequences – financial, economic, legal and political – of one of the deepest and most divisive scandals in this community’s modern history in the following Royal Examiner video:
Mayor, Town Council seek EDA financial answers, not just future plans
In a work session following the Front Royal Town Council meeting of Monday, August 12, the format and parameters of the joint meeting of the full council and Warren County Board of Supervisors regarding the future of the Town-County Economic Development Authority was a hot topic of conversation. That joint Town-County-EDA meeting is scheduled for tonight, August 13, at 6 p.m. at the Villa Avenue Community Center.
The proposed agenda send to Interim Mayor Matthew Tederick included a presentation from the County side with updates on the distribution of property along with a time frame update. However Mayor Tederick brought this to the council with hesitance, stating, “We need necessary and pertinent information, but is that the best use of this joint meeting?”
Councilman Jacob Meza agreed, stating, “I would rather be able to sit down with the board of supervisors and discuss the greatest disaster between the County and the Town than sit through a 45-minute presentation given to us by the EDA board.”
Councilman Eugene Tewalt appeared to hit a middle ground, saying, “I want to get information – and I want to ask them some pertinent questions.”
It seemed that council was willing to move forward with the meeting including an EDA presentation, so long as EDA officials and the county board complied with giving information that council wants.
Tederick propelled the joint meeting forward with his July 18 Town-County Liaison Committee meeting statement that the Town could dissolve the EDA unilaterally and take half the remaining assets. If palpable tension was apparent in the wake of that assertion, it might be explained by some events leading up to it. After having a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for details of the EDA fraud investigation rejected by EDA/County Attorney Dan Whitten, the Town filed a lawsuit initially seeking return of about $3 million in Town assets, a number since raised to an estimate of $15 million in recoverable assets the Town believes it is owed by the EDA.
The issues with miscommunication between the EDA and Town Council became apparent when the next agenda item, financing of the new Front Royal Police Department headquarters, was reached. Due to confusion over what the EDA owes the Town, issues concerning the Town Budget cannot be resolved, town officials indicated.
“Who’s currently paying the debt service on this building – the EDA who has not provided the proper services and documentation to make those payments?” Tederick asked, adding, “We should not discuss any financing for the police department until we get documentation from the EDA.”
The Town’s elected officials and staff will seek some clarity on FRPD financing obligations, and the Town’s overall financial relationship with the EDA at tonight’s meeting.
See the work session discussion and Vice Mayor William Sealock’s response to Royal Examiner questions in the following videos.
(Roger Bianchini contributed to this story)
Sayre – McDonald defamation suit continued to September 11
Approaching 6 p.m. after nearly five hours of testimony in Warren County Supervisor Tom Sayre’s defamation of character civil suit against former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald Friday afternoon, Winchester-based Judge Ian Williams continued the trial to September 11 at 1:15 p.m. Sayre attorney Tim Bosson said he anticipated his client testifying for a half hour to 45 minutes that day, with a similar time frame anticipated in cross examination by McDonald attorney Lee Berlik.
Berlik also told the court he may call his client to testify on her own behalf that day. If he so chooses it is likely to result in more testimony than McDonald offered when she was called shortly after 1 p.m. Friday as the first witness for the plaintiff. It seems that the first thing that occurred when McDonald walked out of the RSW Jail on bond after two months in jail on Wednesday was the serving of a witness subpoena on behalf of the plaintiff.
When she was called to testify by Sayre’s attorney, Berlik alerted the court that “any and all questions relating to the EDA” would be met by his client’s right to assert her Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate.
McDonald and her two real estate LLC’s are named as three of nine human and LLC defendants in the EDA civil litigation seeking recovery of about $20 million in allegedly embezzled or misdirected EDA assets. She is also facing 14 felony criminal charges handed down by the special grand jury empanelled to investigate potential criminality related to the Cherry Bekaert EDA fraud investigation and consequent civil suit filed March 26.
McDonald wasted no time in asserting her Fifth Amendment right. At least five out of the eight questions asked of her were negated by McDonald’s plea of the Fifth. Judge Williams upheld McDonald’s Fifth Amendment responses.
Questions she did respond to included confirming her December 2018 resignation as EDA executive director; an assertion that an old personal assets statement was outdated; and verification that text and email messages dated between June 6 and July 14, 2017 were actual communications between her and Royal Examiner reporter Roger Bianchini. Those texts and emails were introduced as plaintiff’s Exhibits 3 and 4. They were exhibits that would significantly come into play during later testimony.
In asserting the plaintiff’s claim for $25,000 in damages for defamation of character Sayre attorney Tim Bosson called a series of witnesses to illustrate that McDonald had spread the idea of his client’s involvement in both the EDA office break in of May 18, 2017, and a series of trespass and vandalism incidents alleged to be occurring at her home property through May and June of that year.
To a great extent those witnesses and their testimony revolved around the content of a note found at the scene of the vandalism McDonald reported occurring around 9 p.m., Thursday, June 15. According to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office investigative report, McDonald pointed out a crumpled piece of paper in her yard she indicated was not there earlier in the day when she cleaned her yard.
The note mentions several names and instructions to conduct an effort to terrorize McDonald that appears to include the EDA office break in McDonald reported on May 18, 2017, and continuing through a series of events at her home property. The names “Tom” and “Matt” appear on the note, as well as “the Examiner” where “Norma Jean” was purported to have been waiting for files McDonald reported being stolen during the May 18 EDA office break in about a month before the purported home rock-throwing vandalism.
Two phone numbers of alleged participants in the conspiracy are also present at the bottom of the note. They turned out to be the business numbers of Sayre and former Town Manager Michael Graham.
As they did at McDonald’s 2018 Halloween Day false police report misdemeanor trial, Shaw and Graham both testified they knew nothing of the note or its alleged conspiracy, as Sayre is likely to on September 11. And while Warren County General District Judge W. Dale Houff dismissed the false police report case against McDonald last year, he did observe of the note that “something is made up and something is horribly wrong with this”.
There was also something apparently terribly wrong about a story Royal Examiner reporter Roger Bianchini testified McDonald told him several weeks later about identifying a suspect in the masonry stone vandalism of June 15, 2017. The Royal Examiner reporter said that in late June or early July 2017 McDonald said that while several security cameras on her property had been vandalized during earlier trespasses, one less obtrusive one near her front door had remained in tact.
That camera recorded a facial image of the suspect, whom her private investigator had eventually identified as a petty criminal type and former client of Tom Sayre’s law practice. One of McDonald’s emails to Bianchini, dated July 14, 2017 appeared to verify Bianchini’s testimony.
“He talked with PI and PI has asked him to wire himself and go talk to the culprit. we do not want a he said/she said situation,” McDonald emailed in response to Bianchini’s query, “Anything good to report” about the investigation into the vandalism.
“So he admitted to his own Russia collusion – who is his ‘Putin’ pulling the strings?!!? … and is it a lone wolf or multiple Putins,” Bianchini responded about the masterminds of alleged conspiracy against her.
“He did and multiple putins, but the first putin asked him to do it,” McDonald replies.
“Is the first Putin our photo boy?” Bianchini inquires.
“Yes sir,” McDonald replies ending the e-conversation of July 14, 2017.
On direct examination Bianchini explained the “photo boy” reference related to an earlier, June 11, 2017 text from McDonald: “May have a tip that an elected official is in cahoots with what is happening to me,” McDonald texted.
“Someone I have been trying to find photos of for you,” McDonald added in response to a request for an “off the record” clue as to an identity.
The only person Bianchini said he and McDonald had discussed acquiring a photo of from local newspaper archives dating to 1989-90 was Tom Sayre around the time he arrived in this area sporting what Bianchini described as a radically-different look.
Private Investigator Ken Pullen was asked about McDonald’s representations about a suspect requested to wear a wire on Sayre in discussion about the plot against McDonald. Pullen testified under direct examination by Sayre attorney Bosson that he had initially been hired by the EDA Board of Directors around June 6, 2017 to investigate the EDA office break in. Drescher testified that McDonald asked her board to ask that FRPD be taken off the case because she did not feel comfortable with the direction of their investigation, which appeared to be moving toward the three EDA staffers with access to a key to the office since there was no sign of forced or unforced entry.
Drescher has previously said that the private investigator-driven investigation was eventually turned over to McDonald and encompassed events alleged to be occurring at her home.
Asked about McDonald’s June 11 text to Bianchini that there was evidence “an elected official is in cahoots with what is happening to me” and “No one else knows what is happening this is from my PI,” Pullen stated he had no such evidence.
“You didn’t tell her that?” Bosson asked.
“No,” Pullen replied.
Asked about the alleged effort to have a suspect wear a wire on a co-conspirator Bianchini believed McDonald had identified as Sayre, Pullen said, “No I had not,” adding, “I had no suspect – I did not have anyone wired up.”
If Sayre’s counsel focused on evidence indicating the former EDA executive director had spread his client’s name into the community as a suspect in criminal behavior targeting her, McDonald attorney Lee Berlik took a “no harm, no foul” line with plaintiff witnesses. He argued that the presence of Sayre’s phone number and name on the mysterious note had not meaningfully impacted the Shenandoah District supervisor’s reputation.
Repeatedly he asked plaintiff witnesses what they thought Sayre’s reputation in the community was and had it been damaged by the talk of his phone number’s presence on the note found at the site of the June 15, 2017 vandalism.
A number of witnesses, including Sayre’s fellow Supervisor Archie Fox, former Town Manager Michael Graham whose number was also found on the note, and former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw said they thought Sayre’s reputation was a good one and not been terribly damaged by the talk of his involvement in a plot against McDonald.
Only Bianchini said he thought Sayre’s reputation varied widely depending on who in the community you talked to. But he also failed to say whether he believed that reputation had been damaged widely by the rumor of his participation in an alleged criminal targeting of McDonald.
Asked how many people he told about McDonald’s contention about Sayre’s number on the conspiracy note, Bianchini estimated five or less – his Royal Examiner associate Norma Jean Shaw and possibly Publisher Mike McCool, Michael Graham because of the (202) number, another local reporter using only the four 7’s as a clue, and a girlfriend to illustrate how crazy his job was getting.
Berlik made a point of noting to those others whose name or phone number was on the note that they had not filed a defamation suit over their being implicated in a fashion similar to Sayre’s.
Only Shaw, who along with “the Examiner” was cited as waiting for allegedly stolen material from the EDA office break in, replied that she had considered filing a defamation suit against
McDonald, but added, “I don’t think she has any more money and it would be a waste of time.”
And now there is a five-week wait for the dramatic conclusion of the first of dueling defamation lawsuits filed by Sayre and McDonald against each other – stay tuned for more developments …
Poe ‘bound & determined … to clear his name’ in EDA criminal, civil cases
During a brief five-minute recess following adjournment after Michelle Henry’s motions arguments were completed at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, 23 relatives and friends of Donald F. Poe filled the defense table side of Warren County Courthouse Circuit Courtroom B public seating area, spilling a couple of stragglers to the other side.
Poe’s long personal, family and business connections to the community were a focal point of defense counsel William Ashwell’s bond arguments on his client’s behalf. Judge Bruce D. Albertson didn’t have to look far to see evidence of those connections out in force.
Ashwell called his client “a 60-year resident of Warren County” – Poe is 60 years old – with family ties to the area dating back to the 1700’s in the Fauquier and Warren County area.
Poe’s attorney cited his work with his client for the last several months on the EDA civil litigation side of the legal equation. Poe is one of nine defendants named in the EDA civil suit filed March 26, as is his business partner Justin Appleton and their Earth Right Energy LLC solar panel installation company. The ERE trio’s involvement in the civil action, and Poe’s three criminal indictments, all appear related to ERE contracted work for or through the EDA and McDonald. Evidence provided on the civil side indicate some of that work accomplished, some cancelled, with reimbursements discussed and/or achieved according to ERE counsel.
Ashwell noted Poe’s presence for hearings and testimony throughout the civil litigation process, including the Special Grand Jury interview process that resulted in the three indictments against him.
“Other than the EDA involvement and the media attention this would be a fairly normal bond hearing,” Ashwell told the court.
Poe is charged on two felony counts of obtaining money by false pretense and one count of perjury.
Ashwell told Judge Albertson that Poe’s participation in preparing his own defense while incarcerated at the Prince William-Manassas Jail “was functionally impossible”. And prepare a defense, rather than flee the scene, is what his client is committed to, Ashwell said with emphasis.
“He is bound and determined more than any other client I’ve had to clear his name on these charges and on the civil case,” Poe’s attorney told the court.
Ashwell noted that Poe’s past criminal record and incarceration dated back to 1989-90 and that his record has been clean since his conviction and time served on those offenses. While not elaborated on during the hearing those legal issues dating back three decades related to non-opioid drugs and/or drug distribution.
Commonwealth’s counsel Bryan Layton said that while the perjury charge against Poe, believed to relate to his EDA Special Grand Jury testimony, gave him some concern that overall he could not dispute defense counsel’s assertions about Poe’s appearances and cooperation in the civil litigation process.
Consequently Judge Albertson granted Poe secured bond of $20,000.
According to the RSW Jail website Poe was no longer an inmate as of 5:40 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.