The Warren County High School National Honor Society conducted a food drive from October 16 to October 25, collecting non-perishable food items for the local Back Pack Program and The Phoenix Project. Families of two Warren County High School students also received food items from this food drive.
The donations were collected by grade level, where the grade gathering the most donations received double spirit points for the Homecoming Pep Rally on October 25. The Senior class collected the most food items with 1,062 donations. The Juniors were in second place with 758 donations, the Freshman class placed in third with 267 donations, and the Sophomores finished in fourth place with 42 donations.
The total count of food item donations collected by Warren County students was 2,129 items.
National Honor Society members Kara Athey, Madison Booth, Jazmine White, Hannah Ren, Autumn Kibler, Nyla Padgett, Tierney Judd, Megan Patton, and Alexa Gilbert, as well as senior officers Callista Mayberry and Kyra Treutlein, under the guidance of National Honor Society Advisors Mrs. Vasishta and Mr. Humenik, sorted and counted the food to tally the final counts.
EDA authorizes litigation to recover Workforce Housing parcel or its value
Following an hour-and-a-half Closed Session Friday morning, November 15, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion to authorize litigation to sue Cornerstone, LP, LLC, its principals and affiliates to recover “EDA land improperly conveyed to Cornerstone without EDA authority or collect the full value of the conveyance and such other damages to the EDA”.
The land in question is the 3.5-acre Workforce Housing parcel sold to the Cornerstone group on November 28, 2018, at a price of $10 dollars.
After initially receiving the parcel as a $10 gift from the aunt and uncle of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, local realtors Mr. and Mrs. Walter Campbell, the EDA Board agreed to purchase the property for $445,000 in April 2017 after missing a previously undisclosed developmental deadline that would have enabled the Campbells to pursue tax credit compensation for the gift of the land to a public purpose.
It is believed that Cornerstone, LP, LLC, is a branch of regional developer the Aikens Group. Aikens was cited by former EDA Executive Director McDonald as a behind-the-scenes, private sector player in the Workforce Housing financial riddle from its inception in late 2014.
When contacted in April about the transaction Gray Blanton, who signed the Deed of Sale to Cornerstone for the EDA as board chairman in November 2018, told Royal Examiner he had only seen the final signature page of the four page document. Blanton seconded the motion made by Greg Harold to authorize the litigation.
Local real estate attorney Joe Silek Jr., who represented the EDA due to the recusal of then EDA Attorney Dan Whitten for a potential conflict of interest as EDA and County Attorneys, told us in April there was no price on the deed of sale when it was forwarded from the EDA to the Winchester law firm of McCarthy-Akers for completion.
Asked why the EDA would agree to take a $444,990 loss or even a $651,690 if disputed EDA developmental and peripheral purchase costs are included, Silek said, “I don’t think they did,” and referred us to attorney Doug McCarthy of the McCarthy-Akers law firm for further information.
As we first wrote in April, as of publication there has been no response to a phone-message inquiry about the transaction from the attorneys who represented the buyer in the now legally-disputed sale.
Of the transaction, the initial March 26 filing of the EDA civil suit says, “When interviewed on December 6, 2018, Defendant McDonald continued to maintain that the Aikens Group would refund the Warren EDA the full cost of the Royal Lane Property and any improvements, when she knew said property had been conveyed by the Warren EDA on November 28, 2018 to Cornerstone for consideration of $10.”
That transaction came as scrutiny of McDonald’s executive leadership of the EDA was intensifying as the Cherry Bekaert financial fraud investigation progressed. Following several hours of closed session discussion of the Cherry Bekaert findings and her job performance on December 14, 2018, McDonald had her contract, check-writing and administrative authority over EDA bank accounts stripped by the EDA board.
Facing a second closed session on the same topics a week later, McDonald submitted her resignation by email, and according to the EDA lawsuit attempted to cap her financial liability to the EDA at $2.7 million dollars.
As previously reported, in initial defense motion filings McDonald’s now former civil case attorney Lee Berlik claimed his client was being vilified and scapegoated for past bad decisions of the EDA Board of Directors.
However, the EDA civil action alleges a lengthy pattern of gaps, conflicting or misinformation from McDonald to the EDA board regarding what is termed the “Royal Lane Property Embezzlements” among other allegations of financial fraud that have led, not only to civil liability claims against the former EDA chief executive, but also 32 felony financial fraud indictments from a Special Grand Jury empanelled to investigate potential illegalities tied to the EDA civil suit.
And now it seems the Aikens Group finds itself on the perimeter of that EDA civil litigation regarding what has been a twisting and often inexplicable, five-year saga surrounding the attempted transfer of the Campbells’ 3.5-acre Royal Lane parcel to a public use.
Also unanimously approved after the Closed Session, on a motion by Jorie Martin, seconded by Blanton, was authorization for Executive Director Doug Parsons to forward Adjusted Journal Entries developed by retired County Finance Director Carolyn Stimmel and Hottel & Willis’s Heather Tweedy to the Yount-Hyde-Barbour accounting firm for use in development of the EDA’s 2018 Audit Report; and on a motion by Harold, seconded by Tom Patteson, acceptance of the Commission Agreement for the sale of the EDA-owned McKay Springs property, subject to receiving the Agency Agreement within 14 days.
Open Session Business
The pending McKay Springs property transfer and a County Planning Commission Public Hearing two days earlier on Wednesday, November 13, were topics discussed During County Administrator Doug Stanley’s Report during the open portion of Friday’s meeting.
That open portion of the meeting was eventful as the full EDA Board received monthly reports and six-month Strategic Priorities Lists from the EDA’s Asset Management, Finance, Communications and Executive Committees; as well as the monthly report on County business; and Executive Director Parsons’ Strategic Priorities List.
Major topics included the status of the Afton Inn as far as the developer resuming work on site; the status of removal of the Earth Right Energy-installed solar panels on the EDA’s Kendrick Lane Office Complex to allow roof repairs to facilitate empty space rental marketing; and the status of resolving payment issues with the Town of Front Royal on the new Police Station across Kendrick Lane.
As part of the Asset Committee Report Jorie Martin told the board that there had been three replies on the solar panel RFP, with one of particular interest. That one was from a non-profit with the expertise to remove the panels, and then market them for resale at no cost to the EDA. Martin added that it was possible the EDA could even see some revenue from the arrangement.
The EDA is abandoning the idea pushed by McDonald to provide sustainable solar power to the EDA Office Complex, ostensibly as an incentive to help attract a high-end commercial client to the county, supposedly Amazon according to one former board member. Issues include a lack of individual unit metering equipment and the fact the Town has sole authority to charge for the provision of power inside the town limits.
During discussion of the Kendrick Lane roof-solar panel situation it was noted that one positive was that the solar panels were not bolted to the roof in any way, and rather are just sitting on the roof on the panel row bases. Executive Director Parsons pointed out that it had been established that the roof damage did not come from the solar panel installation, but was a consequence of “faulty roof work ages back”.
Also during the Asset Committee Report Harold said the committee “was sad to report that the majority of current bad debt and aging receivables is owed by the Town of Front Royal for their municipal projects”. Primary among those projects is the $8 million to $11 million Town Police Station project financed through the EDA.
Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick was present and in response to a question told the EDA that “the Town is in receipt of the invoice that was most recently sent” regarding the police station and that it would be discussed at a coming council work session.
Tederick also said the Town had received an EDA FOIA request and that the Town Finance Director had scanned relevant material which should be forthcoming shortly. The Interim Town Manager said he had discussed with the Town Attorney setting up a conference call for 3 p.m. Monday to discuss Town-EDA issues.
The Town has filed civil litigation against the EDA to collect “as much as $15 million” in assets it believes were misdirected or lost by the Town during McDonald’s executive leadership of the EDA.
Talking to the press after the EDA went into Closed Session Tederick said he believed the referenced FRPD project invoice was for $8.7 million dollars, with assessed interest calculated at 3.5%, which he added, “differs from the agreed-upon terms the Town was originally offered by the EDA.”
Tederick confirmed the Town’s perceived agreed-upon interest rate on the FRPD project involved New Market Tax Credit Program (NMTC) financing, which is believed to calculate at about 1% over the life of the bond payback.
“So it’s all coming to a head and we’re trying to figure out how to best move forward,” Tederick said. Asked if the Town and EDA were trying to make the financing dispute less adversarial, the Interim Mayor replied, “Make it less adversarial, of course. But we have to agree upon what we can agree upon. And what we can’t agree upon we have a judge to determine what the right numbers are.”
As Royal Examiner has previously reported, a council majority decided to gamble on a best case New Market Tax Credit scenario brought forward by McDonald during consideration of a bond issue on a number of Town or County Capital Improvement Projects. That NMTC Program would have offered a seven to nine-year interest free payback term over an estimated 20 or 30 year payback.
However, that gamble was made over the advice of then-Town Manager Joe Waltz, Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson and NMTC Regional Administrator People Inc. representative Brian Phipps.
Due to uncertainties with the NMTC Program’s future, as well as municipal competition for limited regional funds controlled by People Inc, Waltz, Wilson and Phipps all recommended to Council that a bank-offered, locked-in 2.65% interest rate over a 30-year payback term was the best bet because its favorable interest rate was locked in and the money was not subject to being lost in a municipal competition for funding.
It was also later established that the FRPD headquarters project didn’t qualify for the NMTC program because it was a capital improvement project that did not create jobs, a primary goal of that federal and state overseen program.
“Here comes the judge,” as comedian Flip Wilson used to say.
Watch the entire open session EDA Special Meeting, with the above-referenced discussions and reports, among others of high interest in the exclusive Royal Examiner video:
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for November 18-22, 2019
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
(NEW) or (UPDATE) indicates a new entry or a revised entry since last week’s report.
No lane closures reported.
*NEW* Route 340 (Winchester Road) – Northbound and southbound right lane closures for inspection of Crook Run bridge just north of Front Royal, Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Route 624 (Morgan Ford Road) – Closed between Route 643 (Howellsville Road) and Route 661 (Fairground Road) for roadway repairs just south of Shenandoah River bridge. Follow posted detour. Estimated completion June 2020.
Various roads – Flagger traffic control for utility tree trimming, Monday to Friday during daylight hours.
Vegetation management may take place district wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at http://www.511Virginia.org.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile friendly website at https://my.vdot.virginia.gov/. Agents are available 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week.
Earth Right Energy countersues EDA for $20 million in damages
According to a November 7 filing with the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office Earth Right Energy (ERE) has joined in countersuing the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority for damages it claims the company incurred as a result of cancellation of a contract it asserts was validly put in place during the tenure of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.
As previously reported attorneys for EDA civil defendant ITFederal and its principal Truc “Curt” Tran filed $13.5 million countersuit against the EDA on October 9. The EDA is seeking recovery of as much as $12 million in EDA assets from Tran and ITFederal.
Along with Tran and his company, Earth Right Energy and its principal Donald Poe and Managing Partner Justin Appleton were among defendants named in both the original EDA civil litigation of March 26 and the Amended EDA civil complaint of October 4.
The EDA is seeking recovery of a total of $21.3 million from what has climbed to a total of 15 defendants alleged to have been involved in, or beneficiaries of fraudulent financial schemes surrounding the former EDA executive director. McDonald is now facing 32 criminal felony financial fraud indictments related to the EDA civil litigation and the County and EDA-contracted Cherry Bekaert public accounting investigation of EDA finances at the base of that litigation. Poe is scheduled for a three-day trial January 22 to 24 on three criminal felony charges – two “obtaining money by false pretenses” and one “perjury” – related to the EDA litigation.
The Amended EDA complaint states that ERE, Poe, Appleton “and others, entered into multiple agreements with Defendant McDonald purporting to oblige the Warren EDA to pay for solar installation at Warren County Public Schools, even though Defendant Poe knew, that the Warren County Public Schools did not approve of any agreement to purchase and install solar power equipment from Defendant Earth Right Energy for any Warren County Public School properties.”
While that $27.3 million dollar solar contract for the schools was never acted upon the EDA civil suit cites payments authorized by McDonald to ERE “without permission or authorization by the Warren EDA” totaling $1,279,888. The EDA litigation notes an August 27, 2018 reimbursement payment made by ERE at McDonald’s request to the EDA of $334,851, reducing the total sought for recovery from ERE to “at least $945,037”.
However in its countersuit, ERE attorneys allege that the public schools solar contract was legitimately negotiated and confirmed at some levels in a mid-August 2018 phone conversation witnessed by “Earth Right’s representatives and Mrs. Michelle Henry”. Henry is also facing criminal charges and civil liability in the EDA case.
“Earth Right extended a formal offer in August in the form of an unexecuted written agreement memorializing the terms of the offer.
“In mid-August (2018), representatives from Earth Right, met in person with Jennifer McDonald, then the Executive Director of the EDA, to inquire as to (1) whether the EDA had approved and agreed to the terms in the Offer, and (2) whether the Warren County School Board was amenable to being a third-party beneficiary of the agreement and would endeavor to aid Earth Right and EDA in fulfilling the terms of therein.
“Jennifer McDonald, as Executive Director and in the presence of Earth Right’s representatives and Ms. Michelle Henry, telephoned Mr. Greg Drescher, then Chairman of both the EDA and the Warren County Public School Board (writer’s note: actually Drescher was superintendent of schools, not a member of the School Board).
“Mr. Drescher confirmed to Jennifer McDonald during the above-mentioned telephone conversation that the EDA had approved the agreement and that the Warren County School Board would endeavor to take whatever reasonable steps the EDA and Earth Right needed to have solar installed on the Roofs of the schools subject to the agreement,” four consecutive paragraphs of the ERE counterclaim contend, adding that “on September 4, 2018, Jennifer McDonald … on behalf of the EDA, formally executed the agreement with Earth Right …”
Of the agreement the ERE Counterclaim states, “The intent of EDA and Earth Right though not written was to secure third-party grants and other sources of funding such that the EDA either did not have to make any capital outlays required by the School Solar Agreements or such that the EDA would be recoop all monies paid (grammar in context).”
As a consequence of what it claims was a legitimately enacted contract, Earth Right Energy asks the court for a judgment of $20 million in damages; court costs; “and any other relief deemed just and appropriate.”
And so the legal wheels continue to spin around EDA civil and criminal litigation now estimated to have generated between 700,000 and a million pages of related materials being accumulated by the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.
UPDATE: Local school contractor employee arrested on child porn charges
An employee of ABM Service Company, a contractor for custodial services for Warren County Public Schools, was arrested in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 9, and charged with two counts of child pornography. Specifically, on the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail website the charges were cited as “Obscenity – Child Porn – Take part, film child porn, age <15, offender 7+ years”.
Robert Daniel Heishman, 27, was booked into RSW Regional Jail at 5:26 AM Saturday and was being held without bond pending a court hearing according to the RSW Jail website.
Attempts to verify details of Heishman’s employment with the school system administration prior to publication were unsuccessful.
Melody Shepard, Assistant Superintendent of Warren County Schools said that WCPS is co-operating with the investigation.
This story will be updated as additional information becomes available.
Cyberstalking indictment highlights the dark side of social media contacts
The indictment filed October 15 (2019) against a 19-year-old Odessa, Texas man accused of cyberstalking and making social media threats against the family of a 16-year-old Linden girl who was found dead not far from her Apple Mountain home 12 days after going missing the evening of April 26, 2018, show the dark underbelly of social media use to dark and pathological ends.
While Adrian Raul O’Dell is charged on four counts related to online threats and harassment of Sarah Rose Genari’s mother, father, sister and brother occurring between June 2018 and June 2019, the indictment indicates O’Dell’s claim of driving the 16-year-old Warren County girl two thirds of the way across the country to suicide through their social media contacts prior to her disappearance and the May 8, 2018, discovery of her body in a heavily wooded area just off the road not far from her home.
SRG, as Sarah Rose Genari is referred to in the indictment, died of what was ruled by the state coroner’s office as a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“From on or around September 2017, to on or around March 2018, SRG had an online relationship with defendant ADRIAN RAUL O’DELL, with whom she communicated about, among other topics, depression and suicide,” the indictment states. It continues to describe several subsequent online and social media interactions in which O’Dell references himself in the third person or uses Facebook alter egos to direct credit for SRG’s death to “Adrian O’Dell”.
“In or around June 2018, defendant ADRIAN RAUL O’DELL sent an email to the WCSO using a Gmail account, firstname.lastname@example.org. In the email, defendant told a WCSO investigator that he knew who drove SRG to suicide and that the person was ‘Adrian,’ who lived in Odessa, Texas … In or around June 2018, defendant ADRIAN RAUL O’DELL, using Amino, an online social media application, made posts and messaged others also using Amino in which he claimed responsibility and took credit for SRG’s death,” the indictment continues.
The indictment also describes a November 29, 2018, “anonymous tip” to the FBI stating that a suspect named Adrian O’Dell of Odessa, Texas “has willingly admitted to killing (SRG).”
In August 2018, just three months after Sara Genari’s death, O’Dell is described establishing contact with the Genari family through Facebook Messenger, asking if they were related to the deceased girl.
By December 2018, O’Dell is said to have made contact with the family and friends of SRG through a Facebook account named “Amanda Williams” in which screenshots of Snapchat messages in which Snapchat user “EN stated how he killed SRG.”
The family did not respond and/or blocked the “Amanda Williams” account, the indictment states.
O’Dell then is alleged to have used other Facebook identities to contact Genari’s family and friends, two under the name “Tim Johnson” in which O’Dell began sending profanity-laced, “gangsta”-tinged lingo berating and threatening family members and bragging about causing the girl’s death.
“…I’m glad I called that hit out on her, I’m glad I killed her … was fun to do. Posting about me on here?? You dumb af hoe I’ll put a 5k bag on your head and have you dead just like I did your … daughter I know your exact address hoe Go ahead and press charges and try and arrest me. You better hope they do or its ur a** I’ll come to Virginia and blow up yo sh*t … I made his daughter take y’all gun for some fun. Guess I am Satan …Give me two months and y’all gonna be in a coffin … Don’t mess with gang sh*t bruh You’ll end up like your daughter … Post about me again and I’ll show you wtf happens,” was part of a December 20, 2018 message to Genari’s mother.
On December 28, 2018, he wrote Genari’s sister, “… that’s why we … killed her, Adrian and all of us. You think you guys are gonna catch us, y’all won’t bruh …a whole a** police investigation. Y’all Stoopid! I guess we will just keep getting away with it …”
I guess “he” and “they” guessed wrong.
“The subscriber information for the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses associated with the above accounts and messages – i.e. <email@example.com; Amino; FBI Tip; and Facebook accounts for ‘Adrian O’Dell’, ‘Amanda Williams’, and ‘Tim Johnson’ – correspond to defendant ADRIAN RAUL O’DELL’s residence in Odessa, Texas,” the final evidentiary paragraph of the indictment reads leading into the five counts O’Dell was arrested on.
“Cyberstalking and communicating threats through social media are serious federal crimes and prosecuting them is a priority of this office,” U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen stated in the Western District of Virginia, Harrisonburg Division press release on the O’Dell indictments, adding, “I am grateful for the hard work of the FBI and the Warren County Sheriff’s office in identifying this defendant and bringing him to justice.
“This case is important to us because a young girl’s family, while still mourning her death, was re-victimized with the messages sent by the accused. We are grateful for the assistance of the FBI El Paso Division’s Midland Resident Agency and the United States Attorney’s Office during the course of this investigation.”
The Western District press release on the O’Dell arrest notes that Assistant United States Attorney Kate Rumsey will prosecute the case for the United States.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 recalled this Veterans Day 2019
Officials from the Giles B. Cook Post 53 of the American Legion again hosted Front Royal’s Veterans Day ceremonies on the grounds and in the street in front of the Warren County Courthouse. The marching bands of Warren County and Skyline High Schools and Randolph Macon Academy were on hand, as well as a color guard of R-MA cadets.
The weather cooperated with sunny and balmy temperatures the day before snow flurries have been predicted for the area.
Post 53 Commander Rick Kinsey hosted the event, introducing veterans present and speakers including Marine vet and Front Royal Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock and keynote speaker John F. Kokernak, U.S. Army retired.
Tribute was paid, not only to those who have served and sacrificed, but those family members left behind to ponder whether their loved ones will ever return home.
“You know it’s a pleasure to be here because I have been at (battle site location), I have seen the poppies, I know about those kinds of things; I’ve been to the wheat field, I’ve been to Iwo Jima. I know these battlefields,” Sealock said of the respect paid to those who have served, adding, “but I sat there today thinking about things for the service I thought about the forgotten ones. The one who are left behind during the deployments and time overseas, those people, the Gold Star mothers, the spouses, the children, the family as a whole, the parents. These people are forgotten in my estimate, and I always think of those who do not return – what effect did it have on these individuals and families? For that, I welcome you to this great celebration,” Sealock concluded.
The vice mayor’s remarks echoed what makes this annual celebration that began as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of “the war to end all wars”, World War One on November 11, 1918, so special. The honor of service and sacrifice of all impacted, both on the battlefields of the world, and those waiting anxiously at home for their return; as well as the enduring desire for a peace achieved through a commitment to international justice for all nations that will make those sacrifices of war someday a less necessary part of our collective history.
Armistice Day, now Veterans Day, is traditionally celebrated at 11 a.m., November 11. That was the moment when the guns along the fronts of World War One fell silent a final time in 1918 as the Armistice to end that war was achieved.
The poppies Sealock referred to on this 101st celebration of service and an end to war come from a poem from World War One “In Flanders Fields”. The poem, often referenced at these services, was written in May 1915 by Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae. Its impetus is believed to have been McCrae’s conduct of the field burial service for Lieutenant Alexis Helmer in the absence of a company chaplain:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
See Front Royal and Warren County’s celebration of Veterans Day 2019, including keynote speaker John F. Kokernak’s full remarks and the laying of the wreaths in this exclusive Royal Examiner video: