The Warren County Sheriff’s Office celebrated July 4th with an announcement of multiple arrests at several locations related to the thefts of a variety of vehicles, including ATV’s, motorcycles, mini-bikes, and other property, operating out of Warren County. The release acknowledged outstanding inter-departmental and community involvement in bringing charges against a criminal enterprise believed to have targeted “several counties in Virginia and West Virginia.” See full detail of the multi-faceted operation in the July 4 WCSO Press Release below:
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has been conducting a comprehensive investigation into a recent string of thefts of all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and other crimes that have occurred throughout the county in the month of June 2021. According to Sheriff Butler, members of the Patrol, Investigations, and Special Problems and Drug Enforcement (SPADE) divisions have worked diligently with the public to piece together the individual clues and evidence that revealed the criminal enterprise operating in our county.
On 06/30/2021 at 12:14 AM, Deputy A. Stevens stopped a black 2001 Chevrolet van on Fellows Drive near Howellsville Road after the deputy recognized the driver, Troy Michael Brill from a recent contact as being unlicensed, and the vehicle was improperly registered. The traffic stop resulted in the arrest of Troy Michael Brill, age 21, of Front Royal for Possession of Narcotics (Schedule I or II drugs), and driving on a revoked driver’s license.
The passenger, Christina S. Hottinger, age 40, of Front Royal was arrested and charged with several offenses. These included Possession of Narcotics (Schedule I or II drugs), authorizing a person to operate a vehicle while the license is revoked or suspended, and two counts of violations of Family Offenses – Gross, wanton, or reckless care for a child(ren). The later charges stemmed from Hottinger’s two minor children being present within the vehicle at the time the alleged criminal offenses were observed by Deputy Stevens. Hottinger has been released on bond pending a hearing.
The children were turned over to the temporary custody of their family.
The black Chevrolet van driven by Brill and its attached, pull-behind automobile trailer was towed pursuant to his arrest, and not being lawfully titled or registered. The van and trailer were later linked to having been used in the commission of thefts of motorized vehicles.
On 06/30/2021, members of the Sheriff’s Office executed two search warrants related to this investigation. The first search warrant was served by members of the Sheriff’s Office at 03:29 PM on a single-family home on the 200 block of River Isle Lane, unincorporated Front Royal. The brief search was unsuccessful in locating Phillip C. Roberston, age 42, of Front Royal; however, Roberston was later arrested by members of the Sheriff’s Office SPADE Unit in Frederick County on an active warrant out of Warren County for Possession of a Schedule I or II drugs, not related to this case.
A black Ford Ranger pickup truck was seized at the River Isle Lane residence because it had been identified as allegedly being used by suspects in this investigation during the commission of a crime. It had been previously established by law enforcement that the group was using a variety of vehicles to conduct surveillance of homes, and then later returning in a different vehicle to steal property.
Roberston was subsequently charged with six counts of Grand Larceny – $200 or more, not from a person, which was linked to this investigation. Roberston is currently held in the RSW Jail awaiting a hearing.
A search warrant at 724 Western Drive, unincorporated Front Royal yielded the recovery of evidence linked to the investigation of the thefts of ATVs, the recovery of stolen property, and two firearms and ammunition were also recovered. Charges for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and other criminal charges are pending. Unrelated to the search warrant, the Sheriff’s Office had received a request from a school counselor for a check on wellbeing for two juveniles living in this residence. The juveniles were not on-premise and later located safe in the custody of family living elsewhere.
Major Driskill described this home as being the source of numerous citizen complaints and therefore more comprehensive investigative actions were taken during the search warrant execution. Based on the arrests of the residents, and the home is unoccupied, five canines were taken into protective custody by Animal Control Officers and transported to the local shelter. Major Driskill describes the conditions of the residence and property as being extremely unsafe, and unsanitary to the degree that the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office was contacted.
Fire Marshall Gerry Maiatico arrived and assisted in the investigation. The preliminary findings were that the residence itself was structurally unsound, with exposed wiring, holes in the flooring and roof, and unsanitary conditions throughout. Major Driskill thanks Fire Marshal Maiatico for his quick response and assistance. The electric company was contacted and the electricity to the home temporarily disconnected to prevent a possible fire. Other county agencies, including planning and zoning and child protective services, are being contacted to further address the health and public safety concerns pertaining to this property.
Evidence developed during this ongoing investigation is believed to be linked to thefts of motor vehicles, mini-bikes, motorcycles, and other property in several counties in Virginia, and West Virginia. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office is coordinating with those law enforcement agencies, with additional charges anticipated. Investigations Supervisor Laura Nelson-Haas states her Office is still in the process of identifying some of the recovered property, and assistance from the public will be needed.
During this investigation, it was discovered that another criminal trend was emerging. It was determined that unattended motor vehicles in parking lots and rural areas throughout the county had been damaged by having their catalytic converters removed. These items are appealing to persons who wish to make a quick dollar by selling them to a scrapyard.
Aside from being resold as replacement items for older vehicles, the catalytic converter or “cats” as they are referred to on the street, are also stolen for another reason. Inside the converters are precious metals such as palladium, rhodium, and platinum, which have high-dollar values. Catalytic converters have been recovered by the Sheriff’s Office and their original and ownership are being traced.
Major Driskill credits the success of this investigation to the excellent communication and coordination between the Sheriff’s Office and the community. Many of these crimes had not been discovered or reported due to homeowners being away on vacation or having second homes in other areas. Major Driskill extends his appreciation to those homeowners who had been looking out for each other in the true spirit of a Neighborhood Watch program. Major Driskill also acknowledged the professional investigative work conducted by members of both Patrol Shifts, who were very proactive in collecting information and evidence leading to the identification of the suspects. Major Driskill stated “this was outstanding law enforcement work done by our Patrol Deputies,
and they deserve immense credit! Residents should know that they patrolled their streets, did surveillance, and more. These Deputies went beyond expectations.”
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office reminds residents that their Community Policing Unit, led by Sergeant Cindy Burke and Lieutenant Robbie Seal is actively working to enhance and expand the Neighborhood Watch program and interested homeowners’ associations should contact them.
Finally, residents are reminded to check on the unattended rural property to ensure the safety of their property and vehicles. If anything is found missing or damaged in the county, please report this by calling the Warren County Emergency Communications Center (9-1-1), or if out of the area, call (540) 635-4128. Persons having information regarding this investigation are asked to contact WCSO Investigator Kristin Hajduk at (540) 635-4128.
(Approved for release on 07/04/2021: Major J. A. Driskill)
A Salute to General Daniel Morgan: Virginia’s Revolutionary War Hero
Honoring a Legend: SAR Dedicates Plaque at the Historic Burwell-Morgan Mill.
Millwood, Clarke County, Virginia – General Daniel Morgan, a stalwart of the American Revolution, was honored with a dedication ceremony hosted by the Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Virginia Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) on 15th September 2023. The picturesque Burwell-Morgan Mill served as the backdrop for the event, with a bronze plaque celebrating the General’s extraordinary life taking center stage in the meadow.
Daniel Morgan’s journey from a young New Jersey lad to a Virginia legend is one for the books. As a youngster who could hardly read or write, he ventured to Virginia, making the Shenandoah Valley his home. From his humble beginnings as a teamster to playing a crucial role in the War for Independence, his life was nothing short of extraordinary. Morgan’s resilience was evident when, after receiving a near-fatal injury from an ambush outside Fort Edward, he carried the scars and stories proudly. His tactical brilliance shone brightest at the Battle of Saratoga and later, Cowpens, setting the stage for Cornwallis’ eventual defeat.
The event was a grand spectacle, with the Virginia SAR State Color Guard presenting colors and dignitaries from various societies paying their respects. Marc Robinson emceed, while Paul McComb undertook chaplain duties. The guest list was illustrious: Mid-Atlantic District Vice President General James Engler, Sr; Virginia Society SAR President Ernie Coggins; representatives from DAR and C.A.R., among others. Dale Corey painted a vivid picture of Morgan’s life after which numerous SAR Societies and DAR Chapters presented wreaths in the General’s honor.
As James Graham, Morgan’s biographer, once wrote, his “strength and spirit, his frank and manly bearing, his intelligence and good humor” made him beloved by many. This sentiment echoed throughout the ceremony as attendees remembered the General’s influence on the colonial victory.
The event reached its crescendo with Anita Bonner and Jocelynn Wilson leading the attendees in a rendition of “God Bless America,” culminating in a musket salute by the Virginia State Color Guard.
In an era where heroes often emerge from the pages of fiction, General Daniel Morgan’s story stands as a testament to the mettle and spirit of real-life warriors. This dedication serves not only to commemorate his incredible life but also to inspire future generations to value sacrifice, strategy, and resilience.
In From New York State Larry Tuttle Sr. Steps to the Plate, I Mean McDonald Federal Trial Witness Box
With the federal criminal prosecution of Jennifer McDonald again on hold, this time from Tuesday, September 19 through Friday, September 22, if not longer, due to what was described by the prosecution as an “unexpected health issue,” we decided to fill the gap with a recounting of earlier testimony this writer witnessed in the wake of his own testimony of Wednesday, September 13. As previously reported, McDonald is charged on 34 counts related to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA, EDA) “financial scandal,” as it has come to be known. Those charges include bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft.
As reported in my lead story on my two days, September 12 and 13, in the 10th Western District of Virginia federal courthouse, among the other witnesses scheduled that day after my testimony was Larry Tuttle Sr. Tuttle identified himself as defendant Jennifer McDonald’s stepfather George Hassenplug’s cousin. He is a resident of Monroe, New York, he told the prosecution during direct examination. He also noted that he was last employed in 1993, before being in “a terrible car accident,” after which he has survived on Social Security disability benefits of about $1700 a month, he said in response to a direct examination question. Spending some time near Tuttle and what I believe was his wife in the courthouse third-floor hallway prior to either of our testimonies, I could see that he had some difficulty moving around, rising, and sitting back down.
As I watched his testimony following my own, the prosecution’s interest in Tuttle soon became apparent. He testified that as a favor to his cousin, George Hassenplug, he had signed some apparently partial real estate documents sent to him at his New York home during the time frame coinciding with some of the Jennifer McDonald real estate transactions that later came under legal scrutiny as allegedly involving misdirected EDA assets. Tuttle testified that while he knew who Jennifer McDonald was due to his cousin’s relationship with her by marriage to McDonald’s mother, that he did not know her personally and had never met her.
Asked if he was close to his cousin George Hassenplug, Tuttle replied that he “had been” from the 1990s to 2017 and that they had talked on the phone three to four times a week regularly during that period. Tuttle also testified that he didn’t own, nor was he invested in any property. As for real estate experience, he noted that he had a mortgage on a home prior to his accident.
Prosecution counsel asked Tuttle if he knew William “Billy” Biggs or had ever discussed business opportunities with him. Biggs was a long-time Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors member and treasurer during and prior to McDonald’s EDA executive directorship, circa 2008 to 2018. Tuttle replied “no” to both questions, the second one on the “business opportunities” query after a defense objection was overruled by Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon.
Tuttle was then asked a series of questions, many about loans apparently attributed to him involving real estate transactions involving the defendant. Had he ever loaned $3 million to facilitate a real estate transaction brought to him by his cousin? Tuttle laughed as he said, “No.”
Had he ever loaned $1.9 million to McDonald’s Da Boys LLC real estate company? This one drew a somewhat nasally laugh accompanying his “No” response, leading to an apology to the court for snort-laughing his answer, which drew some sympathetic laughter from the jury.
Tuttle was also shown a “Death Settlement Agreement” with his name on it — “I’ve never seen this before in my life,” he testified. Another “No” followed a question about a $1.75-million loan on mortgages.
If I heard correctly, Tuttle estimated he currently had $29 in his savings account, leading to his level of amusement at the financial questions being asked of him, particularly his loaning large amounts of money to facilitate real estate transactions.
Tuttle did say, however, that a portion of paperwork regarding a Buck Mountain Road transaction sent to him attracted his attention enough that he asked his cousin George Hassenplug if he should sign it. He said he was told that he shouldn’t worry, that “the deal will fall through in a couple of months.” Asked if he was involved in a $1.95-million loan related to that sale, he again replied, “No.” It might be recalled that the Buck Mountain Road transaction involved another witness that day in court, William Vaught Jr. That transaction saw the sale and repurchase of that property at an approximate $600,000 loss to the buyer in under a month, as the deal apparently did “fall through,” as predicted by George Hassenplug to his cousin.
William Vaught Jr.’s testimony indicated he was told that ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran was initially involved in that projected purchase but had later backed out. It is believed that the Aggravated Identity Theft federal charge against McDonald involves Tran’s assertion his name was forged in documents related to this real estate transaction. This reporter did not see Tran’s testimony due to his status as a pending witness at the time of that testimony.
Back to Tuttle’s direct examination, he was asked if he had ever received money from Jennifer McDonald. “No,” came his now familiar reply. Had he received $560,000 related to a Rileyville Road transaction? Once again, the answer was “No”.
Asked about his signature on a $1.075-million loan, Tuttle replied that he did not believe it was his. He observed that he “wrote a lot neater” than the signature on the document. He added that it was possible it was his signature, but he doubted it and did not recall signing that document.
Near the end of his direct examination, Tuttle was asked if he’d ever received money for his willingness to put his signature on the documents sent to him by his cousin. “No,” he replied. How about “gifts?” came the follow-up question, to which he responded in the positive, citing what he estimated as a $10 T-shirt sent to him. That led to the prosecution’s introduction of Exhibit 534, a photo of that T-shirt which had “That’s Mr. Tuttle” and letters appearing to be “COTB.” Asked the meaning of the T-shirt lettering, Tuttle said he was told it meant “Taking Care Of Business or something to that effect.”
On a brief cross-examination, the defense raised the specter of a Little League baseball game he had attended at which he had been asked to leave by an umpire after questioning ball and strike calls involving a nephew. The “That’s Mr. Tuttle” on the T-shirt was a reference to his responding, “That’s Mr. Tuttle to you,” to the umpire, defense counsel asserted. Tuttle said he had been asked to leave the game but denied that he had responded, “That’s Mr. Tuttle to you,” to the umpire.
And with that and a brief re-direct examination to clarify a date on one of the documents shown him, Larry Tuttle Sr.’s turn at the plate, I mean on the witness stand, ended.
Rabies Outbreak Detected in Front Royal’s Feline Population
Warren County Health Department Issues Directives on Containment and Prevention.
A recent incident in the Oregon Hollow Road area of Warren County has sounded the alarm bells for local pet owners and animal enthusiasts. A feline displaying signs of rabies infection was detected, prompting immediate action by the Warren County Animal Control Deputies.
On September 14, 2023, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office attended to an animal control call involving a seemingly ill feline. The on-scene Animal Control Officer found a confined cat among several others on the property. The complainant highlighted a troubling trend: people frequently desert cats in the area.
The caged feline’s behavior raised suspicions of a potential rabies infection. This suspicion was later echoed by a local veterinary clinic, where the cat was taken for a professional opinion. The unfortunate confirmation led to the feline’s humane euthanization, and its samples were sent to the Warren County Health Department for further testing.
By September 20, the grim results were in. The Warren County Animal Control Officer received confirmation that the feline was indeed infected with rabies. Given the severity and potential spread of this disease, the Warren County Health Department acted promptly. They issued a directive that, for public safety reasons, all remaining cats on the property would be trapped and humanely euthanized.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has since amplified its efforts to spread awareness. Residents are urged to update their pets’ rabies vaccinations and to exercise caution, especially around unfamiliar animals that may exhibit erratic or unusual behavior.
Rabies, a potentially fatal disease, poses a severe threat to both animals and humans. The quick response by Warren County Animal Control highlights the significance of early detection and intervention. As the county grapples with this challenge, collaboration and vigilance among residents will be paramount. Warren County’s residents are encouraged to stay informed, taking the necessary precautions to ensure their safety and that of their beloved pets.
Michael S. Williams Receives Prestigious 2023 Community Builder Award
Unity Masonic Lodge No. 146 Honors a Community Pillar.
In a heartwarming ceremony, Michael S. Williams was recently presented with the 2023 Community Builder Award. Acknowledging his unparalleled contributions to the betterment of the community and his dedication to nurturing young minds, Williams’s recognition came as a testament to his tireless efforts.
Jennifer Knox, Principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, initiated the event, expressing her gratitude for the presence of all attendees, specifically highlighting the Early Act Program. “It’s evident just how much you all cherish the moments you spend at the school with Mr. Williams,” she stated, reflecting on the evident warmth and respect the community holds for him. Knox, not missing a beat to praise the initiative, shared her appreciation of the program during a recent district board meeting, emphasizing the positive impacts it has brought about.
The highlight of the event was the words from Will Bryan of the Unity Masonic Lodge No. 146. Taking a jovial moment to impersonate Michael, Bryan, amid laughter and playful banter about misplaced glasses, transitioned to the reason for the gathering. Addressing the young attendees, he sought acknowledgment for the deep respect and appreciation the community holds for Williams. By the sea of raised hands, it was evident Michael was indeed a beloved figure.
The Community Builder Award, Bryan announced, was being presented to Michael Shawn Williams for his “outstanding service to the community.” The accolade didn’t just commend his services but recognized the profound impacts of his efforts, making the community a more vibrant, cohesive space for everyone. The gesture, from Unity Masonic Lodge No. 146, underscored the value of individuals like Williams in the broader fabric of the community.
Closing his tribute, Bryan added a personal note, reflecting the sentiments of many present. “We appreciate you,” he began, his voice holding a mixture of gratitude and admiration, “I am a better man because I’m around you.”
Michael S. Williams’s receipt of the 2023 Community Builder Award was more than just a ceremonial recognition. It was a moment of collective gratitude from a community that has benefited from his unwavering dedication and service. In the words and gestures of both young and old, one thing was clear: Michael S. Williams’s impact resonates deeply within the hearts of many.
A Tale of Two Visions: Butler’s Achievements vs. Cline’s Commitments
Butler and Cline: Two Distinct Visions for a Safer Warren County.
In a riveting forum, Warren County citizens gathered to hear from two stalwart contenders, Mark Butler and Crystal Cline, both vying for the coveted position of Warren County Sheriff. With a term lasting four years, the stakes are high, and the commitment deeper.
Crystal Cline, having served the Front Royal Police Department for over two decades, began with a heartfelt thank-you to the chamber for facilitating the forum and the community for their presence. She reminisced about her deep roots in Warren County, highlighting her involvement ranging from the Mom’s Club to coaching the traveling volleyball team. Cline’s main thrust was the need to restore leadership and integrity to the role of sheriff. She voiced concerns over the dissolution of the Animal Control Division and the pressing need for dedicated School Resource Officers (SROs). Most poignantly, she discussed the department’s retention issue and the imperative of a full staff. Addressing Sheriff Butler’s claim about a massive drug bust, Cline firmly stated that such an incident hadn’t transpired in Warren County and stressed the significance of integrity in leadership.
On the flip side, Sheriff Mark Butler, the incumbent, recounted the tumultuous period four years ago when Warren County grappled with a major scandal. He emphasized the changes he had championed during his tenure, such as attaining the accreditation that was lost in 2019, introducing community policing, and enhancing safety – all while lessening the taxpayer’s burden. One of his crowning achievements, he mentioned, was the confiscation of 77,000 fentanyl pills last year, which he tied to a broader narrative on the devastating drug epidemic. Butler concluded by affirming the commitment of his department to the Constitution and the rights it guarantees to the citizens.
As November 7th approaches, the air in Warren County is thick with anticipation. With two distinctly passionate perspectives on the table, the choice voters make will significantly shape the future of the county’s law enforcement.
District 31’s Destiny: Foreman, Morrison, and Oates Lay Their Cards on the Table
A Night of Passionate Pitches: Who Will Lead the 31st District Forward?
The auditorium was thick with anticipation as three formidable candidates – Steve Foreman, Grace Morrison, and Delores Oates – took to the stage, each presenting their visions for District 31 in the House of Delegates.
Grace Morrison, a compelling independent contender, has deep ties to Warren County, having moved there in 2011. Living atop a picturesque hill with her family, Morrison is firmly grounded in the community. Underscoring her desire to provide genuine representation for District 31, she spoke about the importance of unfettered and unrestricted communication between delegates and the residents. A strong believer in the Virginia Constitution, she vowed to remain transparent and amenable, aiming to serve the people first and foremost.
Democratic hopeful Steve Foreman took the audience on a journey through history, recalling the legacy of America’s representative democracy birthed in the House of Burgesses. With a heart-centered on public education, Foreman is keen to recognize and champion the needs of teachers while also pushing for more competitive school funding. He emphasized the imperative for families to have a strong foundation, advocating for rights that range from fair wages to ensuring safety from gun violence. His commitment to unity, compromise, and the collective good was unmistakable.
Rounding out the trio was Republican nominee Delores Oates. Born and raised in the district, her profound connection to the community was palpable. Having served on the Board of Supervisors, she understands the intricacies of governance firsthand. Oates accentuated the importance of school choice and its potential to raise overall education standards. She also highlighted her commitment to preserving rural values, safeguarding elections, and defending the Second Amendment.
With such diverse perspectives and visions for the future of District 31, the citizens of Warren County face an important decision. As election day approaches, the anticipation grows, promising a pivotal moment for the district’s future.