By Joe Beck - firstname.lastname@example.org
Rodney L. Cole Sparks, a Front Royal businessman facing charges of selling tainted meat from his store at 654 W. 11th St., said Tuesday he would represent himself in court after his public defender withdrew from the case and Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp refused to appoint a new one.
Hupp concluded Sparks has enough money to hire his own attorney after poring over financial statements listing Sparks' income and property owned in Front Royal and Monrovia, Md.
Hupp said the financial statements included a tax assessment that pegged the value of Sparks' Maryland home and its 6-acre lot at $398,000 and the purchase value of his store property in Front Royal at $62,000. Hupp said Sparks also appeared to have a positive cash flow from his business, a finding that Sparks disputed vigorously in an interview after the hearing.
Sparks is charged with 10 counts of offering adulterated and misbranded meat for sale in his salvage store, Rodney's Discount Foods.
The criminal complaint filed against Sparks describes meat found by state inspectors at the store as "putrid, decomposed, unsound, unhealthful, unwholesome and ... unfit for human food."
The complaint also states that an investigation traced the meat back to the Food Lion Supermarket in Berryville, where store employees said they had seen Sparks "on numerous dates" taking discarded food from the store's Dumpster.
Sparks told Hupp that he could not afford his own attorney, despite the judge's finding that Sparks was not eligible for a public defender. Sparks represented himself after Assistant Public Defender Margarita Wood withdrew as his court-appointed attorney at the beginning of the hearing.
"I think my communication between my client and me has deteriorated to the point where I cannot adequately represent him," Wood told Hupp.
"My client believes I have been economically influenced," she added.
The hearing was scheduled after Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Madden asked for proof that Sparks lacked the money to pay for his own attorney. Under questioning from Madden, Sparks said his store is open four days a week, and he spends much of his remaining time scouring stores in Pennsylvania and West Virginia for merchandise that he buys for resale at his Front Royal business.
Sparks told Madden the names of the stores he visited, but couldn't remember the names of the towns in which they are located.
Sparks fumed at the judge's decision to deny him a public defender in a later interview.
"It's just the good old boys," he said of the outcome of the hearing.
Sparks insisted his store has a negative cash flow, and he has been denied a loan for lack of proof that he has been earning money.
"Just because I have property, they think I can do something with it," Sparks said, adding that he believed his store "can be a good business if people just let me do it."
Sparks also complained about a pair of state food inspectors who attended the hearing but were not called to testify after waiting all morning for the case to be called.
"That's a waste of taxpayers' dollars for them to come here for no reason at all," he said.