FRONT ROYAL – Criminal charges levied against Donald Poe by the special grand jury investigating the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development have been dropped but could be brought back in the future.
The dropped charges, which relate to Poe and his company Earth Right Energy’s dealings with the EDA, include felony counts of obtaining money by false pretenses, money laundering and perjury. He remains a defendant in the EDA’s $21.3 million civil case that alleges rampant embezzlement and dubious dealings during former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald's tenure.
Circuit Court Judge Bruce D. Albertson on Friday granted the request to drop the charges made by Michael Parker, the special prosecutor appointed to criminal hearings related to the EDA.
Parker was appointed special prosecutor in November and stated in an email earlier this week that he is not sufficiently caught up with all the case's details to proceed.
Parker said that he has been reading transcripts from the special grand jury’s meetings for several months but it was not until late December that he received “the famous terabyte hard drive” containing 1 million documents. Therefore, he said it is "impossible" to proceed.
He said it is his ethical responsibility to all parties to drop the charges because the special grand jury’s investigation is ongoing. Results from that investigation, he noted, could be good or bad for Poe.
Other defendants criminally charged - McDonald, her husband Samuel North, former EDA Administrative Assistant Michelle Henry and former B&G Goods store owner William Lambert - also appeared in court Friday. Albertson continued their hearings to 3:30 p.m. April 17.
Peter Greenspun, McDonald’s lawyer, noted that the commonwealth brought forth indictments before they were prepared to proceed. If McDonald refused to waive her right to a speedy trial, he said it is likely that the charges would be dropped just to be brought back again in the future.
He said the proceedings have been an “abusive process” and are “simply not right” for both McDonald and citizens “who are footing the bill for some of this.”
While Greenspun said McDonald is waiving her right to a speedy trial for now, that will not remain the case. If the prosecution is not ready to proceed in April, he said he will request the case's dismissal.
Parker said that while he is uncomfortable discussing the special grand jury and its “secret” proceedings, he would be happy to do so in the judge’s chambers with the defendants' lawyers.
Albertson responded “that’s not gonna happen” and “everything’s got to be on the record.”