FRONT ROYAL – A study by the firm investigating the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s finances revealed that Jennifer McDonald, the authority’s former executive director, allegedly embezzled about $457,000 from town and county credit lines over 18 years to pay relatives for services such as maintenance work.
The working papers filed by Cherry Bekaert, which are the basis for the EDA’s $17.6 million embezzlement lawsuit against McDonald and eight other defendants, list a variety of new allegations that were not included in the authority's initial complaint. With these new allegations, including the payments to relatives, the alleged embezzlement carried out at the EDA has increased to $21.1 million.
Although the filing does not specify what kind of maintenance work the payments were filed under, former EDA Interim Executive Director John Anzivino previously noted that strange payments regarding lawn maintenance and snow removal were uncovered.
The court filing states that McDonald authorized “multiple questionable payments largely recorded as maintenance expenses” that were “unknown and unauthorized” by the EDA board. It adds that these transactions violated her “fiduciary responsibility” of safeguarding “taxpayer’s assets.”
The filing states that the payments included:
• $167,287 paid from 2001-2018 to George Hassenplug, McDonald's stepfather.
• $32,175 paid from July 2018 to October 2018 to Myron Smelser, who the filing states is believed to employ George Hassenplug.
• $158,267 paid from 2011-2018 to Chris Hassenplug, McDonald's half-brother.
• $5,675 paid from 2000-2006 to Gail Addison, who the filing states is believed to be McDonald's sister.
• $18,791 paid from 2001-2015 to John Addison, who the filing states is believed to be McDonald's brother-in-law.
• $3,938 from 2001-2015 to Micheal Addison, who the filing states is believed to be McDonald’s nephew.
• $4,975 from 2010-2016 to Kathy Butler, who the filing states is believed to be related to McDonald in an unspecified manner.
• $66,205 from 2001-2015 to Sammy North, McDonald’s husband.
The filing also notes that McDonald is suspected of embezzling $5,850 to make payments on a relative's student loan.
None of the above-listed individuals have been charged or were named in the EDA’s filing of the $17.6 million civil lawsuit. McDonald is the only person to be criminally charged in the EDA scandal - on four felony counts of embezzlement - and remains in jail without bond. Linda Hassenplug, McDonald’s mother, said over the phone Friday that she does not wish to comment about the situation and that the whole family likely won't comment either.
The filing adds that apparent payments, which are not traceable in the EDA's QuickBooks accounting program, were made to Smalls Plumbing and North Plumbing, two companies with an address the same as McDonald's home.
"An undetermined amount of payments may have been made to North Plumbing and other related parties," the filing states.
According to previous reports, McDonald was employed as the EDA’s property manager from 1995-2004, at which point she left to work in real estate. In April 2008, she was appointed as the authority’s executive director. Previous reports state that a month after that appointment, the Front Royal Town Council voted to no longer provide the EDA with operating expenses.
Then-Councilman Stan Brooks is quoted in a Northern Virginia Daily news story, saying that “over the last few years, there has been a lack of accountability, a lack of checks and balances, and the EDA has been heading off in a kind of different direction...without any guidance or direction from the town or the county for the most part.”
When McDonald was appointed executive director, according to a previous news story in the Northern Virginia Daily, she said her main goal was creating a more positive perception of the EDA.
“I think the EDA needs to come out from under the umbrella of all this negative press,” she said.
The filing notes that the newly revealed payments to relatives do not include an alleged $652,000 embezzlement scheme in which McDonald purchased a Royal Lane property from Jeanette and Walter Campbell, McDonald’s aunt and uncle who own Campbell Realty. This allegation was detailed in the EDA's lawsuit.