FRONT ROYAL – The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s board at its Friday meeting unanimously authorized litigation against a firm that received a 3.5-acre land parcel for $10.
The land sits at the end of Royal Lane and was purchased by the EDA for a workforce housing project that never came to fruition.
In November 2018, Cornerstone LP acquired the land for $10. On Friday, the EDA passed a motion stating intentions to sue the firm in an attempt to recover the land or “collect the full value of the conveyance.”
Cornerstone LP is an entity of the Aikens Group, a Winchester-based construction company. Aikens Group representatives previously did not respond to multiple phone inquiries.
In March 2016, the EDA board approved the $445,000 purchase of the land from former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s aunt and uncle. It was eventually purchased above the approved price, for $577,511. McDonald claimed that the land would be donated as her relatives could earn a tax credit. Later, McDonald said a deadline for that tax credit was missed so the land could not be gifted.
The deal is one of many financial improprieties of which the EDA has accused McDonald in a $21.3 million civil lawsuit. McDonald has also been indicted on 32 felony counts related to financial transactions during her decade-long tenure. During those civil proceedings, McDonald has been accused by the EDA’s lawyers of entering forged documents into evidence as proof that she timely disclosed her relationship to the Royal Lane property owners.
According to previous reports, a deed for the $10 sale was signed on Nov. 28, 2018, by the board’s then-Chairman Gray Blanton, who is still a board member. The deed was signed over two months after a firm began a forensic audit of the EDA’s finances shortly after the town claimed the authority overbilled it by about $290,000.
Blanton previously said that he recalled McDonald asking him to sign the deed, which was not “a bound copy,” and he just saw the document’s last page. He added that he did not recall being told the sale price.
“I was told this is the way it’s going to be done...at that time, we pretty much trusted Jennifer,” Blanton said in April.
Former EDA board member Ron Llewellyn previously said he did not recall approving the land sale.
“I don’t think it ever came up in a meeting,” he said.
Former EDA board member Bruce Drummond said the sell was “absolutely not” approved by the board.
The EDA’s lawsuit shares the same sentiment, stating that the authority did not authorize the sale.