As the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority prepares to file litigation against unrevealed parties after receiving a financial report that delved into the organization’s finances, a former town councilwoman said over the phone last week that all the turmoil could have been avoided.
Bébhinn Egger Rowland, a councilwoman from 2015 to 2017, raised a number of questions during her time in office regarding EDA projects, including ITFederal and a workforce housing development.
Both of those projects remain on hold, with construction not having begun on the workforce housing. Town Manager Joe Waltz recently said that project is in the hands of the developer.
Meanwhile, Curt Tran, ITFederal developer, said the company will not open but there are plans for another firm at the location.
Egger Rowland was on the council that unanimously approved a $10 million loan to the EDA, which was in turn given to ITFederal. She said that she voted in favor of the loan because she was excited about good paying jobs coming to town.
“But in the back of my mind, I was also thinking: If this is an established company...why do they need the Town of Front Royal to loan them $10 million?” she said.
Although Egger Rowland voted in favor of the loan, she said the first item that raised a red flag was ITFederal’s website, which “looked like it had been put together by a high schooler.” Although the website listed Tran’s phone number and email address, Egger Rowland said former EDA director Jennifer McDonald said the company did not have a website.
“I’m thinking what IT company in the 21st century that has millions of dollars in federal contracts doesn’t have a website...it doesn’t make any sense, that was the first thing,” Egger Rowland said.
Egger Rowland noted remembering that McDonald said ITFederal was an information technology company that had millions of dollars in federal contracts.
“She claimed that we weren’t allowed to see the contracts. She claimed that she had seen the contracts...but we weren’t allowed to see them,” Egger Rowland said.
She said the red flags kept building, as every federal contract is listed online. The only contracts she could find relating to Tran, she said, were around $400,000 for V.D.N. Systems, another one of his companies. The only active contract V.D.N. Systems had at the time, she said, was for about $5,000.
Egger Rowland said: “the most disheartening thing to me” was she relayed that information to fellow councilmen and the mayor but "nobody cared.”
Egger Rowland added that she also had questions regarding why it was not initially revealed that ITFederal was an EB-5 visa program that allows foreign investors to be granted green cards for investing in economically distressed areas. She noted that the visa program “is ripe for fraud.”
According to previous reports, when Egger Rowland raised questions about delays in ITFederal's construction, she was told by fellow councilmen that the town should not worry itself about the project's progress or if the company was properly vetted. According to previous reports, former councilman Bret Hrbek said that questions about ITFederal may make the company "pull up roots and walk away."
Egger Rowland said this was frustrating because “what happens with the EDA affects everybody in town, and the Town Council is supposed to be looking out for their constituents.”
She said even though the town does not fund the EDA or appoint board members, “that doesn’t mean that we can’t ask questions” especially "if they’re going to be leading to situations like this down the road.”
Egger Rowland also questioned the EDA’s workforce housing project. The EDA was supposed to receive land for the project as a gift from McDonald’s aunt and uncle, Walter and Jeanette Campbell. However, a construction deadline that would have granted the Campbells a tax break was missed and the land was eventually purchased for $445,000.
According to previous reports, when Egger Rowland posed a series of questions during a meeting about the project, Mayor Hollis Tharpe suggested the questions be sent directly to the EDA. Then-councilman John Connolly said the meeting was not for grandstanding.
Egger Rowland said she does not feel vindicated about the trouble surrounding the EDA but she is sad.
“I don’t live there anymore, but Front Royal will always be my hometown,” she said. “And I just feel sad that the people who are supposed to be cherishing the town and protecting the town and the people who live in it are not doing a very good job.”
Egger Rowland added that she said from the beginning that, “I’m not smart enough to figure all of this out.”
“If people had listened to me from the beginning and somebody smarter could have gotten on this four years ago, they could have stopped a lot of this from happening and the people of Front Royal would be a lot better off,” she said.
McDonald was contacted via Facebook for a comment regarding Egger Rowland's recollection of events. McDonald said that she would need to know what Egger Rowland said before deciding whether or not to comment on the matter.
Upon being given a general overview of Egger Rowland's statements, McDonald did not provide a comment.
Tran could not be reached for comment.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article should have named the former council woman Bébhinn Egger Rowland.