The widow and children of the late Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. “Danny” McEathron must pay $90,000 to the Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority to settle claims related to civil cases against former executive director Jennifer McDonald.
The EDA Board of Directors voted at a recent meeting to adopt a resolution to settle any civil claims between the authority and McEathron’s estate. The agreement calls for McEathron’s widow and former Warren County School Board member Donna McEathron and their children Alayna and Elijah McEathron to pay $90,000 to the EDA.
Daniel McEathron had been named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the EDA against McDonald and others claiming the misuse of the agency’s money. Daniel McEathron had been a partner with McDonald’s real estate company DaBoyz LLC, which also was named in civil complaints. The civil suit claims that McDonald moved EDA assets through DaBoyz and her other real estate company, MoveOn8.
The EDA claims McDonald and others misused at least $21 million of the authority’s funds. The EDA lawsuit did not identify any specific amount it sought to recover from the sheriff or his estate.
EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne spoke by phone this week about the agreement.
“We continue, where it’s an option right now, to go after anyone that we feel we can recover assets from,” Browne said. “In a civil suit, that’s what it’s about: You’re recovering assets.
“You aren’t assigning blame or anything else,” Browne went on to say. “That’s for the criminal courts.
The EDA plans to pursue civil claims against anyone named in the lawsuit if the authority feels it can recover a significant amount of assets, Browne said.
“Obviously you don’t do it willy nilly,” Browne said. “You do it because there’s a strong legal case for it.”
McEathron took early retirement on May 1, 2019, a month after the EDA filed its suit naming him as a co-defendant with McDonald. Authorities found McEathron in his Bentonville home on May 28, 2019, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The timing and the circumstances surrounding Daniel McEathron’s death did not affect the EDA’s civil case from the authority’s standpoint, Browne said.
“We always felt since he was a partner in some of the corporate entities with Jennifer (McDonald) that we always knew that we would be getting to that estate,” Browne said. “It’s a little more complex. It’s easier to sue somebody directly than to sue their estate but, in essence, legally it’s almost the same thing.
“We felt there need to be consequences for things that are done wrong and clearly there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that he (McEathron) had more than a passive-investor liability in this case,” Browne added.
Browne went on to express condolences to the McEathrons.
“I feel for his family and it’s one of the many tragedies of this whole situation,” Browne said. “Regardless of personal feelings, you still have to try to get back what you can for the citizens.”
The agreement with the McEathrons comes as a result of the EDA determining what the authority thinks it is owed and working out a deal with the other party, Browne said. The agreement came to the front burner for the EDA about two months ago.
“It’s in our interest to try to settle these where we can,” Browne said. “Otherwise you are going to trial and attorneys cost lots of money.
“So it’s a balancing act of what you do,” Browne added. “This is one that we felt, for many reasons, was appropriate to go to a settlement and this was a meeting of the minds on the two parties and we signed off.”
The EDA’s suit against McDonald remains on hold since she filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court earlier this month.
“All those proceedings stop even though we were literally the next morning going to perfect our claims against her,” Browne said. “But it’s all put in abeyance until they’ve figured out the bankruptcy part of it and then we’ll proceed as soon as that’s done.”
McDonald’s bankruptcy filing does not prevent the EDA from going after other defendants - companies and individuals - named in the civil suit, Browne said. This differs from any criminal cases related to the investigation into the EDA’s finances under McDonald. Local charges against McDonald and others in Warren County Circuit Court were dismissed at the special prosecutor’s request but the case has since been referred to federal authorities. The EDA continues to follow criminal-related part of the matter and, while members feel that citizens should see someone held accountable, they have no influence on any investigation, Browne said.
The resolution also states that the EDA agrees to notify Donna McEathron or her legal counsel any time the authority receives a request for the settlement agreement through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.