CRIMINAL JUSTICE CENTER

Jennifer R. McDonald, left, former executive director of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, and Warren County Sheriff Danny McEathron, right, stand on this parcel of land at the end of Progress Drive in Front Royal on March 7, 2016 that was to be the site of an $8 million regional criminal justice training facility.

Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron denied via a news  release Wednesday that he participated in any illegal activity involving the misappropriation of money in a series of deals involving the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.

McEathron issued his denial of wrongdoing a day after the authority filed a lawsuit against him and eight other defendants, citing alleged schemes to divert EDA money for their personal use. 

The suit accuses McEathron of participating in limited liability companies, with former EDA director Jennifer McDonald, that used EDA funds to purchase personal real estate. The lawsuit further alleges that McEathron, McDonald and ITFederal developer Curt Tran were part of an "orchestrated deception" and plotted to use the proposed and now canceled criminal justice academy to their personal benefit. 

According to previous reports, McDonald said that a private investor wanted to fund the academy after being introduced to McEathron. The filing states McDonald told the EDA board in 2015 that Tran was the investor who wanted to donate up to $8 million to construct a criminal justice academy “due to his fondness for law enforcement” but that no contract regarding the deal was ever signed.

An initial announcement regarding the facility outlined plans that included a possible July 2017 opening and the EDA announced in 2018 that the academy was “on hold” because construction estimates went above the investor’s $8 million offer. 

McEathron, who announced his early retirement last week, stated in a news release that he is “in shock of the allegations” and he wants “the public to know that I have done nothing illegal, either personally or professionally.”

McEathron said over the phone that he would not comment beyond the release as the matter is part of pending litigation. He is the only defendant who has specifically commented on the allegations to this point. 

“Those that know me know who I am and what I stand for and that I would never do anything to compromise my position. Keep my family and my office in your prayers as I work my way through this,” he states in the release.

Tran previously said that while the possibility of him being the private investor was discussed, a deal never came to fruition. He added that he never made any payments to fund the police academy.

The filing states that McDonald told the board that Tran wanted the EDA “to facilitate construction of this project rather than constructing it himself for some reason.” The filing states that McDonald “repeatedly” told the board that no EDA, town or county funds would be used on the project.

The filing states that McDonald executed a purported binding $7.1 million design and construction contract, which was never approved by the EDA board, with Howard Shockey & Sons. That contract, the filing states, was signed by McDonald, McEathron and Howard Shockey & Sons representatives.

The filing adds that McDonald asked the EDA board to approve $605,398 in architectural plans from Moseley Architects for the academy, but that contract was never submitted for approval.

The filing states that McDonald later approved payments to Howard Shockey & Sons and Moseley Architects for design services and more totaling $618,923 and that her authorization of payments without legal protection “constitutes a gross breach of her fiduciary duty of care to the Warren EDA.”

The filing states that McDonald “repeatedly” and “fraudulently” told the EDA board that those payments were paid by Tran and would not be paid using EDA funds or town and county credit lines. It adds that McDonald “repeatedly” told the board that she received funds from Tran to finance the academy. According to previous reports, the EDA received just $200,000 in reimbursements from the private investor. A freedom of informaiton act request seeking receipts of those reimbursements was denied.

McDonald declined to comment and Tran did not respond to a phone message.

– Contact Josh Gully at jgully@nvdaily.com