FRONT ROYAL – The lawyer for Sheriff Daniel McEathron, who was named as one of nine defendants in the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s $17 million civil lawsuit, has requested that all civil proceedings be put on hold until a recently impaneled special grand jury has finished its investigation into the matter.
The EDA’s lawsuit alleges that McEahtron and former-EDA director Jennifer McDonald used EDA funds to purchase real estate properties and also conspired to orchestrate a deception to personally benefit from a planned criminal justice academy.
McEathron said via a news release that he is in shock of the allegations and that he has never done anything illegal, “either personally or professionally.” Seven days before the EDA filed its lawsuit, McEathron announced that he would leave office on May 1 after he announced in August intentions not to seek re-election at the end of his fourth term, which expires in December.
Edward MacMahon Jr., McEathron’s lawyer, states in court filings that the essence of the EDA’s lawsuit is that McDonald “allegedly took funds from the EDA” and “invested that money or embezzled” for her use and to benefit others.
MacMahon states that the EDA’s 30-plus page lawsuit lacks detail such as how McDonald “was able to take such substantial funds” without any financial oversight by the EDA. He adds that there is no allegation in the complaint that McEahtron “could have or did exercise any control over the EDA or its finances.” MacMahon states that the complaint instead “baldly alleges” that McDonald and McEahtron “conspired and devised” using EDA credit lines to purchase real estate.
“Again, the complaint is silent as to how this fraud was allegedly accomplished or that Mr. McEathron was aware by any means of the fraud attributed to Ms. McDonald,” McMahon states.
The day after the EDA filed its lawsuit, Warren County Circuit Court Judge Clifford “Clay” Athey Jr. authorized the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office request that a special grand jury be impaneled to investigate the alleged embezzlement at the EDA. That special grand jury was also authorized to investigate any potential wrongdoings in the county, town, Sheriff’s Office and Warren County Public Schools and by any elected or appointed officials within those entities. McMahon notes that “by definition,” the special grand jury’s investigation will include McEathron.
McMahon adds that although McEathron is a “potential target of the grand jury investigation,” he is “presumed innocent of any wrongdoing and none is described with particularity” in the EDA’s lawsuit. MacMahon adds that McEathron “has a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself in a civil proceeding.” MacMahon states that compelling McEathron to answer any discovery requests for the civil lawsuit while the grand jury is at work “would require responses or production that could potentially be used” to incriminate him.
McMahon states that due to “the complexity of the issues raised” and “obvious overlap” between the civil suit and the special grand jury, the civil case should be put on hold until the special grand jury concludes its investigation.