FRONT ROYAL – The commonwealth is seeking to drop the criminal charges levied against Donald Poe by the special grand jury investigating the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, according to special prosecutor Michael Parker.
Poe has been charged on felony counts of obtaining money by false pretenses, money laundering, and perjury. The charges relate to his company Earth Right Energy’s dealings with the EDA. In addition to the criminal charges, Poe and the company are defendants in the EDA’s $21.3 million civil lawsuit that alleges a series of financial schemes at the authority during former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s tenure.
Parker was appointed as special prosecutor in late November as former Interim Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton announced his impending departure from the office and recently elected Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell recused himself from all EDA-related cases.
Parker stated in an email that with Poe’s trial “rapidly approaching” this month he “had to take appropriate action.” That action, he stated, was to file a motion to drop the charges without prejudice, meaning the commonwealth could prosecute the same charges in the future.
Parker added that “unfortunately, I am not fully caught up with the ongoing special grand jury investigation, thus I do not have a thorough grasp of the evidence that might pertain to Mr. Poe’s charges.” According to previous reports, there are over a million documents related to the case.
Parker stated that “the decision was not made lightly” and “it would be unethical to attempt a prosecution under these circumstances.”
“As the gatekeeper of criminal charges, it is my responsibility to determine whether to prosecute and how to prosecute. Making those decisions requires a thorough grasp of the evidence supporting any allegation,” he stated.
In a motion filed in Circuit Court, Parker states that the commonwealth received a hard drive on Dec. 30 “purportedly containing all evidence that has been considered by the special grand jury to date.”
“Initial review of that hard drive indicates that it may be missing a substantial number of exhibits considered by the grand jury,” Parker states in the motion.
Parker added in the motion that “even if the ongoing investigation reveals nothing further with respect to” Poe, the prosecution “cannot prepare for trial when its existing evidence remains unclear.”
The motion is set to go before Circuit Court Judge Bruce D. Albertson at 1 p.m. today. Poe declined to comment over the phone Thursday but said he or his lawyer will have a statement after today’s hearing.
Parker declined to comment further, stating in an email that he would be free to discuss the matter after court today, but “I won’t have a whole lot additional to tell you.”
Others criminally charged by the special grand jury include McDonald, her husband Samuel North, former EDA Administrative Assistant Michelle Henry and former B&G Goods store owner William Lambert. The special grand jury also indicted 14 county officials in September on misdemeanor counts of misfeasance and nonfeasance, which Albertson has dismissed because the charges did not represent actual crimes.
So far, the special grand jury has handed up 86 indictments, 32 of which are against McDonald. If Parker’s request regarding Poe’s charges is granted, 46 of those indictments will have been dismissed by the judge or dropped by the prosecutor.