The Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney's Office requested Wednesday that Judge Clifford Athey Jr. empanel a special grand jury regarding the investigation of possible criminal activity based on the actions of former Front Royal-Warren County executive director Jennifer McDonald, according to a news release from that office.
The release states the office has been working since August 2018 with the Virginia State Police “as they investigated suspicious financial activities.” The release adds that the $17.6 million lawsuit filed Tuesday by the EDA against nine defendants regarding financial improprieties raised issues of which the state police were unaware.
The nine defendants include ITFederal LLC, MoveOn8 LLC, Earth Right Energy Solar Commercial LLC, and DaBoyz LLC.
Other defendants include McDonald, who is the registered agent of DaBoyz LLC; Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron; Justin Appleton, a principal of Earth Right Energy Solar Commercial LLC; Donald Poe, a principal of Earth Right Energy Solar Commercial LLC; and ITFederal developer Curt Tran.
The lawsuit came after the EDA recently heard a final report from an unidentified financial consultant regarding the authority’s money. The county has so far paid that consultant $160,000 on behalf of the EDA. Interim EDA Director John Anzivino via email denied a freedom of information act request seeking a copy of that final report, citing “investigations which are on`going into the authority’s finances.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden said over the phone that he cannot discuss details of the state police investigation, but it has to do with “financial irregularities.” He said the matter was presented to the Commonwealth’s Attorney's Office “by local law enforcement,” but declined to say which agency. The Commonwealth’s Attorney's Office, he said, then turned the matter over to state police.
Madden explained that special grand juries are empaneled to conduct investigations into possible criminal activity. He said special grand juries have the ability to call witnesses who testify under oath. This grand jury, he said, would be made up of Warren County citizens.
Madden said that the state police “is somewhat limited in what they can do” because people do not always cooperate with officers. A special grand jury, he said, has broader powers as they can require witnesses to testify.
He said convening a special grand jury is an “involved process” and “won’t happen overnight.”
The jurors would be randomly selected by the circuit court’s clerk’s office and undergo screening to ensure that they are willing to serve and have no conflicts of interest. Madden said a grand jury is empaneled for six months, but could hand up indictments in less time or request an extension.
He said details of special grand jury investigations are not publicly revealed. The only people present in the room would include a court reporter, witnesses and a Commonwealth’s Attorney's Office employee who would assist the grand jury. He explained that grand juries report directly to a judge who is not present during witness testimony but is available to provide legal advice or help in the event that a legal question arises.
The Virginia state code notes that special grand jury witnesses have the right to an attorney of their own procurement while testifying. The code states that witnesses can consult with their attorneys during their examinations. That attorney, however, cannot conduct an examination of the witness.
Madden said he does not see any reason that his office would have to recuse itself from prosecuting a case related to the investigation, but that issue will be addressed if it presents itself down the road.
Madden said this is the first grand jury that he has requested. The last one empaneled locally, he said, was about 10 years ago to investigate allegations regarding the Warren County Department of Social Services.