A federal judge put off Jennifer R. McDonald’s criminal trial on fraud, money laundering and identity theft charges until next year.
McDonald stands accused in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Virginia of embezzling money from the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority while serving as its executive director and using the money to conduct real estate schemes.
McDonald’s trial was scheduled to begin Oct. 11. A judge had pushed back the trial from an earlier date after McDonald’s defense attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Andrea Harris, asked for more time given the volume of evidence she received from the prosecutor’s office.
Harris and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Walsh filed a joint motion on June 21 asking the court to designate the case as complex, to exclude time from the speedy trial requirements and the defendant’s unopposed motion to put off the trial date. U.S. District Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon held a hearing Friday the parties’ motions and granted the motions on Monday.
Dillon rescheduled the trial to begin in mid-May 2023. The judge also designated the case as complex, under federal rules, and ordered that the court exclude the time from June 21-May 15, 2023, from the Speedy Trial Act deadline calculation. The law requires that a defendant’s trial date begin within 70 days of the filing of the indictment or his or her initial court appearance. A judge can set a new date without violating a person’s rights under the act if failing to grant such a request would deny either party the time they need to prepare their cases.
On Aug. 5, a federal grand jury issued an indictment charging McDonald with 34 counts of wire fraud, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. McDonald made her first appearance in the court on Aug. 31 with private counsel. The court appointed a federal defender to represent McDonald. The court held McDonald’s arraignment on Sept. 3 and initially scheduled a one-day trial for Nov. 3.
The defense filed a motion to continue on Oct. 26 which the court granted and scheduled a six-week trial to begin Oct. 11, 2022.
The U.S. government provided a small amount of preliminary discovery evidence to the defense on Sept. 21 and a second batch on a hard drive on Oct. 5. The hard drive contained more than 311,000 files spanning hundreds of gigabytes of data.
“In all, it is safe to say that there is more than a million pages of discovery for review in this case,” the joint motion states. “The Computer Systems Administrator for the Federal Defender’s Office (FDO) is currently working with the FDO national litigation support team to determine the most efficient way to have multiple staff members work with and review the discovery in this case.”
Staff members trained to understand and access software used in some of the discovery, the motion states. The government has provided more than 800 gigabytes of information, according to the motion.
“It can be difficult to wrap one’s head around the massive amount of data contained in larger file formats, so a few comparisons (assuming for the sake of simplicity that the data comes from emails) are as follows: Half a gigabyte of pages would match the height of the average giraffe. 1 gigabyte would be nearly as tall as a telephone pole,” the motion states.
Harris goes on to note that she had learned within the last two weeks of additional discovery provided to McDonald’s previous counsel. The information included forensic examinations on multiple electronic devices. A hard drive contains 45,000 emails — almost 10,000 documents and other evidence that takes up 356 gigabytes of space, Harris said.
Discovery evidence also includes grand jury testimony of more than 100 witnesses and hundreds of pages of subpoenaed documents, including financial and real estate transaction records, Harris said.
The civil trials in the case are scheduled to begin in early July and will likely lead to further investigation, the motion states.
A civil lawsuit filed in the Warren County Circuit Court by the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority claims multiple defendants including McDonald participated in schemes in which the former director used EDA money without permission to conduct real estate transactions. McDonald and several co-defendants have since been dismissed as parties to the lawsuit through partial summary judgments.
The Federal Defender’s Office currently has two attorneys, an investigator, and two paralegals working on the case due to the volume of discovery and number of witnesses, the motion states. The civil litigation trials involve overlapping matter and witnesses.