FRONT ROYAL — Warren County Circuit Court Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. on Wednesday impaneled a special grand jury to investigate potential widespread criminal activity among governmental entities in Warren County and Front Royal.
A court order states that the special grand jury will “investigate and report on alleged misfeasance and malfeasance including the embezzlement or misappropriation of public funds” by parties including but not limited to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, the Town of Front Royal, the County of Warren, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and Warren County Public Schools.
The order adds that the investigation will include “any criminal activities engaged in by elected or appointed officials” of those entities along with any “private entities or individuals who engaged in criminal activity with the aforementioned public bodies or their employees” during the tenure of former EDA director Jennifer McDonald.
The special grand jury was requested by Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden on Wednesday, the day after the EDA filed a $17 million lawsuit against eight individuals and an LLC for misappropriation of the authority’s money.
The EDA board on March 22 announced that it would file the litigation after receiving a financial consultant’s final report that delved into the organization’s past finances. That same day, the EDA’s two longest-tenured board members, Warren County Schools Superintendent Greg Drescher and Ron Llewellyn, resigned.
In an email submitted the day of McDonald’s Dec. 20 resignation, she admitted to the EDA board that she could be held liable for $2.7 million in losses, which the lawsuit states is a gross under-representation of her financial misappropriations.
Madden explained that the Virginia State Police has been investigating matters related to the EDA’s lawsuit since August 2018. When the lawsuit was filed, he said information that state police were not aware of surfaced and led to his request for a special grand jury.
He explained that not everybody is willing to participate with a police investigation, whereas a special grand jury can subpoena witnesses to testify under oath.
The order states that Madden may allow employees from the FBI, the U.S. Justice Department or the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia to be present and “ask questions of witnesses and provide assistance.”
The order states that no local law enforcement will participate in the proceeding unless directed by the court.
The order states that the commonwealth’s attorney is only allowed in the deliberations if requested by the grand jury for legal advice or when the jury is “discussing, evaluating, or considering the testimony of witness and considering the Bills of Indictment.”
The order states that all pleadings and documents related to the special grand jury will “be sealed and remain secret” until “further Order of this Court.”
The order states that the special grand jury’s primary purpose is to “provide a just and impartial forum for the investigation of potential criminal activity of a complex nature alleged to have been committed by any governmental authority, agency, or official.”
The special grand jury will include 11 citizens, who the order states will be screened by Athey to ensure they are “qualified,” “impartial” and “disinterested in the subject matter and outcome of this investigation.”
The order designates Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputy Judy M. Ruby to summon up to 200 citizens from a list provided by Athey to determine if they will serve on the special grand jury. They will be summoned April 11.
The order adds that because the civil complaint by the EDA alleges “numerous and complex conspiracies” between McDonald, officials and government agencies, it is best to determine if there is probable cause for indictments through a “citizen-driven forum.”
The special grand jury will be impaneled from April 1 to Sept. 30 unless an extension is requested.
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Murray said over the phone that he had not heard the special grand jury was impaneled or that its investigations will include the county but that he welcomes any investigation and is in favor of full transparency.
He said: “I have nothing to hide ... check my bank accounts” and “if anyone has anything to hide, shame on them.”
Murray added he is tired of the “craziness,” that he said is “a shame because it’s tearing apart a good community.”
Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley and Front Royal Town Manager Joe Waltz did not respond to a phone message for comment. A Warren County schools’ secretary said over the phone that Drescher has been on vacation this week.
The Town Council is slated to discuss issues related to the EDA during its work session at 7 p.m. tonight.