Front Royal, Va. (WDVM) — Former Front Royal town councilwoman Bebhinn Rowland had her suspicions about Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority projects years before they filed a lawsuit.
“I think the first thing that I noticed that was strange had to do with the IT Federal project. What we had been told in public was that this was a government contractor, an IT company obviously, and that they had at least $140 million of government contracts,” said former Front Royal councilwoman Bebhinn Rowland.
In 2015, Rowland was new to the Front Royal Town Council. When she looked into the company further on USAspending.gov, she said she discovered that the figures presented by former EDA executive director Jennifer McDonald, were slightly off.
“So I looked up IT Federal and they have zero, there was nothing. Nothing came up,” said Rowland.
Rowland also searched their parent company VDN Systems, and they’ve had a total of four government contracts that add up to $345,000.
“After I found all this out, I emailed all the rest of the councilman and nobody cared,” said Rowland.
When WDVM asked former Front Royal mayor Hollis Tharpe for a statement he replied: “The only thing I could say is that Mrs. McDonald always had an answer to any questions that I asked, which was always acceptable.”
In March 2019, the EDA filed a lawsuit against several defendants including McDonald and former Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron who resigned from office just one week prior.
In May 2019, McDonald was arrested for allegedly embezzling $17.6 million and a few days later, McEathron was found dead in his home.
“People are hurting, their hurt is real. My friend, a public servant of 37 years, took his life two weeks ago, I’m hurting,” said Front Royal interim mayor Matt Tederick.
As of June 11, 2019 court records show the embezzlement allegations have reached $21 million from 16 fraudulent projects, including the IT Federal site. Investigators say, the likelihood of additional losses is more likely than not.
“Now possibly the largest embezzlement scandal in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Friends, this will not define our community,” said Tederick.
After Rowland stepped down from town council, they noticed she may be onto something.
“Back in may 2018, town council had directed me to obtain payoffs from the EDA for various projects and during the process we noticed that there were some discrepancies,” said Front Royal finance director B.J. Wilson.
On June 10, 2019 the town council made a motion to file suit against the EDA to recover all money owed to the taxpayers of Front Royal.
“We had sent a FOIA request over to the EDA for certain documents so we met, only obtain information that some of the documents didn’t exist,” said Wilson.
In April 2019, Doug Parsons replaced McDonald as executive director of the EDA.
“Really I think a lot of the issues related to the past are being handled by the attornies and the authorities so I really don’t have as much of a role as mitigating all that as one might think I would,” said EDA executive director Doug Parsons.
Interim mayor Matt Tederick says there was a percieved lack of financial oversight from the Warren County Board of Supervisors and county administrator Doug Stanley, who declined to comment on the matter. The EDA civil suit is still ongoing. Follow WDVM for more updates on the case.