A few years ago, Front Royal, Virginia was set to plan a new data center and shopping center that would bring jobs to an area devastated 25 years earlier with the closure of a rayon manufacturing plant.
When the plant closed, The Washington Post reported, 1,300 people lost their jobs and 440 acres of Front Royal was left decimated by toxic waste. In 2014, however, the land had been restored and the area appeared ready to relaunch, so to speak.
As the Post reported, Jennifer McDonald “a longtime Front Royal resident who directed the Warren County economic development authority” began working on a deal to bring investments, companies, and retailers to the area. She secured the help of Truc “Curt” Tran, a developer in the Washington, DC., area, who promised to finance the Front Royal project “with $40 million from wealthy immigrant investors and a $140 million federal contract his technology company had secured,” the Post reported. Tran also said he would provide funding to a police training academy in the area, which was to be run by Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron.
A civil lawsuit filed in Warren County Circuit Court, reviewed by the Post, now says Tran’s promise was bogus From the Post:
Tran never had the money to build the data center project on the 30 acres his company bought from McDonald’s agency for $1, a civil lawsuit alleges. And the training academy was one of several hoaxes that, prosecutors and civil lawsuits claim, allowed Tran, McDonald, McEathron and others to siphon away millions in public funds, which they allegedly used to buy properties, pay bills and gambling debts, and enrich relatives and friends.
The scam began unraveling in 2016, when people started looking into Tran’s business and found that it wasn’t even allowed to solicit investments. The supposed $140 million government contract also didn’t appear to exist.
In early 2017, the Post reported, Tran emailed McDonald to say questions about his company meant “our ability to raise capital within the EB-5 investor community is now in jeopardy.”
Front Royal’s Town Council approved $1.7 million for infrastructure improvements for the proposed site. McDonald used $1.5 million to pay Tran without notifying her development board.
In 2018, it was discovered that McDonald’s board had overbilled the town nearly $300,000, which she calmly claimed was a mistake. An independent review began, which discovered “a dizzying array of phony invoices, phantom projects, secret land deals and bank wire transfers to entities controlled by McDonald or her friends” the Post reported.
McDonald has now been charged with “28 state counts of embezzlement, money laundering and obtaining money through false pretenses,” the Post reported, adding that she has denied the allegations.
McEathron wasn’t charged but also used money purposed for the Front Royal development to buy a home that he rented to his son and daughter-in law. Fearful after what he had done, he retired earlier. Then he testified before a grand jury and was arrested before Memorial Day Weekend. The Tuesday after, McEathron killed himself. Tran, meanwhile, is being sued by McDonald’s former board and is being investigated by state and federal authorities.