May 20, 2024

Former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer Rae McDonald’s criminal trial will not commence on Oct. 11, as previously scheduled.
A U.S. District Court in the Western District of Virginia judge has put off Jennifer R. McDonald’s trial on fraud, money laundering, and identity theft charges until May 2023.
McDonald is accused of embezzling money from the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority while serving as its executive director and using the money to buy real estate and conduct other personal business.

Jennifer McDonald’s criminal case has been declared “complex”, meaning it can be pushed back without violating speedy trial laws. The case, slated to be held this fall, has been rescheduled for May 2023.

The federal trial was scheduled to begin October 11, which had been pushed from an earlier date after McDonald’s defense attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Andrea Harris, requested more time given the voluminous amount of evidence she received from the prosecutor’s office as well as the additional electronic discovery that includes forensic examinations of multiple key electronic devices.

A June 23 motion filed in federal court by Harris stated that the “additional discovery is contained on a hard drive and takes up 356 gigabytes of space. One of the devices alone contains more than 45,000 emails and almost 10,000 documents.

“These particular electronic devices are likely to be critically important to further investigation of this case, and there will likely be the need for additional independent forensic analysis of one or more of these devices.”

Harris and U.S. Attorney Christopher Cavanaugh on June 21 filed a joint motion 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 granted the motions on Monday, June 27.

Dillon rescheduled the trial to begin in mid-May 2023 and designated the case as complex under federal rules and ordered that the court exclude the time period of June 21, 2022-May 15, 2023, from the Speedy Trial Act deadline calculation.

Per law, a defendant’s trial date must begin within 70 days of the indictment filing date or the defendant’s 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 time needed to prepare their cases.

On August 25, 2021, a Grand Jury returned an indictment charging McDonald with 34 counts of bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft, with some allegations dating back to 2014.

The indictment came following a complex and lengthy state and federal investigation conducted by a state special grand jury and the Federal Bureau of Investigations. (FBI) The investigation began in 2018, continued through Ms. McDonald’s indictment almost three years later, and continues today.

The motion states that 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.
McDonald made her first appearance in the court on Aug. 31, 2021, with private counsel. The court then appointed a federal defender to represent McDonald. She was arraigned on September 3 and initially scheduled a one-day trial for November 3.

The defense filed a motion to continue on October 26, which the court granted; a six-week trial was scheduled to begin October 11, 2022.

A civil lawsuit filed in the Warren County Circuit Court by the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority claims defendants including McDonald participated in schemes using EDA money without permission to conduct real estate transactions and other personal business. McDonald and several co-defendants have since been dismissed as parties to the lawsuit through partial summary judgments.

The civil trials in the case are scheduled to begin in early July and will likely lead to further investigation Harris said and would involve overlapping issues and witnesses and are also relevant to effective preparation in McDonald’s criminal trial.

With over one million pages of discovery documents and the judge declaring the criminal case a complex one, it’s anyone’s guess when we’ll see McDonald in the courtroom.

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