By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: September 24, 2019 | 5:05 p.m.
Updated: September 25, 2019 | 11:48 a.m.
Editor’s Note: The story has been updated to include comments from Donald Hunter, chairman of the board of supervisors, Daniel Whitten, county attorney, and his legal representation William Dinkin.
PRINCE GEORGE – Daniel Whitten, Prince George County’s new attorney has been charged with several misdemeanors by a special grand jury in connection with an ongoing investigation in Warren County in the northern reaches of the state.
According to Virginia State Police Sgt. Brent Coffey, Whitten, who served as Warren County’s former county attorney before being hired by Prince George last month, is among 14 people who received misdemeanor charges in connection with an ongoing investigation into the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, with all of the parties being charged with “two counts of misfeasance and one count of nonfeasance based on the individuals’ knowledge of and inaction of the EDA’s mismanagement of funds.”
The investigation, which was conducted at the request of the Front Royal Police Department, dates back to August of 2018 as Virginia State Police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation office out of Culpeper began looking at the business practices of the EDA. According to Coffey, since the spring of this year, multi-jurisdictional grand juries have handed down nearly three dozen felony indictments against Front Royal resident Jennifer McDonald, a former EDA employee, including multiple counts of embezzlement, obtaining money under false pretenses, and conducting an unlawful transaction. She was released on bond in July.
According to Coffey, all but one of the 14 individuals charged by the special Warren County grand jury turned themselves in to Virginia State Police Tuesday and went before the magistrate, who released each of them on a personal recognizance bond.
The lone individual who did not turn themselves in Tuesday was Whitten, who is expected to meet with the magistrate and state police on Wednesday, Coffey confirmed.
When contacted, the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case.
Whitten, who lives in Front Royal, was unanimously voted to be the county’s next attorney by the Prince George Board of Supervisors during their August 13 meeting following the retirement of Steven Micas, the county’s longtime legal representative. According to the county at the time of his hire, Whitten was the chosen candidate to move into the role out of 11 applicants to the position and would start working for the county on September 16, earning a salary of $117,300.
“His approach to public service is exactly what we are looking for in our County Attorney,” Prince George Board Chairman Donald Hunter said of Whitten in August following his unanimous selection to succeed Micas as county attorney. “He has excellent credentials. He has broad local government experience that easily prepares him for the challenges facing our government operations on a daily basis. We expect the transition to be a smooth one.”
The role of county attorney is one of three that reports directly to the Prince George County Board of Supervisors, the other two being the positions of county administrator and the county clerk to the board. In an interview, Supervisors Chairman Hunter said he and his fellow board members are expected to hear about the matter during the closed session portion of their meeting Tuesday evening, with that session beginning at 5 p.m.
Following their executive session, Hunter, when approached for comment, said he and the board were unable to discuss the matter.
“We were made aware of the situation and advised not to make any comment,” the chairman remarked. “The board has no comment on it and those requesting comment can give [Whitten] a call.”
Tuesday was the first regular meeting of the Prince George Board of Supervisors for Whitten in his capacity as county attorney. When asked about the charges out of Warren County and if they will present any sort of distraction in the execution of his duties to Prince George, he also declined to comment.
“I have hired legal counsel so, on the advice of legal counsel, I don’t have any comment at this point,” he said, adding he has retained attorney William Dinkin out of Richmond in the case. In an interview, while he couldn’t go into detail, Dinkin said he found the charges to be “unusual” and that it is his understanding that Whitten was “instrumental” in helping bring the alleged embezzlement involving McDonald to the surface.
“It is my understanding that Mr. Whitten’s actions in connection with this McDonald embezzlement were just the opposite of the allegations in the indictments,” Dinkin said. “He was instrumental in initiating the investigation into McDonald’s conduct and vigorously pursuing the matter, doing what he could to protect the interests of the county and the EDA.”
The matter was not discussed during Tuesday’s open session, with Whitten serving to only provide reports to supervisors on the county’s noise ordinance and how it correlates to barking dog complaints and the county’s efforts to recover costs related to opioid addiction responses through litigation of those involved in the opioid production process.