Arlington, VA

A pharmacy owner with stores in Arlington and Alexandria has been sentenced to four years behind bars for falsifying insurance claims and illegally dispensing opioids.

Latif Mohamed Chowdhury, 29, was sentenced to prison on Friday after law enforcement accused him of running a get rich quick scheme by billing insurance companies for prescriptions he never filled, and in some cases, were never prescribed by a doctor to the patient. Officials say Chowdhury, who did not have a pharmacy license, dispensed medications and billed insurance companies at his two pharmacies between August 2015 and February 2016 using identities he had stolen from licensed pharmacists.

“Chowdhury blithely violated his position of trust,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a statement last week.

Federal prosecutors said Chowdhury pocketed $500,000 from his fraudulent billing and illegally dispensed “a significant number” of opioid and other medications.

Officials also said in the course of their investigation they found Chowdhury had given opioids to seven-year-old children “outside the usual course of professional practice.”

While searching one of the pharmacies, officials said they found Chowdhury had left a loaded Colt .38 revolver on one of the store’s shelves.

The Arlington pharmacy (called ACP-2) was located at 611 S. Carlin Springs Road, at the Virginia Hospital Center campus that is being acquired by Arlington County in a land swap. The Alexandria pharmacy (ACP-1) was located at 8330 Richmond Highway.

“Although one of Chowdhury’s family members owned ACP-2, Chowdhury in fact operated, managed, directed, and controlled ACP-2 from in or around January 2015 through in or around February 2016. ACP-2 was shut down for business in March 2016,” Matthew Nestopoulos, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told ARLnow.

On his LinkedIn, Chowdhury listed experience working in information technology — including eight months at the Pentagon — before leaving the field and opening the two pharmacists.

“In 2013 I began to venture towards opening a business and work alongside my career to grow Alexandria Care Pharmacy which has now been successfully operating for two years,” he wrote.

His most recent post included a call to hire “full-time background investigators” for a new business venture.

“We are committed to protecting the public and the people of Virginia,” said Jesse R. Fong, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Washington Field Division. “We will continue to track down and bring to justice criminals who are fueling the opiate crisis at every level including pill writers, pill fillers, and drug dealers in the area.”

Friday’s sentencing came after Chowdhury pled guilty in July.

Flickr photo by Joe Gratz

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Officials and activists are asking the county courts to make a newly-proposed mental health jail diversion program more inclusive.

Arlington and Fairfax public defenders joined several advocates during a Thursday evening meeting about the proposal, and urged county officials to broaden the mental illnesses diagnoses accepted in the program and not require plea bargains as a participation requirement.

Brad Haywood, who leads the Office of the Public Defender for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, shared a list of changes his office wants the county to make to the proposal before the county submits the application to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Juliet Hiznay, a special education attorney by training, joined him on Thursday to express concern that only some “serious mental illnesses” were considered shoe-ins for the program, which is called the Behavioral Health Docket.

Hiznay said she was worried that people with developmental disabilities (like ADD or autism) could also benefit from the court-supervised treatment plan, but would be considered “exceptions” under the current eligibility criteria.

Much of the evening focused on discussing whether the county should require participants to plead guilty to their charges before participating in the program (as is currently proposed) or allow them to follow the docket program and then have a trail (as Fairfax County does.)

“Because it requires a guilty plea it literally can’t decriminalize mental illness,” said panelist Lisa Dailey, who analyzes and advises mental illness decriminalization policies at the Treatment Advocacy Center. “So if that’s your goal you’re failing right out of the gate.”

When Arlington Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Lisa Tingle asked Fairfax Public Defender Dawn Butorac asks whether the Fairfax docket convicts participants of their charges if they fail out of the program, Butorac said Fairfax prosecutors set no such deals.

“Telling your client ‘if you fail this is what we’re going to do’ is sending the wrong message,” Butorac said.

Haywood pointed out that another benefit of nixing the pre-plea requirement was getting people into treatment fast — something not possible if the county’s tedious discovery process slows down the process.

Haywood also noted that requiring pleas to participate in the mental health service could lead innocent people to say they were guilty in order to access services. He acknowledged that was an “extreme” hypothetical but could be avoided if the county followed Fairfax County’s example of only contending with pleas after a participant finishes their docket treatment plan.

“We are much more inclusive than Arlington,” Butorac said of Fairfax’s docket, which was created after a mentally ill woman was tasered.  “When we drafted it, we wanted it to be as inclusive as possible.”

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Arlington prosecutors are pressing charges against a Virginia State Police sergeant accused of accidentally firing a gun and not reporting the incident.

Steven Mittendorff is set to go on trial for the charges in the Arlington Circuit Court on October 10, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos told ARLnow today (Monday.)

“On July 30, 2019, the Virginia State Police charged Steven R. Mittendorff, 39, of Prince William County with one misdemeanor count of reckless handling of a firearm and one misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice,” said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.

“The charges stem from an unreported, accidental discharge of a firearm inside a Virginia State Police area office in June 2019,” she added. “No one was injured in the incident.”

VSP maintains an office at 1426-A Columbia Pike, near I-395.

The alleged incident occurred on June 10, 2019, per court records. Last week, a local grand jury decided that the prosecution’s evidence against Mittendorff was strong enough to merit a trial.

Mittendorff was previously in the news after calling for Fairfax County Fire Chief Richard Bowers to resign, following the death of his wife. Nicole Mittendorf, took her own life after being the victim of alleged cyberbullying by her Fairfax firefighter colleagues, who reportedly posted sexually explicit comments about in her online web forums.

Mittendorff is a 1st Sergeant in charge of Virginia State Police Area 45, which includes Arlington, and was hired in 2002.

“In accordance with Department policy, he has been placed on leave without pay pending the outcome of the court process,” said Geller.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos declined further comment on the case.

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A waitress at the Ballston IHOP restaurant was robbed of cash on a weekday morning this week.

The alleged crime happened around 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday. Police say a man approached the waitress and “stole a billfold containing an undisclosed amount of cash from her hand,” before running off.

More from Arlington County Police:

LARCENY, 2019-07300101, 900 block of N. Stafford Street. At approximately 10:45 a.m. on July 30, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the male suspect approached a waitress and stole a billfold containing an undisclosed amount of cash from her hand. The suspect then fled the scene on foot. The suspect is described as a black male in his 20s wearing a white shirt and blue jeans. The investigation is ongoing.

More from this past week’s ACPD crime report is below, after the jump.

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Two Arlington men were arrested for separate indecent exposure incidents along Columbia Pike over the past week.

The first happened early Friday morning at the intersection of the Pike and S. Glebe Road, when a man allegedly approached a woman in her vehicle and exposed himself, according to this week’s Arlington County Police Department crime report.

The second happened Monday morning, when a drunk man was refused service at a business and subsequently exposed himself to an employee, police said.

Both men were charged with Indecent Exposure and Drunk in Public.

More from this week’s crime report:

INDECENT EXPOSURE, 2019-07190026, S. Glebe Road at Columbia Pike. At approximately 2:22 a.m. on July 19, police were dispatched to the report of an indecent exposure. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was in her vehicle at a traffic light when the unknown male suspect allegedly approached her vehicle and exposed himself. Arriving officers located the suspect nearby and he was taken into custody. David Nichols, 39, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with Indecent Exposure, Drunk in Public and Failure to ID. He was held on no bond.

INDECENT EXPOSURE, 2019-07220261, 4800 block of Columbia Pike. At approximately 9:00 p.m. on July 22, police were dispatched to the report of an exposure. Upon arrival, it was determined that after the male suspect was refused service at a business due to his level of intoxication, he allegedly exposed his genitals and inappropriately touched himself, before attempting to approach an employee. The employee was able to push the suspect away and leave the business to call police. Arriving officers located the suspect and took him into custody. Josue Sierra Lopez, 31, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with Indecent Exposure and Drunk in Public.

The rest of the crime report is below, after the jump.

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Some officials and residents are asking for more time to review a jail diversion program for people with mental illnesses, saying the county developed it without enough public input.

About a hundred people gathered in the County Board’s meeting room Wednesday afternoon for a meeting called after activists requested a chance to weigh in on the new criminal justice program. Attendees expressed general support for the “Behavioral Health Docket” but worried about its requirement that participants plead guilty to participate, adding that the county needed to listen to more members of the public before finalizing the program.

“I think it’s important to keep in mind is that even if the application is a post-plea docket, which is what Judge [Fran] O’Brien would like to see happen, that there’s going to be evolution,” said Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Anita Friedman in an interview. “I think that even if we start post-plea we might add pre-plea later.”

“I think the important thing is not to let perfection be the enemy of good,” she said, noting that the county has revised its other diversion program, Drug Court, many times over the last few years.

The Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia must approve the county’s request to form the diversion program. DHS originally planned to apply for that approval last month before a group of activists and officials, including incoming prosecutor Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, said they hadn’t heard about it and had concerns.

After the meeting, officials did not confirm whether they would extend their plan to submit the application in September, or would schedule additional public meetings.

Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood was one of the officials who said he hadn’t heard about the application until very recently. On Wednesday, Haywood said he still supported for the docket but reiterated concerns about the post-plea condition.

“I really want to make sure that as many people as possible are getting into this program, and getting in as quickly as possible,” he said, adding that requiring pleas could “dramatically reduce” the number of participants and how fast they can join it.

The Behavioral Health Docket will accept participants who have pled guilty to a misdemeanor offense, or a felony reduced to a misdemeanor, and reside in Arlington, according to a program description obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. People with a history of felony convictions, sexual offenses, or have active warrants out for their arrest in other jurisdictions cannot participate, per a copy of the application ARLnow obtained after filing a FOIA request.

Participants would have to meet weekly in court as well as their probation officer, mental health clinician, per the application. Participants will also have to pass drug and alcohol screenings, take any medications prescribed, participate in activities like volunteer work or employment, and stay clear of any new arrests. Over time, participants will meet less frequently as they work towards a “graduation” where they’ll be supervised for another 90 days.

“That’s why it’s called a therapeutic docket,” said Judge O’Brien. “It’s designed to help people with mental illness and designed to help keep them on a path that keeps them out of the criminal justice system.”

She told the audience that it was imperative to move quickly because of the sheer number of people affected. Earlier that day, she said five people on her docket were clients of the county’s behavioral health services and where “chronic violators” of their parole. Recently, she said one defendant disappeared after appearing to get better and family members were concerned he was off his medications.

“All I wanted to do is try to find him before he got too far gone,” said O’Brien. “Because I didn’t have that power because he wasn’t on my docket, so I had to issue a warrant for his arrest.”

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A recent spate of car thefts and break-ins in North Arlington is continuing.

Arlington County Police are investigating two car thefts and seven car break-ins in the Lyon Park neighborhood this week. The crimes were first reported Wednesday morning on the 2900 block of 2nd Street N. and the 300 block of Edgewood Street, about a half mile south of Clarendon.

At least one car was stolen after the thief found the keys in an unlocked vehicle, police said.

“Keys to one of the stolen vehicles were located inside an unlocked vehicle involved in the larceny from auto series,” and ACPD spokeswoman told ARLnow. The second vehicle was unlocked and “stolen by unknown means.”

Additionally, seven vehicles were broken into “and items tampered with.”

Police are again reminding residents to lock their cars at night. Yesterday the department announced a new public safety initiative dubbed the “9 P.M. Routine,” which encourages Arlingtonians to make a habit of ensuring their vehicles and homes are locked at night.

“Burglaries and thefts are often crimes of opportunity with thieves taking advantage of unsecured doors and windows to steal unattended items or items left in plain view,” police said in a press release. “The 9 P.M. Routine encourages residents to conduct security checks in their homes and vehicles each evening to ensure their property is secure.”

The campaign also encourages residents to report suspicious activity by calling the Arlington Emergency Communications Center at 703-558-2222 or 9-1-1 in an emergency.

The full crime report item from the Lyon Park thefts is below.

LARCENY FROM AUTO/STOLEN VEHICLE (series), 2019-07100052/07100064, 2900 block of 2nd Street N./300 block of N. Edgewood Street At approximately 6:54 a.m. on July 10, police were dispatched to the report of a stolen vehicle. Upon arrival, it was determined that between approximately 9:00 p.m. and 6:54 a.m., an unknown suspect(s) obtained the keys to and stole an unlocked parked vehicle. While investigating the stolen vehicle, officers were notified of a second unlocked vehicle in the area that had been stolen and located approximately seven additional unlocked vehicles that had been entered and items tampered with. There is no suspects descriptions. The investigation is ongoing.

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Morning Notes

Latest Flood Stats — “As of Tuesday morning, the Department of Environmental Services had received 151 calls about damage to private property, storm drain backups, indoor flooding and roadway flooding; The County also investigated more than 30 drainage complaints.” [Arlington County]

Record-Setting Rain Rate — “The 3.30 [inches of rain] recorded between 8:52-9:52 a.m [at Reagan National Airport] was Washington, D.C.’s highest hourly precip report in records dating back to 1936.” [Twitter]

Flooded Scooters Removed from Service — “Bird, Jump, and Lime, three of the city’s five operators, told The Verge that their employees were actively engaged in removing scooters from the flooded areas.” [The Verge]

ACPD Crime Map Goes Down — “ACPD is aware of system issues with the Online Community Crime Map and is working with the third-party vendor, LexisNexis, to resolve the issue. If you are looking for information regarding crime in your neighborhood, please view the Daily Crime Report.” [Twitter]

D.C. Office Vacancy Rises as N. Va. Declines — “Office vacancy is reaching new heights in the District as new supply continues to outpace demand, but market conditions are much better for landlords in neighboring Northern Virginia.” [Bisnow]

Trailers to Take Out Tree — “In a community where the destruction of even a single tree can mobilize residents, there may be another skirmish in the offing on July 13. That’s the date that Arlington County Board members will be asked to approve the placement of new portable (‘relocatable’) classrooms on the campus Arlington Traditional School, designed to ease overcrowding.” [InsideNova]

Ballston Office Building Sold — “The first building developed in Ballston’s Liberty Center complex has just traded hands.  Carr Properties sold the One Liberty Center office building at 875 North Randolph St. to USAA Real Estate, the JLL brokerage team announced Monday. Property records show the sale closed June 26 for about $153M.” [Bisnow]

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

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Arlington County is considering a new program to divert people with mental illnesses into treatment instead of jail.

The proposed program would waive incarceration for people with mental illnesses who are convicted of non-violent misdemeanors if they agree to an intensive treatment program supervised by a judge. All the officials who spoke to ARLnow about the program supported it, but some weren’t aware the county was working on the program and said they had little opportunity to add input.

The Arlington County’s Department of Human Services is spearheading the program. A spokesman told ARLnow on June 27 that in response to “recent requests” it would host a public meeting on the so-called Behavioral Health Docket on Wednesday, July 17 at 3 p.m. The location of the meeting has yet to be determined.

“The aim is to divert eligible defendants with diagnosed mental health disorders into judicially supervised, community-based treatment, designed and implemented by a team of court staff and mental health professionals,” said DHS Assistant Director Kurt Larrick.

This new docket aims to accept defendants 18 or older who reside in Arlington and who are diagnosed with a serious mental illness, Larrick said. Additionally, only defendants who have been charged with misdemeanors, not felonies, would be eligible for the diversion program. Defendants would need to agree to work with a team of mental health professionals and program staff to enroll in the docket and agree to follow a treatment plan with some supervision.

“These programs are distinguished by several unique elements: a problem-solving focus; a team approach to decision-making; integration of social services; judicial supervision of the treatment process; direct interaction between defendants and the judge; community outreach; and a proactive role for the judge,” Larrick said.

Where Mental Illness and the Law Collide

Officials and advocates say they hope that the docket will help break the cycle of recidivism that some people with mental illnesses fall into.

“Arlington has a significant number of people with mental illnesses that intersect with the criminal justice system,” Deputy Public Defender Amy K. Stitzel told ARLnow. “Evidence-based mental health dockets not only treat instead of criminalizing behavior that is a result of mental illness, they increase treatment engagement, improve quality of life, reduce recidivism and save money.”

“We’re talking about people who are arrested for vagrancy and loitering and trespassing,” said Naomi Verdugo, who has been an activist for people in Arlington with mental illness for several years. “These are largely misdemeanors and stupid things, and it’s because they aren’t well. We would be better off putting services around them than paying to incarcerate people who are just going to reoffend.”

“It is clear that the local and regional jails in Virginia have a substantial number of persons with mental illness in their care, and that this care is costly to the localities and to the Commonwealth,” says a 2017 study of similar programs statewide.

The most recent data from Virginia jail surveys indicate that statewide 1 in 10 of the inmates counted was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, such as PTSD or schizophrenia, and about 20% of all inmates had some kind of mental illness.

In Arlington, data from 2016, 2017, and 2018 indicates the most common diagnoses for inmates are bipolar disorder/major depressive and schizophrenia.

Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood said his office has been part of a team discussing mental health improvements for 15 years with the county’s Mental Health Criminal Justice Review Committee, and for the past five years with a subcommittee dedicated to creating a docket, called the Behavioral Health Docket Committee. Haywood strongly supports the idea of a Behavioral Health Docket but noted his office wasn’t notified the county had advanced plans for the docket until recently.

“This is not a transparent approach”

While he applauded DHS for moving the program forward, Haywood said he would have liked more input on the design when organizers decided to require defendants plead guilty before participating in the program.

“From our perspective, until early spring of 2019, the process for drafting and submitting an application for the Mental Health Docket seemed to be moving very slowly,” he said. “I don’t know what changed that took the process to where it is now, to having tight deadlines and short comment periods.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who recently won the Democratic primary against incumbent prosecutor Theo Stamos, said she heard about the docket for the first time two weeks ago. During her campaign, Tafti advocated for a mental health court as part of larger criminal justice reforms, but said she wasn’t given a chance to comment on the Behavioral Health Docket.

She told ARLnow that she has concerns the new program “criminalizes mental illness” by requiring a plea to participate.

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There has been a recent increase in reports of car break-ins in residential portions of North Arlington, with more than a dozen vehicles broken into this week.

Arlington County Police reported this morning that around 10 vehicles were tampered with in the Bellevue Forest neighborhood in the early morning hours.

LARCENY FROM AUTO (series), 2019-07020047/07020061/07020062, 3000 block of N. Oxford Street/3100 block of N. Peary Street/3700 block of Roberts Lane. At approximately 6:17 a.m., police were dispatched to the report of a larceny from auto. Upon arrival, it was determined that between approximately 5:30 a.m. and 6:17 a.m., an unknown suspect gained entry to and tampered with approximately 10, mostly unlocked vehicles and stole items of value. The suspect is described as a tall male with a slim build, wearing a long sleeve shirt, light colored pants and black sneakers. The investigation is ongoing.

Over the past few days, residents have reported similar vehicle break-ins and thefts in the Lyon Village, Virginia Square and Rock Spring neighborhoods, via social media and email listservs.

Police continue to ask residents to lock their cars at night, to discourage such break-ins.

The rest of this week’s Arlington County Police Department crime report is below, after the jump.

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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For at least the second time this month, there has been a series of vehicle tamperings in a North Arlington neighborhood.

The latest series of incidents happened in the Donaldson Run neighborhood, after the previous series of vehicle break-ins in Dominion Hills.

Police say a car was stolen and at least two other vehicles were rummaged through between Sunday night and Monday morning, along the 3000 block of N. Stuart Street.

More from this week’s Arlington County Police Department crime report:

VEHICLE TAMPERING (series), 2019-06240073, 3000 block of N. Stuart Street. At approximately 8:30 a.m. on June 24, police were dispatched to the report of a stolen vehicle. While investigating the stolen vehicle, it was determined that between 10:00 p.m. on June 23 and 8:30 a.m. on June 24, approximately two additional unlocked vehicles were entered and items items tampered with. Nothing of value was reported stolen. There is no suspect description. The investigation is ongoing.

Police say residents should keep their cars locked and remove valuables after parking.

Below are the rest of the highlights from this week’s crime report, including some we’ve already reported.

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