A co-owner of the former Caffe Aficionado in Rosslyn has pleaded guilty to charges connected to what prosecutors said was a multi-year credit card fraud scheme.
Clark Donat is scheduled to be sentenced next month after pleading guilty in June to a long list of charges: credit card fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, identity theft, credit card forgery, credit card theft, conspiracy to commit credit card theft and conspiracy to commit identity theft.
His former business partner in the cafe, Adiam Berhane, is scheduled to face a jury trial starting Jan. 30, 2018.
According to prosecutors, Donat and Berhane started using the cafe’s point-of-sale system to fraudulently charge gift cards — purchased with stolen credit cards — in June of 2013, before the cafe even opened. The stolen credit card information was bought off the “dark web” and used to manufacture fake credit cards, which were then used to buy gift cards and other items, prosecutors say.
In all, according to prosecutors, the cafe recorded about $1 million in revenue between 2013 and the police raid in October 2016, $450,000 of which was attributable to “gift cards almost entirely purchased with stolen credit card information.”
Counterfeit cards were also used to buy goods at various stores, including TJ Maxx and REI, which were then returned and credited to one of the defendant’s legitimate credit cards, prosecutors allege. A few days before the raid, prosecutors say, the pair used a stolen credit card to pay for a $1,200 large group brunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown.
Before the alleged fraud was revealed, Caffe Aficionado garnered rave reviews for its hand-crafted coffee and espresso drinks. A local food critic even called it “one of the finest coffee shops in the area.”
“We’re really happy with it,” Berhane said of the positive reviews. “I think it’s all about service. Follow the Golden Rule, it’s not that hard.”
Donat is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 17 in Arlington Circuit Court.
For at least the second time this year, fraudsters have installed credit card skimmers at a gas station in Cherrydale.
Police say a skimming device was found inside a gas pump on the 4000 block of Old Dominion Drive yesterday afternoon, after customers of the gas station “reported fraudulent activity on their bank statements.”
The Arlington County Police Department is encouraging residents to take precautions when pumping gas, noting that new credit card skimmers are more sophisticated and “are undetectable without opening the pumps.”
More from an ACPD press release:
The Arlington County Police Department is warning the public about skimming devices used to steal banking and personal information.
At approximately 2:50 p.m. on Monday, September 18, police were dispatched to a gas station in the 4000 block of Old Dominion Drive for the report of a credit card skimming device located inside a gas pump. Citizens having used this location have reported fraudulent activity on their bank statements. Police are encouraging anyone who has used this gas station to review their bank statements for any fraudulent activity. If fraudulent activity is located, report to police by calling the Emergency Communication Center at 703-558-2222 or file an online police report.
Citizens can take the following crime prevention steps to avoid skimmers at gas stations:
- Skimming devices have become more sophisticated. In most cases, the skimmers are being placed inside the machine and are undetectable without opening the pumps.
- Pay inside at the gas station, rather than at the pump.
- Always pay using a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards have better fraud protection, and the money is not deducted immediately from an account.
- If using a debit card at the pump, choose to run it as a credit card instead of putting a PIN number in. That way, the PIN number is safe.
- Consider purchasing a refillable prepaid card to purchase gas at the pumps.
- If you have not already switched to a chip reader on your credit card, do so.
- Regularly check your bank statements and if you notice fraudulent activity, notify the bank so they can begin an investigation.
Criminals will use a variety of different scams and the Arlington County Police Department wants the public to remain alert so you don’t become a victim. Individuals seeking more information about fraud can visit our website or contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit at [email protected] .
Photo via Google Maps
After a spate of credit card skimming devices being discovered at gas stations across the region this year, including in Arlington, AAA Mid-Atlantic is warning motorists to be extra cautious when paying at the pump.
Several gas stations in Cherrydale as well as a Shell station on S. Four Mile Run Drive appeared to have been hit by the skimmers earlier this year. The skimmers are installed inside pumps and ATMs and copy customers’ card information for fraudulent use by criminals, who use Bluetooth technology to receive the stolen credit card numbers in seconds.
Anyone who suspects a skimmer in their gas pump can check by jiggling the credit card slot to see if it is askew or asymmetrical.
More from John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs:
The caper may crop up, lawmen forewarn, in other counties, cities and communities across the Greater Washington area, as dodgy perpetrators try to stay steps ahead of the reach of the law’s long arm and catch local consumers unawares as they purchase fuel. To safeguard your debit or credit card, and protect your finances, only buy gas at stations that affix security seals to the fuel dispenser. Always remember the motto ‘Let the buyer beware’ (caveat emptor) when making a gas transaction.
This year, skimmers have been discovered in parts of Maryland as well as Alexandria, Bailey’s Crossroads, Centreville, Tysons Corner, Vienna, and in areas around Prince William and Frederick counties. In the last 12 months, AAA said, Fairfax County Police have removed “21 individual skimmers from 15 different locations.”
AAA gave the following advice to those using self-service gas pumps:
- Park at pumps close to the front door of the gas station if possible. Criminals tend to install the skimmers on an outside pump farthest from where the clerks can see them.
- Check for Bluetooth skimmers embedded inside pumps at a gas station using your cell phone. Turn on your Bluetooth setting and look for a series of random numbers and letters. It may be a telltale sign a Bluetooth-enabled skimming device is interleaved into the gas kiosk. Do not connect to the Bluetooth device.
- Make sure the gas pump panel is closed and inspect the card reader at the pump. Look for signs of tampering. If it looks like it’s been opened or its security tape has been broken, inform the cashier and do not use that pump.
- Pay for your gas inside the store.
- Use cash instead of your credit card.
- Monitor your bank statements constantly. Look for overdraft notices. Skimming criminals may wait months before using your information and then go on a sudden spending spree.
Photo via Google Maps
Police said multiple residents reported receiving phone calls from someone either claiming to be a Sheriff’s Deputy or with another local law enforcement agency, accusing them of failing to appear for jury duty.
The scammer then said a warrant for their arrest was to be issued unless a fine is paid over the phone.
Earlier this month, a reader reported receiving a call of this nature from a man claiming to be a Sgt. Jimmy Jackson with Arlington police. The reader said the caller did not ask for money right away, but instead stated that they had to schedule an in-person affidavit, and the money paid would arrange that.
Police and the Sheriff’s Office warned of a similar scam earlier this year.
More from an ACPD press release:
If you receive a call of this nature, immediately hang up with the caller and verify the claim by calling the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office at 703.228.4460. Never use a phone number provided to you from the caller to verify their credibility. Also, never provide personal information such as bank account numbers to anyone over the phone.
Subjects will use a variety of different phone scams and the Arlington County Police Department wants the public to be aware of the recent string of scams and past cases so you don’t become a victim. In addition to the recent jury duty scam, the Police Department has received fraud reports in the past regarding utility companies threatening to shut of services if not provided immediate payment; IRS collecting fees for unpaid taxes; and family members allegedly being held hostage or having suffered injury requiring payment. If you receive a call of this nature, please hang up immediately and report this information to the non-emergency line. Individuals seeking additional information about fraud can contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit at [email protected] or visit the police website.
Another scammer who claims to be serving an arrest warrant for a supposed jury duty mix-up is targeting Arlington residents.
A reader said a man claiming to be a Sgt. Jimmy Jackson with the Arlington County Police Department called her saying there was a warrant out for her arrest due to the mix-up. Police reported a similar scam earlier this year.
Unlike previous scams, the reader said the caller did not ask for money right away, but instead stated that they had to schedule an in-person affidavit. He said the money paid for reserving a time block would be refunded at a future court appearance.
Although the scammer name drops Arlington General District Court clerk Steven Robert Spurr and Chief Judge William T. Newman from Arlington Circuit Court, police said the badge number he cites — No. 3319 — is fake. County courts also always send any information for jury duty by mail or email.
Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said no badge number begins with the digits 33, and that police will never ask for money over the phone. Savage also encouraged any victims of fraud to report it at the county’s online reporting system.
It’s an ongoing problem: thieves using “skimmer” devices to steal credit and debit card information from unsuspecting customers of local businesses.
Arlington’s Cherrydale neighborhood appears to be the latest target of the skimmer scammers.
Reports a resident:
Maywood listserv lighting up with reports of multiple people getting their credit cards skimmed recently. Most people point to common thread of Liberty Gas station on Lee Highway (and a few other likely places in the area) as common thread. But that is not 100% clear.
In most cases, someone buys gas here. Later someone tries to purchase gas in California. Per Cherrydale listserv earlier, it looks like Arlington Police already found a “skimmer” machine earlier at Exxon across the street, but these are new reports from another potential location.
Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed at least a portion of the neighborhood scuttlebutt.
Here’s what she said via email to ARLnow.com:
Our Financial Crimes Unit received reports of possible credit card skimming at the Liberty Gas station. They responded to the area and during their investigation did not identify a point of compromise at this location. On March 9 at approximately 1:57 p.m., police responded to the Exxon gas station in the 4000 block of Old Dominion Drive for the report of a recovered credit card skimmer. That investigation is ongoing.
These type of cases are typically reported to police as credit card fraud and since we use credit cards for almost all purchases (online, in person, groceries, gas, etc.) the challenge is identifying the point of compromise. Turnaround time from point of compromise to first fraudulent use varies depending on how the suspects intend to use the stolen data. Police work closely with banking institutes who notify us when there is a trend with customers cards being compromised and they identify the location all the cards have in common.
There are some things citizens can do to protect themselves:
- You will not know if a gas pump has a skimmers. In most cases, the skimmers are being placed inside the machine.
- Pay inside at the gas station rather than at the pump.
- Always pay using credit rather than debit – it’s easier to dispute the charges and isn’t linked directly to your bank account.
- If you haven’t switched to a chip reader on your credit card, do so.
- Regularly check your bank statements and if you notice fraudulent activity, notify the bank so they can begin an investigation.
- If you find you were the victim of fraud, file a police report.
Photo via Google Maps
Police Warn of Fraud Scheme — The Arlington County Police Department is warning that home repair and tree service fraud schemes become more prevalent in the spring. Police say to be wary of would-be service providers who approach or knock on your door unannounced, pressure you to make an immediate decision, claim to have leftover materials or to be working in the area, and only accept cash payment. [Arlington County]
Arlington Restaurant Makes Sietsema’s Top 10 — Ambar in Clarendon has been included in restaurant critic Tom Sietsema’s list of the top 10 new restaurants in Washington. It is the only Virginia restaurant on the list. [Washington Post]
Beyer Supports Budget Bill — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) says that while it’s not perfect, he supports the compromise omnibus funding bill that passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Beyer says the bill contained key environmental protections and funding for scientific research. [Rep. Don Beyer]
No Endorsement from Garvey — County Board member Libby Garvey says she will vote in the upcoming Democratic caucus, but so far she is not endorsing any candidate for County Board. [InsideNova]
ACDC Candidate Forum — The Arlington County Democratic Committee held its candidate forum/debate last night, with all four candidates for County Board weighing in on topics from affordable housing to WMATA and transit to diversity in county government. [Blue Virginia]
Trustify’s Swanky Digs — Arlington-based startup Trustify’s new 8,000 square foot office in Crystal City has “a view that arguably is one of the dreamiest” among local startups. The design of the office was “‘film noir’-inspired.” [DC Inno]
Police say the fraud happened between 2010 and 2016.
The suspect, Helen Agbapuruonwu, was charged with felony welfare fraud and document forgery. Her husband is listed on LinkedIn and elsewhere as an associate at the D.C. office of a large international law firm.
From an Arlington County Police Department crime report:
FELONY WELFARE FRAUD, 2016-10040029, 2100 block of Washington Boulevard. Between April 1, 2010 and August 1, 2016 the subject allegedly fraudulently obtained public assistance in excess of $100,000 under false pretenses. Helen Agbapuruonwu, 38, of Arlington VA was arrested and charged with felony welfare fraud and document forgery.
Two Northern Virginia men have been sentenced after being convicted of ripping off elderly homeowners in Arlington’s Yorktown neighborhood.
John Walsh and Mark Sisk were sentenced to serve at least two years in prison and pay $62,100 in restitution to the victims, in addition to several years of probation. Prosecutors say the pair conned the elderly residents of a home on 27th Street N. into believing that they “were in need of serious home repair.”
More from an Arlington County Police Department press release, below.
Two men were sentenced on Friday, March 3, 2017 in the Arlington County Circuit Court for their role in a fraud scheme targeting Arlington County residents. John Patrick Walsh, 32, of Culpepper, VA was sentenced to seven years in prison, with all but two years suspended, on the charges of false pretenses and conspiracy. He was ordered to pay restitution to the victims in the amount of $62,100 and ordered to five years of probation upon release from incarceration. Mark Sisk, 31, of Boston, VA was sentenced to six years in prison, with all but two years and five months suspended, on three charges of false pretenses. He was ordered to pay restitution to the victims in the amount of $62,100 and ordered to three years of probation upon release from incarceration.
On September 10, 2016, Walsh and Sisk approached the victim’s residence in the 4800 block of N. 27th Street and fraudulently claimed to be contractors working in the area. They advised the elderly residents that they were in need of serious home repair and that failure to comply could result in the home catching fire. Throughout the month of September, Walsh and Sisk misrepresented the need for work and provided false information to the victims that work had been performed. Through a series of repeated home repair scams, the victims were defrauded of $62,100 in cash.
Arlington County Deputy Chief Daniel J. Murray, Commander of the Criminal Investigations Division said, “The individuals who perpetrate these scams target and victimize our most vulnerable populations. While there was a substantial loss of money in this investigation, the greater loss was the victim’s sense of security in their own home. This prosecution serves as another opportunity to warn residents to avoid becoming a victim of fraud. Residents should beware of any smooth-talking salesman who comes to your home unannounced.”
Detective K. White was the lead detective.
Webb Running for School Board — Former candidate for Congress Mike Webb says he’s running for Arlington School Board against incumbent James Lander. “Every problem that we face in Arlington’s public schools can find a solution in opening public charter schools,” Webb wrote in a Facebook post. [Blue Virginia]
Handbag Schemer Led Lavish Lifestyle — Praepitcha Smatsorabudh, the Arlington resident who was just sentenced to 30 months in prison for a fake handbag scheme, led a lavish jet-setting lifestyle that she documented on Instagram while perpetrating the $1 million fraud. [The Sun, Daily Mail]
Metro Installing More WiFi — After a six-station pilot program, Metro has announced that it will be installing public WiFi at all of its underground stations. The work is expected to begin this summer and wrap up by the end of 2018. [The Hill]
VHC to Expand Mental Health Facilities — Virginia Hospital Center is being pushed to expand its behavioral and mental health facilities as part of a proposed expansion of the hospital. Currently, the facilities are located in the hospital’s basement and only include 18 beds. There are an estimated 6,000 people with serious mental illness in Arlington County. [InsideNova]
Arlington Suicide Prevention Survey — Arlington is conducting an online survey about the county’s suicide prevention resources and services. [SurveyMonkey]
Photo courtesy Mark T.
An Arlington woman arrested earlier this year for a counterfeit handbag fraud has been sentenced to jail time.
Federal prosecutors say 41-year-old Praepitcha Smatsorabudh would buy luxury handbags online, then return high-quality knockoff handbags to the store while selling the real bag online, netting big profits in the process
She was sentenced today to 30 months in prison and more than $800,000 in forfeiture and restitution, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
More from a press release:
Praepitcha Smatsorabudh, 41, of Arlington, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for running a multiyear scheme to defraud department stores across the country. Smatsorabudh was also sentenced to three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $403,250.81 in forfeiture and the same amount in restitution to her victims.
Smatsorabudh pleaded guilty to wire fraud on August 3. According to court documents, Smatsorabudh bought brand name purses online and then returned in their place counterfeit purses, which were smuggled into the country from China. She then sold the authentic purses on Instagram for more than $2,000 each. In order to avoid detection, Smatsorabudh made fraudulent returns at over 60 department store locations in 12 states. In total, her scheme defrauded department stores out of more than $400,000.
Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Clark E. Settles, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer prosecuted the case.
Willbrod Frank Lukamilwa, 42, is accused of using a friend’s credit cards after stealing them from her home near Columbia Pike.
He has also falsely represented himself as a medical professional to defraud victims hoping to obtain employment, police say.
ACPD issued the following press release Tuesday morning.
The Arlington County Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit is investigating a suspect charged in a fraud case and are seeking additional victims. Willbrod Frank Lukamilwa aka Frank Wilbert Ramaphosa, 42, of an unknown address, has been arrested and charged with unlawful entry, credit card larceny, and credit card fraud.
At approximately 4:30 p.m. on November 28, officers responded to the 2500 block of S. 9th Road for the report of a burglary in progress. Through the course of the investigation, officers determined that the suspect, Willbrod Frank Lukamilwa, had unlawfully entered the female victim’s apartment while she was away. He had befriended the victim several weeks prior. The suspect was found to be in possession of and had completed transactions with the victim’s credit cards.
In June 2016, Lukamilwa was arrested by Montgomery County Police for committing a theft scheme in Maryland. In 2012, Lukamilwa met the victim in that case and fraudulently represented himself as “Head of Nursing” at a local hospital. Lukamilwa told the victim that he could help him enter a nursing program. Over three years, Lukamilwa accepted $13,500 in “tuition” from the victim at various locations in Montgomery County. Once Lukamilwa received the money, he stopped communicating with the victim.
The suspect has a history of fraud schemes and detectives believe there may be additional victims. The suspect is known to befriend men and women under the reuse that he is a doctor or is associated in the medical field. He may make promises of obtaining employment for the victims in exchange for a monetary fee. No employment is ever secured. Lukamilwa may also defraud individuals by gaining their trust and then beginning to borrow large sums of money, without the intent to repay.
Anyone with information related to this investigation is asked to call Detective P. Marseilles at 703.228.4237 or [email protected] To report information anonymously, contact the Arlington County Crime Solvers at 866.411.TIPS (8477).
The hotline, which launches on Tuesday, Nov. 15, “will offer a confidential and secure way to report suspected incidents of financial fraud, waste and abuse.” It expands on a similar hotline for County employees to report activity that negatively impacts County operations.
“Ethics are at the core of what we do as public stewards,” Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a statement. “Our employees, by and large, do the right thing every day. We successfully launched an employee financial waste, fraud and abuse hotline in May of 2015. We are pleased to expand this hotline to the public, as another easy way for anyone to report suspected instances of financial fraud, waste and abuse.”
The hotline, operated by third-party provider Ethical Advocate, can be reached via phone at 866-565-9206 or online at arlingtonva.ethicaladvocate.com. Tipsters can opt to remain anonymous.
Complaints will be examined by a “Review Committee” that will then “determine appropriate action,” including potential review by the Arlington County Police Department.
Separately, the Arlington County Board announced at its Wednesday meeting that it had hired a new County Auditor, after the county’s first independent auditor left the job in July.
The new auditor, Dr. Chris Horton, previously served as audit manager for the Fairfax County Public Schools’ Office of Auditor General.
More about the hire from a county press release, after the jump.
Arlington County Police released photos today of a man they say sold fake tickets to a recent Drake concert on Craigslist.
“The subject posted ads on Craigslist for tickets to the Drake concert on August 19 and met the victims in Pentagon City,” police said in a Facebook post.
The photos show a heavyset white male with facial hair and glasses standing in front of the Pentagon City Metro station entrance. He’s wearing a SwissGear (or similar backpack), a baseball cap and cargo shorts.
“If you have any information about this incident or can identify this subject, you are asked to contact Detective Marseilles at [email protected],” said ACPD. “You can also report tips anonymously to Arlington County Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS.”
The Summer Sixteen Tour, featuring Canadian rapper Drake and Atlanta rapper Future, visited Verizon Center on Friday, Aug. 19 and Saturday, Aug. 20. The price of tickets to the show on ticketing websites started around $100.
Memorial Day in Arlington — It was an active Memorial Day in Arlington. Among the activities: a ceremony was held at the Air Force Memorial; volunteers handed out 30,000 roses to families of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery; President Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns; and Arlington’s annual Memorial Day ceremony was held in Clarendon. [WJLA, WJLA, New York Daily News, Twitter]
Quarterdeck Owner Opening Restaurant in D.C. –Patrick Morrogh, who owns the Quarterdeck near Rosslyn, is reportedly opening another crab-centric eatery, “District Anchor,” in the former Rumors space at 1900 M Street NW in D.C. [Borderstan]
Arlington Woman Arrested for Handbag Scheme — Federal authorities have charged Arlington resident Praepitcha Smatsorabudh in a major fraud scheme. The feds say Smatsorabudh would buy luxury handbags online, then return high-quality knockoff handbags to the store while selling the real bag online, netting millions of dollars in the process. Per a news report: “The scheme was so prolific that at one point she was a major department store’s top online customer in the entire world.” [ABC News]
Metro Train’s Brakes Catch Fire — Blue Line service was shut down for more than an hour Saturday while Arlington County firefighters battled a brake fire on a Metro train at Arlington Cemetery station. [WJLA]
Home Prices Dip in Arlington — Real estate firm Long and Foster reports a six percent year-over-year drop in Arlington County median home sale prices for April. The number of units sold, however, rose 5 percent. [WTOP]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf