A Maryland man has pleaded guilty to assault after he threatened and stole the keys of a dump truck driver following a crash on the GW Parkway.
The road rage incident happened on Nov. 1 along the Arlington portion of the Parkway. It was prosecuted in federal court since it happened on National Park Service land.
The 58-year-old perpetrator also smashed the window of the dump truck with a baseball bat, federal prosecutors said, leading to the assault charge. He faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty, though actual sentences are usually lower.
More from a U.S. Justice Department press release, below.
A Frederick, Maryland, man pleaded guilty yesterday to assault with a deadly weapon.
According to court documents, Juan Marcus Smith, 58, was driving on the George Washington Memorial Parkway when a motor vehicle accident occurred between his vehicle and a dump truck driven by the victim. Smith pulled in front of the dump truck and brought his vehicle to a complete stop in the righthand lane of the Parkway. He walked over to the victim’s truck, opened the driver’s side door, and brandished a knife while attempting to retrieve the keys to the victim’s dump truck. Smith then returned to his vehicle, recovered a baseball bat, and went back to the victim’s dump truck and struck the driver’s side window, shattering the window while the victim sat inside.
When officers with the United States Park Police arrived at the scene, they found Smith standing outside his vehicle holding the key to the dump truck in the air. They also recovered a folding knife from Smith’s pant pocket and a baseball bat from the back seat of Smith’s vehicle.
Smith is scheduled to be sentenced on May 25. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Christopher Stock, Acting Chief of U.S. Park Police, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Patricia T. Giles accepted the plea.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Alyssa Levey-Weinstein and Assistant U.S. Attorney Bibeane Metsch are prosecuting the case.
Guilty Plea in 1998 Murder — “The case of Andrea Cincotta, a librarian and single mother who was found dead in her Arlington apartment, remained an unsolved mystery for nearly 24 years… On Wednesday, [Bobby Joe Leonard] pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder charge, admitting that he strangled Cincotta to death more than two decades ago. And he claimed he did so hoping to be paid by a man he believed to be Cincotta’s boyfriend.” [Washington Post]
Metro Upping Rail Service on Local Lines — “Welcome news for customers who ride the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. As of Aug 1, trains will arrive every 15 minutes on weekdays, matching service on the Green and Yellow lines. For most customers, the wait for a train will be no longer than 5-8 minutes, as most stations are served by at least two if not all three lines.” [WMATA]
Meteor Over Arlington — “Bright meteor from west Arlington, looking WNW tonight!” [Twitter]
Prohibition Tour of Arlington — “Arlington’s wholesome present hides some scandals of the past. You don’t even want to think of the vice – gambling, prostitution, you name it – that raged unchecked in Rosslyn… Park historian John McNair will lead a short walking tour on the Clarendon area on Aug. 12 at 3 p.m., detailing stories of local bootleggers and the government agents who attempted to stop them.” [Sun Gazette]
Fall Rec Class Catalog Released — “Special Delivery – ENJOY Arlington. We are excited to provide you with recreation, nature and history programs this fall.” [Dept. of Parks and Recreation]
F.C. Is Wealthiest Place in Va. — “According to a study from SmartAsset released this week, Falls Church residents rank the wealthiest in Virginia. The study assessed wealth by comparing counties across three categories: the amount of investment income residents receive, total per capita income and the median home value… After Falls Church, Arlington County and Fairfax County follow in second and third place for the top 10 wealthiest localities in Virginia.” [Falls Church News-Press]
It’s Friday — Rain and storms — some potentially severe — in the afternoon, evening and overnight. High of 85 and low of 73. Sunrise at 6:08 am and sunset at 8:24 pm. [Weather.gov]
Photo courtesy Dave Statter
From Philadelphia to Los Angeles to nearby Fairfax County, and here in Arlington, prosecutors running on criminal justice reform platforms were elected in a wave.
But since they’ve taken office, some have questioned whether their approach to crime is too soft. A recall election in San Francisco ousted its chief prosecutor, and last year, Arlington’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti also faced a recall campaign, though it never seriously threatened her tenure in office.
Since she took office in January 2020, some types of crime have increased. At the same time, the pandemic pushed her, defense attorneys and the sheriff’s office to reduce the number of people jailed, and staffing shortages led to a cut in some police department services, such as follow-up investigations on property crimes it deemed unsolvable.
Dehghani-Tafti tells ARLnow that when crime is up, the “tough-on-crime crowd” says to “be tougher” and when it’s down, they say to keep jailing people because “it’s working.” But she believes progressive policies and expanding diversion programs for nonviolent offenders can better help them stay on the right side of the law.
She emphasized that her office takes violent crime seriously. The violent crime rate in Arlington was below the state and national averages in 2021. Meanwhile, police officers working with Dehghani-Tafti generally approve of the way her office pursues violent crime charges, Arlington Police Beneficiary Association President Rich Conigliaro tells ARLnow.
Fewer prosecutions of nonviolent crimes
Although the police don’t believe Arlington has a major crime issue, the department has seen more crime sprees in the last few years, Conigliaro said. There was an overall 8.5% increase in property crime in 2021 compared to 2019, according to ACPD’s annual report.
Police have dealt with cases where the defendant had committed multiple property crimes, such as burglaries, in jurisdictions across Virginia. In one such case, a Maryland man, who was out on bail for charges in Fairfax County, was arrested in Arlington on similar charges, including stealing and spitting on an officer after his arrest.
After that incident, Dehghani-Tafti’s office dropped two charges and downgraded a felony charge into a misdemeanor as a plea agreement. His 180-day jail sentence in Arlington was suspended and he was extradited to Maryland to face prior charges there, according to court documents.
Dehghani-Tafti’s office has downgraded felony charges into misdemeanors for cases that “normally would not have seen that level of a plea bargain being agreed upon” on multiple occasions, Conigliaro said. Detectives are concerned with this trend, he added.
Brad Haywood, the chief public defender in the county, also said Dehghani-Tafti’s office seemed less likely to press felony charges where a misdemeanor charge may apply, such as with nonviolent or minor property and drug cases, he said.
Haywood said her office seems more willing to give people with behavioral issues a second chance by ensuring they receive treatments instead of jail time, unlike her predecessor Theo Stamos. Stamos, who is now working in the office of Attorney General Jason Miyares, declined to comment for this article.
Generally, there have been fewer felony indictments under Dehghani-Tafti compared to Stamos, according to performance data gathered in the latest proposed budget from the Commonwealth’s Attorney office. The number of indictments issued by the Circuit Court decreased 37% from 713 in fiscal year 2019 to 449 in fiscal year 2021. The number of sentencing events dropped by almost 57% from 354 in fiscal year 2019 to 153 in fiscal year 2021.
The number of criminal misdemeanor cases that appeared before the General District Court also decreased by 23.4% from 3,476 in fiscal year 2019 to 2,662 in fiscal year 2021.
In Dehghani-Tafti’s view, prisons cannot effectively rehabilitate an offender. She cited a meta study published by the University of Chicago Press last year that showed incarcerations are less effective in reducing recidivism.
Dehghani-Tafti believes the biggest change she brought to Arlington was creating new diversion programs for adults. Her office is taking part in the Motion for Justice Project, which connects participants to social services and treatments, as well as partnering with the nonprofit Offender Aid and Restoration to provide diversion programs.
“I came in guided by the idea that safety and justice are not opposite values, they are rather complementary values,” Dehghani-Tafti said. “And that we can treat people like people and crime like crime.”
An Arlington doctor’s office was the hub of a “decade-long oxycodone distribution network,” federal prosecutors say.
A Front Royal woman who authorities say was the “ringleader” of the scheme, which prescribed tens of thousands of pills between 2012 and 2022, pleaded guilty Monday. Candie Marie Calix, 40, could face up to 20 years in prison at her scheduled sentencing on September 28.
Two co-conspirators in the opioid prescription ring, both from Front Royal, previously pleaded guilty and are also set to be sentenced in September.
The Arlington physician for whom Calix “nominally worked as an office manager” was not named and it’s unclear whether they will face charges or other disciplinary action. The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The Arlington County Police Department reported 92 opioid overdoses in 2021, including 28 that resulted in death.
More from a U.S. Dept. of Justice press release, below.
A Front Royal woman pleaded guilty today to being the ringleader of a decade-long oxycodone distribution network, sourcing high-dosage oxycodone pills from a doctor in Arlington.
According to court documents, Candie Marie Calix, 40, nominally worked as an office manager for a physician in Arlington, referred to in court records as Doctor-1. Between 2012 and 2022, Doctor-1 prescribed Calix nearly 40,000 oxycodone 30-mg pills and more than 9,000 oxycodone 15-mg pills. Doctor-1 also prescribed similar quantities of oxycodone 30-mg and 15-mg pills to Calix’s relatives, including her mother, grandparents, great-grandmother, brother, and husband. These quantities were far in excess of therapeutic doses, and Calix personally distributed or directed others to distribute most of the pills that Doctor-1 prescribed to Calix and her family members.
Calix functioned as the gatekeeper to Doctor-1; she recruited individuals she knew from around Front Royal to be “patients” of Doctor-1 and obtain large quantities of oxycodone. These “patients,” in turn, typically kicked back the oxycodone 30-mg pills they were prescribed to Calix to redistribute, and kept the oxycodone 15-mg pills for their own use. Calix recruited at least 12 individuals to be “patients” of Doctor-1.
Calix and her co-conspirators used coded language to refer to the pills they distributed, for example, referring to oxycodone 30-mg pills as “tickets,” “blueberries,” or “muffins.” The co-conspirators typically sold oxycodone 30-mg pills at a cost of $25 per pill, and over the course of the conspiracy, generated at least $5,000 per month in profits.
Two of Calix’s co-conspirators, Kendall Sovereign, 56, and Jessica Talbott, 35, both of Front Royal, also pleaded guilty to their involvement in the conspiracy. Sovereign and Talbott are both scheduled to be sentenced on September 21.
Calix is scheduled to be sentenced on September 28. She faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Wayne A. Jacobs, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga accepted the plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine E. Rumbaugh is prosecuting the case.
The former Uber driver who allegedly struck Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill last year entered a plea agreement on July 23.
Gigssa Bekele Bengessa pleaded guilty to reckless driving in a parking lot and to a felony hit and run. He will face some jail time and three years of probation.
In January 2020, Bengessa attempted to drive out of the towing lot in Ballston as O’Neill was closing the gate, according to a police report from the time. Bengessa struck him, a dumpster and light pole.
Per the plea agreement, provided to ARLnow, he will be sentenced to jail for a net of 10 days — 90 days, with 80 days suspended. During the time of his suspended sentence, he will be supervised. His driver’s license will be suspended for six months.
Provided that Bengessa meets all the court’s prescriptions over the next three years, he will be able to have the felony charge knocked down to a misdemeanor, the agreement said.
Bengessa has three years to pay court costs as well as $5,516.35, plus interest, to O’Neill for restitution.
He is being required to “follow all treatment recommendations made” after a psychologist’s evaluation from March 2020, according to the plea deal, and will “undergo any further mental health evaluations deemed appropriate” by his probation officer.
Further, Bengessa will be “prohibited from driving or operating any and all rideshare vehicles, including but not limited to: Uber, Lyft, taxi service, or any vehicle for hire,” the plea deal said.
The agreement comes as the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, is preparing to go to trial in a lawsuit against Advanced Towing. The suit was filed in June 2020 and a trial date is scheduled for Oct. 6 of this year.
Herring’s complaint alleges that Advanced Towing has violated state and county towing code provisions, resulting in towing conduct that is “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.”
“Virginia consumers should not have to worry about towing companies acting illegally or employing predatory, unsafe business practices,” Herring said in a statement last year. “My team and I will continue to hold towing companies and bad actors accountable when they break the law and take advantage of consumers.”
This is not the first time such an accusation has been leveled against the company. Advanced, which tows cars that are considered to be trespassing on private lots and then charges the vehicle’s owner a fee, faces frequent accusations of “predatory” towing.
The company gained national notoriety in 2015 after video emerged of an ESPN reporter, whose car was towed, berating an Advanced employee.
Guilty Plea in Good Samaritan Killing — “An Arlington man will spend up to 45 years in prison for killing a good Samaritan who intervened in a violent domestic dispute in October 2018. Michael Nash, 29, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Monday — the morning he was set to go to trial… Nash had intended to argue that he was not in his right mind when he killed Julio Patricio Salazar, 54, a Bolivian immigrant described by family and witnesses as a hero who tried to help a woman in distress.” [Washington Post, NBC 4]
New Workforce Training Initiative — “The local workforce development board and the Arlington Employment Center (AEC) are rolling out new initiatives to increase access to online training and assist 1,000 adults and graduating students to prepare for post-pandemic jobs, especially those requiring digital skills. The Virginia Career Works-Alexandria/Arlington Region Workforce Council and AEC have partnered with LinkedIn Learning to provide short-term training in pre-designed career pathways that lead to skills local businesses need.” [Arlington County]
Local Catering Options — “Virginia’s Covid restrictions have lifted and gatherings have been deemed safe for the vaccinated. Ready to party? If you’d rather focus on hugging family and friends and leave the cooking to someone else, many area restaurants offer catering services, and some only need 24 hours’ notice (or less) to whip up a feast for your hungry crowd.” [Arlington Magazine]
Covid Brings Polyamorous Trio Together — A not-safe-for-work story about an unusual local living arrangement during Covid times: “My partner and his wife are in their fifties. I was coming apart. He was like, ‘Well, you could test, quarantine, and move in here for a couple weeks.’ We talked about the logistics for about a month. How will we do laundry, together or separate? How will we sleep?” [Washingtonian]
Man Sentenced for Drunken Gunfire — “The Weedsport [New York] man arrested for publicly firing a gun in the Washington area days before the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was sentenced April 28 in Arlington County Circuit Court. Moses Geri, 39, was sentenced to two years in prison, with one year and eight months suspended… His sentence was issued days after the court rejected a previous plea agreement that would have made all 12 months of Geri’s probation unsupervised.” [The Citizen]
VHC Now a Level II Trauma Center — “Virginia Hospital Center (VHC), a community-based hospital providing medical services to the Washington, DC metropolitan area for 75 years, is proud to announce that it has received a Level II Trauma Center designation from the Commonwealth of Virginia, filling a critical community need.” [Press Release]
County Hosting Virtual ‘Healing’ Conference — “The Child and Family Services Division (CFSD) announces Building Healing Communities: Conversations on Mental Health, Resilience, and Equity… The free, four-day virtual community conference — offered with simultaneous Spanish translation throughout — kicks off on Thursday, May 20 at 6 p.m.” [Arlington County]
New Apartment Tower Now Leasing — “Leasing has begun at Aubrey, the first of three high-rise residential buildings at the Highlands, a mixed-use development in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, Va. Under development by Penzance, the 23-story-tall Aubrey building at 1788 N. Pierce St. includes 331 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Evo, the second apartment tower, is anticipated to begin leasing this summer. The third tower is the Pierce condominium, which is selling now.” [Washington Post]
Big Motorcycle Rally Back On — “Things are coming together for a major Memorial Day weekend motorcycle rally. It now has an official starting area and it looks like more bikers could be coming. ‘At the very last minute, the mayor came through for us,’ said Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS. The veterans service organization is arranging the ‘Rolling to Remember’ event, which is the successor to ‘Rolling Thunder.'” [WTOP]
A South Carolina man who forcibly stole a woman’s car and then fled from police has received a nearly four year prison sentence.
On the evening of June 22, 2020, police say Verdell Floyd carjacked a woman in a gas station near Shirlington. According to police, Floyd approached the woman while she was pumping gas “and demanded the vehicle.”
Floyd, then 19, drove into Fairfax County before driving back into Arlington and fleeing from police at a high rate of speed. He later abandoned the car and was arrested after a K-9 search, according to Arlington County police.
The Columbia, South Carolina resident pleaded guilty to felony charges of carjacking and eluding police in January. Last week, he was sentenced in Arlington Circuit Court.
“The court sentenced Mr. Floyd received a sentence at the mid-point of his sentencing guidelines, which requires that he serve an active sentence of 3 years and 8 months to serve,” Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow, in response to inquiries about the case. “The exact sentence was 15 years, with all but 3 years and 6 months suspended on the carjacking charge, and on the eluding charge, 12 months with 10 months suspended. He will be required to engage in supervised probation for 5 years upon release.”
ARLnow also asked about other cases stemming from the rise in carjackings both in Arlington and around the region, specifically seeking stats on such prosecutions in Arlington and comment on how those cases are being handled.
Dehghani-Tafti replied simply: “As for the other cases, we are prosecuting them.”
Once high-flying local startup Trustify was able to grow due to a massive fraud perpetrated by its former CEO and co-founder, according to federal prosecutors.
Just three years ago, Danny Boice was the toast of the Arlington startup scene. Virginia’s former governor and Arlington’s former County Board chair praised his plan to add 184 jobs in Trustify’s sparkling new Crystal City offices — a plan that, if carried out, would have made him eligible for nearly $120,000 in economic development incentives.
But the grand vision for a thriving “Uber-for-private-investigators” service never came to fruition.
Behind the scenes, the investments that allowed Trustify to grow were being solicited with fraudulent information, overstating Trustify’s financial performance, and eventually the facade came crashing down. The company was placed into bankruptcy proceedings last year.
Boice, a 41-year-old Alexandria resident, pleaded guilty this week to one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud in connection to the scheme, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice. He’s set to be sentenced in March.
Not only did Boice lie to get $18.5 million in investment, the DOJ said, but he diverted nearly $4 million to his personal benefit, including homes and a private jet.
While some frauds may go unnoticed, the Trustify fraud was called out in real time by a devoted critic of Boice and the company. A local tech watchdog who went by the name “Mr. Cranky” wrote at the time of the governor’s jobs announcement, on a now-defunct blog, that Boice and his ex-wife/co-founder were “two low life scum, pretending to be entrepreneurs.”
“It is my opinion that Danny and [his ex-wife] are financing their luxurious lifestyle by crowdfunding money for their Dumpster Fire and using that cash for vacations, house payments, and private schools while investing little in the company,” he wrote. An earlier “Mr. Cranky” post reprinted a letter from Boice’s attorney demanding that he “cease and desist from continuing to publish false and intentionally disparaging statements about Mr. Boice and his company Trustify.”
The full DOJ press release about Boice’s guilty plea is below.
The former chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder of Trustify, Inc. (Trustify), a privately-held technology company founded in 2015 and based in Arlington, Virginia, pleaded guilty today to his involvement in a fraud scheme resulting in millions of dollars of losses to investors.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.
Daniel Boice, 41, of Alexandria, Virginia, pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud before Senior United States District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia. Sentencing is scheduled for March 19, 2021.
According to admissions made in connection with the plea agreement, beginning in 2015, Boice fraudulently solicited investments in Trustify, a privately held technology start-up company that connected customers with private investigators. Boice raised approximately $18.5 million from over 90 investors by, among other things, falsely overstating Trustify’s financial performance. Despite representing to investors that their funds would go towards operating and growing Trustify’s business, Boice diverted at least $3.7 million for his own benefit and to fund his lifestyle. This included the purchase of a home in Alexandria, Virginia, travel by private jet, and furnishing a seaside vacation home.
The FBI’s Washington Field Office is investigating the case. Trial Attorney Blake Goebel of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Carlberg of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.
Individuals who believe they may be a victim in this case should contact the Victim Witness Services Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at 703-299-3700 for more information.
A First for ACFD — “A veteran firefighter in Arlington County, Virginia, is breaking barriers as she rises through the ranks. Tiffanye Wesley is the first African American woman named deputy fire chief in all of Northern Virginia.” [NBC 4]
County Wants Feedback on Camera Policy — ” The Arlington County Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Fire Marshals’ Office are seeking the public’s input and feedback on draft Digital Evidence Management System policies, regulating digital audio and video recordings captured by body worn cameras, in-car cameras, and interview room cameras.” [Arlington County]
Guilty Plea in Murder Case — “Jose Angel Rodriguez-Cruz, 54, pleaded guilty in Stafford County Circuit Court on Monday morning in the killing of 28-year-old Marta Haydee Rodriguez, who was last seen walking to a bus stop in Arlington, Virginia, in April 1989.” [WTOP, Washington Post]
Vehicle and Business Break-ins — Arlington County police are investigating a pair of business burglaries in the Rosslyn area, and series of vehicle break-ins in the Barcroft neighborhood, according to Monday’s crime report. [ACPD]
Gov. Backs Marijuana Legalization — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The announcement comes as the Northam Administration prepares to release a report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana.” [Commonwealth of Virginia]
Amazon Order Boosts 23rd Street — “By early May, more than 400 meals a day were leaving the Freddie’s kitchen and reaching firefighters, police, hospitals, and area residents in low-income housing… Due to the size of Amazon’s order, he enlisted a dozen other nearby restaurants. This joint effort ‘breathed life, energy, and activity into the independent restaurants that make up the core of 23rd Street.'” [Amazon]
Reopening Groups Blast Teachers — “Our coalitions of over 5,300 parents, teachers and Northern Virginia residents unite today to express dismay and concern of the latest efforts by a group of Northern Virginia education associations pushing Governor Northam to remove the option for in-person school for all of Virginia’s children.” [Arlington Parents for Education]
Local Districts Pause Reopening — “As COVID-19 cases surge, Fairfax County Public Schools will delay bringing back early HeadStart, pre-K and kindergarten students, plus some students who receive special education services… [and] Falls Church City Public Schools announced Tuesday that they will temporarily ‘pause’ in-person learning for the week of Thanksgiving.” [NBC 4, InsideNova, Washington Post]
Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick
(Updated at noon) The Arlington County Circuit Court rejected a plea bargain that would place a Maryland man on two years of probation for allegedly bringing 50 pounds of marijuana and 400 cartridges of hashish oil into the county.
The suspect is accused of arriving on a flight to Reagan National Airport in November 2018 with a checked bag stuffed with drugs. He was arrested by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority at baggage claim.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and the attorney representing the alleged drug carrier agreed that the defendant would plead guilty to two felony charges and be placed on probation, wrote the presiding judge. After completing the probation and 200 hours of community service, he would be able to withdraw the pleas to the felony charges and instead plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges while having a $100 fine imposed but then suspended.
Judge Daniel Fiore, II, in a memorandum of opinion that was obtained by ARLnow, said the punishment would not deter the defendant, or anyone else, from carrying large amounts of drugs into Virginia for distribution.
“Virginia jurisprudence has long and consistently recognized deterrence as means for a court to determine an appropriate sentence, no matter the criminal statute violated,” Fiore wrote. “Deterrence disincentives unlawful behavior both for the individual and for society.”
Excerpts of Fiore’s opinion were published in late September in Virginia Lawyers Weekly. A call to judge’s chambers was not returned. Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow that she could not comment on the case at this point.
This rejected bargain is part of a larger theater taking place across the nation, as some prosecutors are changing their approach to drug crimes and judges are fighting back. The tug-of-war reached Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who signed a law last month that would require judges to dismiss charges when both the prosecution and defense agree to a bargain or deal.
Fiore wrote that he rejected the bargain in part because the prosecution and defense had understated how much marijuana and hashish the defendant had. The amounts, once disclosed, merited prison sentences between five and 40 years and fines of up to $500,000, Fiore wrote.
Focusing on the quantity of drugs strikes Public Defender Brad Haywood as a bit naive, considering the defendant was likely a low-level “drug mule” put in a high-risk situation by higher-level drug traffickers. He might not have known the quantity of drugs he was carrying, as mules often do not, Haywood said in an email, adding that mules are often thought of as victims of drug trafficking.
“They are under duress; fearful for their safety, desperate for money, or desperate to feed their own addictions,” he said. “They are easy to manipulate precisely because they are suffering. They can even be pressured into doing something as irrational as traveling on a plane with tons of narcotics.”
Given the risk involved, mules are often caught, Haywood said. Instead of harshly prosecuting mules, however, the government frequently offers them leniency so they can help apprehend the supplier.