Arlington, VA

A man who terrorized businesses in Arlington, Alexandria and elsewhere from 2018 to 2019 is going to prison.

Freddy Lee McRae, 35, pled guilty to a series of bank and retail robberies last year. On Tuesday McRae, dubbed the “Beltway Bank Bandit,” was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison.

“This case involved a chilling armed robbery spree during which innocent community members were threatened with serious injury or death if they did not comply with repeated demands for money,” Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “We are thankful to our law enforcement partners for their thorough investigation across multiple jurisdictions to bring the defendant to justice.”

As detailed in a press release, McRae’s crime spree included the attempted robbery of a Capital One branch on Columbia Pike, the armed robbery of Legend Kicks & Apparel on the Pike, and a subsequent police chase on the GW Parkway that ended with McRae crashing his car into the river and trying to swim to freedom.

On December 10, 2018, McRae robbed a Burke & Herbert bank branch located in Alexandria. McRae approached a teller, who asked if he wanted to make a deposit. McRae responded, “gimmie your money,” before lifting up his shirt and pulling a pistol from his waistband, which he pointed at the teller. As the teller gathered money, McRae racked the slide on the pistol and demanded all large bills. McRae fled with approximately $1,366 in cash.

On April 21, 2019, McRae robbed the Legend Kicks & Apparel store located in Arlington. McRae brandished a pistol and demanded that two store employees empty their pockets, which they did. McRae then ordered the employees to lie on the floor before taking approximately $2,160 in cash that belonged to the store. McRae fled the store on foot and the area by vehicle. When a law enforcement officer tried to pull over the vehicle, McRae stopped only briefly before leading law enforcement officers on a vehicle pursuit on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. McRae ultimately jumped out of his moving vehicle prior to it crashing and sinking into the Potomac River. McRae tried to flee law enforcement by jumping into the river, but officers pulled him out and placed him under arrest.

As part of his guilty plea, McRae also admitted to robbing a Bank of America branch in Springfield on October 27, 2018; a BB&T branch located in Alexandria on December 20, 2018; and a Capital One branch located in Bowie, Maryland, on January 2, 2019. McRae further admitted to attempting to rob a Capital One branch located in Arlington on February 11, 2019, and to obstructing justice following his apprehension.

“This case was investigated by the FBI Washington Field Office’s Northern Virginia Violent Crime Safe Streets Task Force, which is composed of FBI Special Agents and Task Force Officers from northern Virginia law enforcement agencies,” the press release noted. “Significant investigative assistance in this case was provided by the Arlington County Police and the Fairfax County Police.”

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The top federal prosecutor in Northern Virginia is leaving office ahead of President-Elect Biden’s inauguration

After two-and-a-half years on the job, G. Zachary Terwilliger will step down this month as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Terwilliger, who has a close relationship with former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, told the Washington Post that the recent election of Joe Biden as president had consequences and that he preferred to leave his post voluntarily.

His last day is Friday, Jan. 15, after which he will join the Texas-based firm Vinson & Elkins LLP as a partner in its D.C. office. The Eastern District’s First Assistant Attorney, Rah Parekh, will take over in an acting capacity until the role is officially filled.

“It has been the honor of honors to be in the arena with so many dedicated individuals in the pursuit of justice, and I feel so fortunate to conclude my service as the United States Attorney in the district where it all began,” Terwilliger said in a prepared statement.

An Alexandria resident, Terwilliger led a staff of more than 250 personnel in the Eastern District, which prosecuted high-profile cases of national interest and oversaw investigations throughout Northern Virginia, Richmond, Hampton Roads and Tidewater. His work included charging ISIS militants known as “The Beatles” with murder, overseeing a massive heroin and fentanyl bust that put 35 people behind bars, and putting 11 MS-13 gang members in connection with the murder of two juveniles in Fairfax County behind bars.

Regina Lombardo, the deputy director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, commended Terwilliger as a “driving force” behind the Department of Justice’s enforcement of federal firearms laws.

“U.S. Attorney Terwilliger’s partnership with ATF’s Washington Field Division has been nothing short of extraordinary, and the Eastern District of Virginia is a safer place because of him,” Lombardo said. “I sincerely wish him all the best in his next endeavor.”

Terwilliger’s career began as an intern for the Eastern District in 1999. A graduate of the William & Mary School of Law, he was appointed a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in 2008. He was hired as an Assistant U.S. Attorney two years later, and then spent the next eight-plus years prosecuting cases until he was named by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as the acting Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in May 2018. His appointment was later confirmed in the Senate, and was supported by Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.

Terwilliger’s father was a former United States Deputy Attorney General and acting United States Attorney General. George J. Terwilliger III succeeded Barr as Deputy Attorney General after being nominated to the position in 1992.

Photo via U.S. Department of Justice

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A 29-year-old Arlington resident has pleaded guilty to a multi-million dollar healthcare fraud.

Federal prosecutors charged Onkur Lal with bilking Medicaid, Medicare and the TRICARE military health care system out of $3.5 million by submitting fraudulent bills for non-existent prescriptions while working at a trio of local pharmacies.

Prosecutors say Lal conspired with the owner of the pharmacies in carrying out the fraud from 2014 to 2019. After the guilty plea, Lal now faces up to five years in federal prison.

More from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia:

An Arlington man pleaded guilty yesterday to his role in a conspiracy to commit health care fraud that resulted in losses of over $3.5 million.

According to court documents, Onkur Lal, 29, worked in various roles at MedEx Pharmacy, MedEx Health Pharmacy, and Royal Care Pharmacy, which were all owned and operated by the same individual. From around 2014 to around 2019, Lal conspired with the owner and others in a number of different fraudulent schemes to defraud health care benefit programs, including TRICARE, Medicare, Virginia Medicaid, and Maryland Medicaid. Lal took part in a number of fraudulent schemes, including generating false prescriptions, billing health insurance companies for prescriptions that were never filled, and billing patients’ health care benefit programs for numerous high cost medications that he and his co-conspirators knew were not prescribed and/or never received.

Lal and his conspirators also submitted false invoices under the names of other pharmacies, in an attempt to circumvent audits. Further, Lal and another co-conspirator fraudulently posed as pharmacists by elevating their title and credentials within the pharmacy’s prescription software system. Lal and his co-conspirator then used these elevated titles to verify prescriptions, which they then submitted to health care benefit programs and pharmaceutical suppliers for payment. The various schemes resulted in health care benefit programs losing more than $3.5 million.

Lal is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 21, 2021, and faces a maximum penalty of five 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.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Maureen R. Dixon, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); James A. Dawson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division; and Dermot F. O’Reilly, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations with the Defense Criminal Investigative Services, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton accepted the plea.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Monika Moore, Carina A. Cuellar, and Jamar K. Walker are prosecuting the case.

Flickr photo by Joe Gratz

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Morning Notes

HQ2’s Employee Count Keeps Growing — “Amazon.com Inc.’s Arlington headquarters seems to get larger by the week. At latest count, there are just shy of 715 employees in leased office spaces in Crystal City and about 125 pending starts.” [Washington Business Journal]

MS-13 Members Plead Guilty to Shooting — “Two MS-13 members pleaded guilty today to their respective roles in a December 2018 shooting and stabbing that occurred in Four Mile Run Park on the border of Alexandria and Arlington. According to court documents, Juan Francisco Rivera-Pineda, 25, and Jefferson Noe Amaya, 24, both Alexandria residents… confronted the victim in the park, shooting him in the throat and arm, and stabbing him in the back. The victim was transported to the hospital where he underwent surgery and survived.” [USDOJ]

Pentagon Suspect Was Out on Bail — “Matthew Richardson, who is facing charges in Arlington, Va., after police say he tried to blow up a car in a Pentagon parking lot, was released from the Washington County jail in December after The Bail Project posted his bond.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]

Vaping Is Prevalent in Arlington Schools — “Sneaking doses from e-cigarettes or, ‘juuling,’ has emerged as ‘the No. 1 offender at Arlington Public Schools,’ according to substance abuse counselor Jenny Sexton, speaking at the Feb. 12 exploration of the hot topic at the Arlington Committee of 100… It’s a tricky discipline challenge, said Sexton, who is “stretched thin” counseling populations at 24 elementary schools and two Arlington middle schools.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Strong Primary Absentee Voting Turnout — “Former Arlington County, VA Treasurer Frank O’Leary: ‘A new record has been set in Arlington for absentee voting in a Presidential primary. In fact, over the last seven days an amazing 1,722 absentee votes have occurred – 61 percent in person.'” [Blue Virginia, Twitter]

Beyer Campaigning for Mayor Pete — “As Pete Buttigieg struggles for momentum going into the South Carolina Democratic primary and Super Tuesday, two members of Congress from the Washington region are traveling the country to promote his presidential campaign. Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) were early endorsers of the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who they say has the personal story and calm demeanor to unite a nation divided by Donald Trump’s presidency.” [Washington Post]

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The owner of a Clarendon gym who pleaded guilty to trying to buy large quantities of cocaine from undercover police officers has been sentenced.

A federal judge sentenced Pascal Laporte to four years in prison today, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia announced this afternoon.

Prosecutors say Laporte thought he was buying two kilograms of cocaine from a Mexican cartel for $50,000, but was in fact meeting with undercover Fairfax County Police detectives. They say that Laporte planned to sell the cocaine and promised future purchases of up to 100 kilograms.

More from a press release, via the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

An Arlington man was sentenced today to nearly four years in prison for his role in purchasing 2 kilograms of cocaine from undercover detectives.

According to court documents, Pascal Laporte, 40, intended to purchase 2 kilograms of cocaine from undercover Fairfax County Police detectives who purported themselves as members a drug cartel based in Mexico. For over a year, Laporte expressed to a confidential source his need for a cheaper supplier of cocaine who could provide him with kilogram quantities. Laporte first met the undercover detectives in early August 2018 at a restaurant in Tysons Corner, to discuss pricing per kilogram and the quantity Laporte desired. Laporte told the undercover detectives it would take him a week to sell off 1 kilogram of cocaine.

In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Laporte communicated with the CS his desire to start with the purchase of 2 kilograms of cocaine, and if the arrangement went well, he would then purchase 10 kilograms, and then upwards of 100 kilograms per month. Laporte even traveled to Miami with the intention to find a means to transport the cocaine himself to the Northern Virginia area in an effort to obtain the cheapest price per kilogram. Laporte was arrested in August 2018 as he was inspecting the cocaine that he was to purchase. He brought $45,000 to the meeting, as partial payment for the 2 kilograms.

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Arlington resident Todd Hitt, the founder of Falls Church-based Kiddar Capital, has pleaded guilty to a massive, Ponzi-like fraud scheme.

Federal prosecutors say Hitt, “solicited approximately $30 million from investors for a variety of real estate and venture capital investments,” but used much of the money “for personal spending to support an extravagant lifestyle and new investor’s funds used to pay off old investors.”

“Hitt’s fraudulent conduct resulted in investor losses of approximately $20 million,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Before his October arrest by the FBI, Hitt was developing a new company headquarters in Falls Church. A member of a prominent local commercial real estate family, Hitt made headlines as a young housing developer in the 1990s for clashing with Arlington neighbors while building what residents dubbed “McMansions.”

More on the guilty plea, and Hitt’s future sentencing, from the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

An Arlington man pleaded guilty today to orchestrating eight fraud schemes that resulted in total losses of approximately $20 million.

According to court documents, Todd Elliott Hitt, 54, solicited approximately $30 million from investors for a variety of real estate and venture capital investments in the Washington, D.C. area from 2014 through August 2018. The investments included Hitt’s solicitation of approximately $17 million from investors in order to purchase a five-story office building adjacent to a planned future stop on the Silver Line in Herndon. Hitt made false statements and material omissions to investors by failing to disclose that a significant portion of the monies raised were commingled with other unrelated investment projects, used for personal spending to support an extravagant lifestyle and new investor’s funds used to pay off old investors in a Ponzi-like scheme. Hitt’s fraudulent conduct resulted in investor losses of approximately $20 million.

Hitt pleaded guilty to a charge of securities fraud in and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 21. 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.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Matthew J. DeSarno, Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, FBI Washington Field Office, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark D. Lytle is prosecuting the case.

Photo via YouTube

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A man who forced a 16-year-old girl to work as a prostitute in an Arlington County hotel pleaded guilty yesterday to sex trafficking a minor.

According to documents filed in federal court, Andrew Lee Thompson II, aka “Slim,” 34, of Florida, brought the girl to Arlington after meeting her in Arizona.

While in Arlington, a security guard called police after seeing multiple men go in and out of two rooms at a hotel, identified by WUSA 9 as the Best Western on S. Glebe Road near I-395.

“When law enforcement investigated, they found evidence of prostitution related activity in the hotel rooms and recovered the minor victim,” said a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “After arresting Thompson, law enforcement found tattoos on his body bragging about his pimping activities, including on his arm and across his chest.”

Thompson also trafficked the girl in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and elsewhere in Virginia for prostitution dates, then collected the money. Thompson worked alongside two co-defendants, Delberta McKenzie and Rachel Robillard, prosecutors say, using prostitution ads posted online.

Thompson faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison. He will be sentenced on February 9, 2018.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, announced the guilty plea with Arlington County Police Chief Jay Farr and Andrew Vale, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

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Four men have been charged with a series of 19 robberies in the D.C. area over a six month period.

The men, all in their 20s and all residents of the District, are being charged in federal court as their alleged crime spree took them across state lines.

From the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia:

A federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging four Washington, D.C. residents for their alleged roles in 19 separate armed robberies in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

According to allegations in the indictment, from Nov. 1, 2016 to April 12, Desmar Rashad Gayles, Andrew Bernard Duncan, Anton Durrell Harris, and Lamont Kortez Gaines committed a total of 19 armed robberies of commercial establishments and three carjackings, allegedly using two of the vehicles that they carjacked to commit some of the armed robberies. In ten of the armed robberies, the defendants used an Intratec 9 mm semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine. That firearm was recovered in Harris’ residence on April 13 with the extended magazine fully loaded and a round in the chamber.

Among other jurisdictions, the men are accused of seven robberies and a carjacking in Alexandria and one armed robbery in Arlington.

That robbery happened in March, at a store near Shirlington, according to Arlington County Police.

From an ACPD crime report:

ROBBERY, 2017-03190011, 4000 block of S. Four Mile Run Drive. At approximately 12:35 a.m. on March 19, officers responded to the report of an armed robbery that had just occurred. Three masked male suspects entered a store and confronted the employee and a customer inside. One suspect brandished a firearm and demanded money from the register, while another suspect demanded money from the customer. The suspects then fled the scene with an undisclosed amount of cash. The first suspect is described as a black male, approximately 5’10”-6’00” tall and weighed 140-170 lbs. He was wearing a black winter coat, dark jeans, dark colored shoes, black gloves, and a black mask. The second suspect is described as a black male, approximately 5’03”-5’06” tall and was wearing a black coat, black pants, black shoes, black gloves, and a black mask. The third suspect is described as a black male, approximately 5’03”-5’06” tall and was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, black pants, dark shoes, black gloves, and a mask. The investigation is ongoing.

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An Arlington resident has pleaded guilty to illegally buying guns while under indictment for cocaine possession.

Federal prosecutors announced the plea deal early Tuesday afternoon. The defendant, 28-year-old Anthony Medrano, now faces up to five years in prison when he’s sentenced in August.

From a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia:

An Arlington man pleaded guilty today to willfully receiving a firearm while under indictment in Virginia state court.

According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement and other court records, Anthony Fernandez Medrano, 28, was indicted in Virginia state court in 2015 for possessing cocaine, a schedule II controlled substance.  While still under indictment, and not lawfully able to purchase or possess firearms,  Fernandez Medrano sought and purchased guns from a private party seller and signed bills of sale confirming the purchases.

Fernandez Medrano faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when sentenced on August 11.  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.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Michael B. Boxler, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Washington Field Division, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton accepted the plea.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Smith III is prosecuting the case.

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Gavel (Flickr photo by Joe Gratz)An Arlington man has been sentenced to spend more than eight years behind bars for downloading child pornography.

James Jeffrey Schroeder, 50, was today sentenced to 100 months in prison for “for receiving and downloading child pornography,” according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. He pleaded guilty to the crime last October.

Schroeder also was sentenced to 20 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $182,000 in restitution to victims.

Schroeder, a former teacher’s assistant in Texas, got the illegal pornography from the internet and from a family member between 1997 and 2015, authorities said. A review of Schroeder’s electronic media found he had more than 13,000 images and 400 videos of child pornography, many sadistic or masochistic in nature.

Schroeder “worked for an unnamed government agency” after moving here from Texas. During the pornography investigation, he also reportedly confessed to sexually abusing two special needs students more than 20 years ago, according to a Texas newspaper.

From a press release:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – James Jeffrey Schroeder, 50, of Arlington, a former teacher’s assistant in Texas, was sentenced today to 100 months in prison for receiving and downloading child pornography. Schroeder was also sentenced to 20 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $182,000 in restitution to victims.

Schroeder pleaded guilty on Oct. 28, 2016. According to court documents, from approximately 1997 to 2015, Schroeder received and downloaded child pornography from the internet and from a family member. A forensic review of Schroeder’s electronic media revealed more than 13,000 images and 400 videos of child pornography. Numerous images and videos were sadistic or masochistic in nature.

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 T. S. Ellis, III. Assistant U.S. Attorney Whitney Dougherty Russell prosecuted the case.

Flickr photo by Joe Gratz

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Macy's store at the Fashion Center at Pentagon City mallAn 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.

File photo

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