Another suspect in the 2016 murders of two teens at Holmes Run Stream Valley Park in Annandale has pleaded guilty.
Edwin Orellana Caballero, a member of the gang La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, pleaded guilty yesterday (Wednesday) to one count of maiming in aid of racketeering activity in connection to the kidnapping and killing of a 14-year-old from Alexandria, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced.
An Alexandria resident who was 16 years old at the time, Orellana Caballero is one of 17 people who have been charged in the case, which also involved the murder of a 17-year-old Falls Church resident.
According to the Department of Justice, Orellana Cabellero and other members of an MS-13 clique known as the Park View Locos Salvatrucha kidnapped and killed the 14-year-old, who’s identified only as S.A.A.T., on Sept. 26, 2016.
“The gang lured S.A.A.T. to Holmes Run Stream Valley Park in Fairfax County and murdered him in a wooded area there with knives, machetes, and a pickaxe,” the DOJ said in the press release. “Specifically, Orellana Caballero struck S.A.A.T. multiple times with the pickaxe. Once S.A.A.T. was dead, the gang buried him in a shallow grave.”
Prosecutors have said that S.A.A.T. was targeted based on an unfounded suspicion that he was a police informant. The 17-year-old, identified as E.E.E.M., was killed at Holmes Run park in a similarly brutal manner on Aug. 28, 2016.
Five of the individuals involved in the murders were convicted by a federal jury in July 2022 and received lifetime prison sentences that November. Including Orellana Cabellero, 10 defendants have now pleaded guilty before a trial, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis joined U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Jessica Aber and Wayne Jacobs, the special agent in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office’s criminal division to announce Orellana Cabellero’s plea after it was accepted by U.S. District Judge Rossie Alston Jr.
Orellana Cabellero is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 28, 2024. He faces a potential sentence of at least 20 years and at most 25 years in prison.
Image via Google Maps
Three men have been arrested for coercing women into sex work at “high-end” brothels in Massachusetts and Virginia, the Department of Justice announced yesterday (Wednesday).
Locations used for the brothels include units in Hanover Tysons and Avalon Mosaic, apartment buildings in Tysons and Merrifield, according to a court affidavit by a Department of Homeland Security special agent.
Federal prosecutors have charged Massachusetts residents Han Lee and Junmyung Lee as well as California resident James Lee “with conspiracy to coerce and entice to travel to engage in illegal sexual activity,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Massachusetts said in a press release.
According to the DOJ, since at least July 2020, the men enticed primarily Asian women to travel to and work in the brothels, whose clients included “politicians, high tech and pharmaceutical executives, doctors, military officers, government contractors that possess security clearances, professors, lawyers, scientists and accountants.”
Specifically, the defendants allegedly rented high-end apartment complexes as brothel locations, which they furnished and regularly maintained. The monthly rent for the brothel locations were as high as $3,664. It is further alleged that the defendants coordinated the women’s airline travel and transportation and permitted women to stay overnight in the brothel locations so they did not have to find lodging elsewhere, therefore enticing women to participate in their prostitution network.
The locations in Tysons and Merrifield were advertised on a website claiming to be for nude photography models, but the DHS agent says he believes the ads are a “front” for commercial escort or prostitution services.
“Approximately twenty (20) sex buyers were interviewed in connection with this multi-yearlong investigation,” the agent said in the affidavit.
Clients were charged anywhere from $350 up to $600 per hour that they paid in cash, the DOJ says. Prosecutors allege that the defendants concealed “hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash” from the prostitution ring through deposits in their personal bank accounts and “peer-to-peer transfers.”
“Additionally, it is alleged that the defendants regularly used hundreds of thousands of dollars of the cash proceeds from the prostitution business to purchase money orders (in values under an amount that would trigger reporting and identification requirements) to conceal the source of the funds,” the press release said. “These money orders were then used to pay for rent and utilities at brothel locations in Massachusetts and Virginia.”
The defendants could face up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and fines of up to $250,000 under the sex trafficking charges, according to the DOJ.
Han Lee and Junmyung Lee appeared in a federal court in Boston yesterday after getting arrested that morning, while James Lee was arrested in California and “will appear in federal court in Boston at a later date,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
A 58-year-old tax preparer from Mount Vernon was sentenced to 18 months in prison last week for filing fake tax returns for his “unsuspecting” clients, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Lawrence Appiah-Osei pleaded guilty in June to operating the scheme from 2017 to 2020 from his Mount Vernon home, defrauding the U.S. government of more than $1.4 million, according to a release published Friday (Nov. 3) by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Appiah-Osei started his tax preparation business, New Look Enterprise, in 2016, and the following year “executed a scheme to fraudulently inflate the tax refunds of his clients,” the release said.
“Appiah-Osei falsely claimed that his clients operated businesses that lost thousands of dollars each year,” prosecutors said in the release. “These fraudulent losses drove down the clients’ taxable income and increased the clients’ tax refunds.”
The Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation division estimated the tax loss to be nearly $1.5 million, according to court records.
Image via Google Maps
A 32-year-old man from Groveton pleaded guilty on Thursday (Nov. 2) to defrauding the government of more than $1.4 million in fraudulent pandemic-related Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and unemployment benefits.
George Mensah, Jr., 32, admitted in federal court to wire and mail fraud by collecting fees with two unnamed conspirators through CashApp, Zelle and bank transfers, according to court records. The scheme ran from Oct. 2020 to Sept. 2021, during which time Mensah admitted to preparing dozens of fake PPP loans and unemployment insurance claims under the CARES Act.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia:
Mensah admitted that he and his coconspirators prepared and submitted over 47 applications for PPP loans for fake businesses. At least 21 of these applications were funded by lenders, which caused an actual loss of at least $583,172. In addition, Mensah admitted that he and his co-conspirators obtained the personally identifiable information of others, including identity theft victims, in order to make claims for pandemic unemployment benefits in Virginia and elsewhere. Mensah admitted that he and his co-conspirators obtained at least $658,952 in fraudulently obtained unemployment insurance and pandemic benefits.
Mensah admitted to committing the schemes from three locations — an apartment in Springfield, an apartment in Tysons and from his parents’ home in Groveton.
“The defendant and his coconspirators created false tax returns, including Schedule C forms, and fake bank statements to accompany the fraudulent PPP loan applications,” according to court records.
Mensah admitted to collected fees through CashApp accounts and bank transfers, according to court records. Additionally, he admitted to receiving at least 20 Way2Go prepaid debit cards from the Virginia Employment Commission.
The maximum penalty for the offense is 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine, or twice the gross gain or loss, full restitution, forfeiture of assets and a maximum supervised release term of five years, according to court records. Mensah also agreed to pay the government back $1.5 million.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kimberly Shartar and Kathleen Robeson and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Ezra Spiro.
Mensah will be sentenced on Feb. 14.
(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) Marcia St. John-Cunning no longer needs to run as a write-in candidate to become the Franconia District’s next school board representative.
The former Fairfax County Public Schools interpreter and family liaison re-qualified for the general election ballot yesterday (Wednesday) after a county judge let her submit two more pages of signatures supporting her petition for candidacy.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard Gardiner told Fairfax County General Registrar Eric Spicer to accept the 17 signatures “as if [they were] filed with the registrar in March 2023,” according to the order shared on Twitter shared by Bryan Grahm, chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, which has endorsed Marcia St. John-Cunning.
The Fairfax County Office of Elections confirmed her reinstated candidacy with a notice on its website. A spokesperson said the general registrar had no comment beyond that notice.
“We are pleased by today’s order and elated to see her reinstated as a qualified candidate for School Board,” Graham said in a statement last night. “Marcia St. John-Cunning is an exemplary candidate who has worked in our local schools and knows the families of Franconia. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee will be using the next week to ensure Marcia wins this election.”
St. John-Cunning is competing against Republican-endorsed candidate Kevin Pinkney to succeed current Franconia District Representative Tamara Derenak-Kaufax, who is retiring after 12 years on the Fairfax County School Board.
Though she obtained the Democratic endorsement without contest, St. John-Cunning faced two legal challenges by Republicans who argued that petition errors should’ve stopped Fairfax County General Registrar Eric Spicer from certifying her candidacy. A September lawsuit by the Fairfax County Republican Committee that took issue with the lack of dates by some signatures was dismissed.
However, a complaint filed by the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee and two voters in that district found traction with Gardiner, who ruled on Oct. 25 that 11 of St. John-Cunning’s submitted signatures were invalid because her address was wrong on one page of her petition.
The invalidation of those signatures left St. John-Cunning short of the 125 needed to qualify.
St. John-Cunning called the ruling “unprecedented” in an announcement on Saturday (Oct. 28) that she would run as a write-in candidate. With early voting underway since Sept. 22, more than 3,000 Franconia District voters had already cast a ballot, her campaign said.
According to the FCDC, St. John-Cunning’s legal team argued in court yesterday that the signatures should’ve been challenged before the filing deadline on Aug. 18, noting that she had gotten more signatures but didn’t submit them because the registrar said they weren’t necessary to qualify. Her candidacy was originally certified back on March 7.
In a statement, St. John-Cunning called Gardiner’s reinstatement of her candidacy “justice for the 3,000 residents who already exercised their constitutional right to vote.” Read More
A Fairfax County judge is weighing whether to throw out a lawsuit from environmental groups challenging Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s effort to remove Virginia from a regional carbon market.
Judge David Oblon heard oral arguments from Virginia Solicitor General Andrew Ferguson and Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Nate Benforado Friday morning in Fairfax Circuit Court. The hearing, which lasted about 30 minutes, concluded with the judge saying he would take the case under advisement before issuing a written decision.
Ferguson argued on behalf of the State Air Pollution Control Board, the Department of Environmental Quality and DEQ Director Mike Rollband to dismiss the lawsuit filed by SELC on behalf of Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions (FACS), Appalachian Voices, Interfaith Power and Light and the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals. The suit challenges Youngkin’s regulation to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, is a multi-state carbon market that requires electricity producers to purchase allowances to emit carbon. The allowances are then returned to the states; in Virginia, those proceeds are funneled into energy efficiency and flood resilience programs.
Youngkin, even before he became governor, has alleged that RGGI creates a “hidden tax” on Virginia utility customers, since utilities in Virginia are allowed to recover costs for the allowances from their ratepayers.
In July, the administration published the regulation to repeal Vrignia’s participation in RGGI at the end of this year.
Environmental groups have decried the withdrawal since Youngkin began pushing for it by citing the funds – over $500 million – it directs toward reducing energy bills for customers by helping homes conserve energy better and preventing flood damage through planning and infrastructure projects.
On Friday, Ferguson opened arguments by stating that out of all the plaintiffs, only the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals had demonstrated any harm worthy of a lawsuit because the group claims that they work with professionals who rely on the revenues the state receives from RGGI. The suit from the other groups, including Fairfax County-based FACS, doesn’t demonstrate that the other entities are directly impacted by the loss of any RGGI revenues, and should be dismissed, Ferguson argued.
The environmental groups could also have jurisdiction in Floyd County, where the Association of Energy Conservation is based, in Richmond where Interfaith Power and Light is headquartered and in Charlottesville, where the Southern Environmental Law Center is based, Ferguson added. He said that in the interest of “judicial economy,” the case should be dismissed entirely and not allowed to be transferred elsewhere, to prevent the plaintiffs from searching for favorable venues. Read More
(Updated at 11:10 a.m. on 10/30/2023) The Democratic-endorsed candidate for the Fairfax County School Board’s Franconia District seat has been disqualified due to an error on her petition to get on the ballot.
The Fairfax County Office of Elections has posted a notice on its website informing voters that Marcia St. John-Cunning was disqualified yesterday (Wednesday) by a Fairfax County Circuit Court order. A judge ruled that her petition was invalid because of an error in her address on its front page.
St. John-Cunning, a former Fairfax County Public Schools interpreter and family liaison, is competing against Republican-endorsed Kevin Pinkney, a lawyer, to succeed Tamara Derenak-Kaufax, who announced in January that she wouldn’t seek reelection after 12 years on the school board.
(Correction: The spelling of Kevin Pinkney’s name has been fixed.)
Though the school board races are nonpartisan, candidates can get political party endorsements. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) allowed registered members to vote for its endorsements for the first time this year, though St. John-Cunning’s bid for support in the Franconia District was uncontested.
The complaint that led to St. John-Cunning’s disqualification was filed by the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee and two voters in that district, who argued that Fairfax County General Registrar and Director of Elections Eric Spicer should’ve invalidated her ballot petition over the address error, Patch reported.
Judge Richard Gardiner ruled that Spicer “violated his non-discretionary ministerial duty” by not invalidating the seventh page of St. John-Cunning’s petition, according to his order.
“The pages denoted as ‘4’ in the lower right corner does not have her address on the front page,” the order said. “Therefore, this petition page and the signatures on the front and back page are invalid as a matter of law.”
Eleven signatures were deemed invalid, putting St. John-Cunning below the 125 signatures needed to get on the ballot, according to Patch.
A previous lawsuit that took issue with six signatures on her petition was dismissed.
The Fairfax County Republican Committee and an attorney for the plaintiffs praised Gardiner’s ruling as “a clear victory for the rule of law.”
“The public’s confidence in the integrity of our elections depends on the law being applied consistently to all candidates, regardless of party or position,” the attorney, Trey Mayfield, said. “It is the duty of Election Registrar and County Electoral Board to ensure that elections are managed with uniform, law-based standards. They should do so without the courts having to order them to perform those obligations.”
The FCDC, however, blasted Gardiner and the Virginia Department of Elections for disqualifying its supported candidate, stating that the ruling disenfranchises the over 3,000 Franconia District voters who’ve cast a ballot since early voting for the Nov. 7 general election began on Sept. 22. Read More
(Updated at 5 p.m.) A former Fairfax County police officer will face a court trial for shooting and killing Timothy Johnson outside Tysons Corner Center in February.
A grand jury indicted Wesley Shifflett today (Thursday) on felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano’s office announced.
According to police, Shifflett shot Johnson during a foot pursuit on Feb. 22 after he allegedly attempted to steal designer sunglasses from Nordstorm. A second officer identified as James Sadler, an eight-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department, also fired his gun.
In April, Descano requested a second, special grand jury that would allow prosecutors in the room while officers give testimony, something that wasn’t allowed during the original, regular grand jury’s hearings.
Carl Crews, an attorney representing Johnson’s family, confirmed the indictment. Johnson’s mother, Melissa Johnson, says her initial reaction was “just relief,” but she also has some mixed feelings knowing how rare an indictment is in cases against police officers.
“I don’t rejoice in what is coming upon the officer, and I also don’t rejoice because I know that this indictment and the news of this indictment is not the case for so many, many, many other impacted families of children, Black and brown, who’ve been the subject of police violence,” Johnson told FFXnow. “And so, as much as my heart is joyful, and I’m elated, I am still sorrowful of the impact and implications this had, that everybody just doesn’t get this to add to their story…There’s another family involved as well: this former officer, his family, his coworkers. So, my heart is sorrowful for this too.”
Descano said in a statement that the grand jury’s indictment will allow a jury of community members to see all evidence in the case:
As the elected head of Fairfax County’s justice system, my primary goal is to keep this community safe, and I have the utmost respect for the police officers throughout Fairfax County who work tirelessly to protect our community.
The work of public safety includes charging officers for crimes when such actions are legally warranted. After reviewing the evidence in this case, I believe that probable cause existed that Shifflett committed a crime, and that the entirety of the evidence should be put to a jury of community members. Seeking justice blindly in cases involving officers improves public trust in the law enforcement agencies that serve and protect our communities; failing to do so disgraces the role of prosecutor and ruins the public’s trust in the justice system.
Our nation’s justice system has historically been stacked in favor of protecting powerful institutions and individuals, and it is no small feat that the grand jurors returned a true bill after reviewing this matter.
I cannot imagine the pain Timothy’s family has felt through the months after his death. Though the grand jury returned an indictment for this incident, this will not heal the wound in the Johnson family. I join the rest of the Fairfax County community in grieving for Timothy and his family.
Shifflett’s attorney, Caleb Kershner, blasted Descano for not accepting the original grand jury’s decision, calling his push for the special grand jury “purely political and shameful.”
“Descano’s actions have made Fairfax less safe,” Kershner said. “He has torn down the [police] department morale. He is simply Monday morning quarterbacking an officer’s decision to use lethal force when he reasonably believed he was about to be shot. It’s easy to sit back and second guess an officer’s actions. Few people understand what it’s like to have a gun pulled on you and regularly being put in risk of death. These men and women in uniform serve by putting their lives on the line every day. Descano has no concept of that.”
Though officers combed the scene for potential evidence, the FCPD later confirmed that Timothy Johnson didn’t have a weapon when he was shot.
A trial date will be scheduled on Friday, Oct. 20. At that time, Schifflett will be given a choice for whether a judge or a jury will preside over the trial, according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Johnson’s death sparked renewed scrutiny of the FCPD’s policies regarding the use of force and foot pursuits. Since 2021, when current Police Chief Kevin Davis assumed the job, officers have shot nine people, including Johnson and Brandon Lemagne this year.
Last week, Davis addressed a series of reform recommendations from the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which was hired to review the recent shootings, and a community Police Reform Matrix Working Group convened by Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ public safety committee.
Davis told the public safety committee that most recommendations have been implemented in some form, including a policy requiring that foot pursuits be documented and supervised, but a more detailed policy dictating when officers can pursue an individual is still in the works.
(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) An Arlington man could be sentenced to life in prison for fatally stabbing a woman and setting her body on fire in a Seven Corners condominium last year.
A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury has convicted 48-year-old Richard Montano of first-degree murder and arson for killing Silvia Vaca Abacay, whose body he subsequently attempted to burn, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced yesterday (Thursday).
“As Commonwealth’s Attorney, I’ve seen considerable crime scenes and photos, but the photos from this case stood out in terms of the severity of the victim’s injuries,” Descano said in a statement. “Nothing can undo Silvia’s death, but a conviction ensures that the defendant is no longer a danger to members of our community. I hope today’s verdict provides the victim’s family with the first step towards healing.”
Officers were called to a condo on Willston Place in The Villages at Falls Church at 3:05 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2022 for a man and woman who were heard arguing, Fairfax County Police Department Major Crimes Bureau Commander Ed O’Carroll said at the time.
Abacay had been stabbed multiple times, and her body was on fire when police found her. Though first responders extinguished the fire, she died at the scene.
According to police, a witness reported seeing a man flee the scene, prompting an extensive search of the area that briefly required residents to shelter in place. Montano was arrested at his home in Arlington around 6:30 p.m. that same day.
He was originally charged with second-degree murder, arson in an occupied dwelling and burglary with the intent to commit murder.
Descano’s office says prosecutors asked the jury to find Montano guilty of first-degree murder, noting that murder charges typically have some built-in flexibility allowing a jury or judge to determine if a first degree, second degree or manslaughter charge is most appropriate.
“Murder charges are usually indicted as second-degree because that is based on the information/evidence available at the time,” Laura Birnbaum, public information officer for the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, said by email. “Then, at trial, prosecutors can ask a jury or judge to find either first or second depending on the level of premeditation.”
The burglary charge was dropped at a preliminary hearing last fall, Birnbaum confirmed.
During a trial that began on Monday (Oct. 2), prosecutors made the case that Montano had mistaken Abacay for her friend, who had broken up with him after an eight-year relationship in July. Abacay was temporarily living at her friend’s apartment.
“A neighbor’s Ring camera footage showed that Montano had entered her apartment without her knowledge multiple times in the preceding month, with his last entry just 10 days before the murder occurred,” the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office said. “The same neighbor called 911 four times that afternoon after hearing screaming and banging from across the hall.”
The neighbor testified to a judge at the preliminary hearing in November that his last 911 call was to tell responders that “there was smoke and fire coming out of the building,” DC News Now reported.
Medical examiners determined that Abacay died from the stab wounds before Montano set her body on fire, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office says.
The murder and arson charges both carry potential life sentences. Montano is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 19, 2024.
Photo courtesy Ed O’Carroll/Twitter
A woman who shot and killed her mother and sister at their shared home in McLean six years ago has been convicted of murder for a second time.
A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury found Megan Hargan guilty of first-degree murder and using a firearm while committing a felony on Friday (Sept. 22) after a previous conviction got vacated due to juror misconduct.
“Pamela and Helen [Hargan] were loved by many, and their deaths in 2017 tore this community apart, with the added shock and horror of being killed in their own home by a family member,” Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a statement on Friday. “…Today’s guilty verdict has been a long time coming, and I hope [that] Pam and Helen’s loved ones will be able to take one step closer to healing.”
According to news releases from the time, police officers discovered the bodies of Pamela, 63, and Helen Hargan, 24, inside their home in the 6700 block of Dean Drive on July 14, 2017 after receiving a call around 2 p.m. that someone might’ve been killed there.
All three women lived in the house at the time, along with Megan Hargan’s then-8-year-old daughter, who wasn’t home when the shootings occurred, according to Descano’s office.
The Fairfax County Police Department initially characterized the killings as a murder-suicide, where Helen Hargan shot her mother before turning the gun on herself. But when announcing Megan Hargan’s arrest on Nov. 9, 2018, officials said there was suspicion “early on” that the scene may have been staged, WTOP reported.
Those suspicions honed in on Megan Hargan after investigators learned that she had tried to transfer money from her mother Pamela’s bank account on both the day before and the day of the murders, the FCPD said in 2018.
From there, police determined that the killings were motivated by a conflict over finances, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office said in a press release:
Megan, who was buying a house for her family, resented that her mother, Pamela, wasn’t helping her financially but was at the same time helping her sister Helen to buy a house. On July 13, the day before the killings, Megan attempted to transfer upwards of $400,000 from her mother’s bank account to pay for Megan’s new house, which was closing that day. The transaction was flagged as fraud, and the next day Megan shot her mother before attempting to make the same wire transfer again from her mother’s account. She then shot her sister Helen, who was upstairs. Both family members were killed by a .22 rifle, which belonged to Megan’s husband and was being stored in the McLean house temporarily.