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(Updated at 1:40 p.m.) A man from Lorton has been sentenced to 22 years in prison after he gave a young woman a Xanax pill laced with fentanyl and tried to hide evidence of her death in a storage shed, court documents show.

Julian A. Velasquez, 36, was sentenced yesterday (Tuesday) following a plea deal in federal court. It came after authorities found he provided the woman with the drugs, sold heroin to a man before calling 911, and lied to emergency responders, according to court documents.

Velasquez also admitted to providing narcotics to two people who died from overdoses, one in 2017 and the other in 2018.

The most recent death happened in 2020, when the woman — a friend of Velasquez from Los Angeles, who’s identified in court documents as E.M. — visited him to take drugs in anticipation of her birthday, according to an FBI affidavit. She died due to fentanyl intoxication.

“She’s no longer with her friends and her family and her community,” Fairfax County Police Department Chief Kevin Davis said of the 29-year-old victim.

FBI assistant special agent in charge Timothy Thibault also expressed his condolences to the victims’ families.

Velasquez picked up the woman from Baltimore’s international airport on Aug. 8, 2020, and he reported to 911 that she was unresponsive the evening of Aug. 9.

Before the 911 call, though, investigators found that Velasquez sold heroin to a male Vienna resident on Aug. 9, according to prosecutors.

“On August 9, 2020, Velasquez found E.M. unresponsive but he did not call 911 or seek medical assistance,” prosecutors said. “Velasquez instead called his friend and drug customer, Enoel Comsti, 27, of Vienna, to assist in removing evidence of drug use and drug distribution from the crime scene at Velasquez’s residence.”

Comsti saw the woman lying on the bed and attempted to administer Narcan to reverse the overdose, according to authorities. Velasquez then tried to clean up the residence and remove evidence of drug use, according to a statement of facts that he signed as part of the plea deal.

The pair then tried to reach a storage unit when Comsti’s vehicle broke down with two flat tires, according to authorities. Velasquez continued by foot to the storage unit to hide drug evidence.

After returning home, Velasquez called 911, asked for an ambulance and made false statements to emergency responders, denying that the woman had a drug overdose.

“Velasquez told the dispatcher that he could not tell if [E.M.] was breathing and indicated that it appeared that [she] was biting her tongue,” the FBI said. “Velasquez told the dispatcher that he believed [the victim] may be diabetic and confirmed to dispatch that it was possible [she] was having a diabetic emergency.”

During the news conference, Davis also described a good Samaritan law meant to protect people if they help get medical aid to an individual who overdoses.

In another plea deal, a federal judge sentenced Comsti in February to a year and nine months in prison for “aiding and abetting tampering with evidence.”

Meanwhile, authorities are currently prosecuting multiple cases caused by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in northern Virginia, federal prosecutor Jessica Aber said, in an effort to address not just low-level street crimes but international drug traffickers.

Aber said there’s a pill epidemic in the country in which pills are being laced with fentanyl. She said if you go to a party and someone gives you a pill, it could have fentanyl in it and kill you.

“If you are buying drugs on the dark web or other unlicensed licenses, you are potentially playing Russian roulette,” Thibault said. “Drug dealers are lacing virtually every drug with deadly fentanyl.”

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Morning Notes

Reston Town Center set up for last weekend’s Tephra ICA Arts Festival (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

What to Know About Monkeypox — “More monkeypox cases have been reported in the United States since the first illness was reported in Massachusetts last week. But there’s no need for Virginia residents to panic, health officials say as they learn more about how the viral disease is spread.” [Patch]

County to Talk About Youth Mental Health Issues and Drug Use — “As a parent, our kids’ wellbeing is my top priority. Today, the Board supported my motion to convene a roundtable with reps from [Department of Family Services], our Opioid Task Force, clinical pros, the BOS and school board to directly tackle youth mental health & substance use.” [Jeff McKay/Twitter]

McLean Woman Settles Fraud Case — A McLean resident has agreed to pay $107,347 to settle allegations that she falsified information to obtain two Paycheck Protection Program loans, totaling $42,601, federal prosecutors said yesterday (Tuesday). The Justice Department prosecuted the woman as part of its efforts to crack down on fraud related to COVID-19 relief funds. [DOJ]

Arlington Doughnut Shop Plans Tysons Kitchen — “Good Company Doughnuts & Café has inked a lease for roughly 5,000 square feet at 8524-G Tyco Road…for a kitchen commissary, where it will produce and assemble its products for off-site retail sale…Good Company hopes to have the commissary operating by the end of 2022, [co-owner Charles] Kachadoorian said.” [Washington Business Journal]

Metro Introduces Navigation App to Help Blind Riders — “Metro has partnered with Waymap, a new UK-based start-up, to bring the technology to the Brookland, Silver Spring, and Braddock Road Metro stations…The app will be available in at least 30 Metro train and nearly 1,000 bus stops by September; the entire system is scheduled to be brought online by early 2023.” [DCist]

Cybersecurity Company Moves Within Tysons — “Codehunter…relocated from 1660 International Drive to 1775 Greensboro Station Pl. and expanded their corporate headquarters. Codehunter, represented by Timothy Jacobs and Edward Saa, needed to expand their office footprint due to business growth while also needed to re-strategize their office footprint to support their hybrid work model.” [CityBiz]

New School Board Student Representative Chosen — “Michele Togbe, a junior at South County High School, has been elected by the countywide Student Advisory Council (SAC) to serve a one-year term as student representative to the Fairfax County School Board, beginning July 1…Togbe has three main focuses as student representative: transparency within students’ voices, furthering civic education, and maintaining an equitable lens.” [FCPS]

Local Students Relax with Yarn — “About a dozen third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders gather at lunch several times a week at Little Run ES to knit and loom together. The program was initially launched as an after-school effort paid for with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief aid, or ESSER III funding.” [FCPS]

It’s Wednesday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 64 and low of 56. Sunrise at 5:50 am and sunset at 8:25 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Police and community members show drugs in bags collected at a drop-off point in April 2022 (via FCPD)

An effort by Fairfax County Police Department with help from Reston Hospital Center just brought in over half a ton of expired and unused drugs.

Part of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s prevention efforts, Fairfax County’s event collected 1,329 pounds of medications on Saturday (April 30).

It translated to about half the weight of Mazda’s MX-5 Miata convertible.

This weekend’s collection saw a drop in the amount of drugs diverted at previous Drug Take Back events, which are held twice a year.

The initiative collected 2,038 pounds of drugs in April 2021, the most reported by police during the pandemic.

As is typically the case, West Springfield brought in the most amount by weight, collecting over 300 pounds of drugs.

Drug Take Back Day results show police stations and Reston hospital collected over 1,300 pounds of unused and expired medications (via FCPD)

Photo via FCPD

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A close-up of pills (via Drug Enforcement Administration)

With fentanyl deaths reaching unprecedented levels nationally, Fairfax County is participating once again in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Drug Take Back Day.

Led by the Fairfax County Police Department with other county agencies, the event will have drop-off sites set up across the county this Saturday (April 30) where people can dispose of their old and unused medications for free to prevent misuse.

The event will span from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at over half a dozen police stations as well as Reston Hospital (1850 Town Center Parkway):

  • Fair Oaks (12300 Lee Jackson Memorial Highway)
  • Franconia (6121 Franconia Road)
  • Mason (6507 Columbia Pike)
  • McLean (1437 Balls Hill Road)
  • Mount Vernon (2511 Parkers Lane)
  • Sully (4900 Stonecroft Blvd.)
  • West Springfield (6140 Rolling Road)

In Fairfax County, overdoses tend to adversely affect teens and young adults more than any other age group. County and school officials reported in March that there had been a concerning number of overdoses involving teens aged 15 to 17 in the Richmond Highway corridor.

Drug overdoses kill more people in Virginia than vehicle crashes and guns combined, a trend from 2020 that appears to have worsened in 2021. The same is true nationwide, though firearms were the leading cause of death for kids and teens in 2020.

In Virginia, like the rest of the country, opioid deaths have skyrocketed; fatal drug overdoses increased from 1,298 deaths in 2019 to 1,915 deaths in 2020. The state projected an estimated 2,160 fatalities in 2021.

Photo via Drug Enforcement Administration

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Person weighs medical marijuana (via Add Weed/Unsplash)

(Updated at 8:50 a.m. on 4/20/2022) A provider of medical marijuana will open two dispensary locations in the Fairfax County area this summer.

Beyond/Hello plans to open new dispensaries in Fairfax (10521 Fairfax Blvd.) and Huntington (5902 Richmond Highway) that will provide medical-grade cannabis to local patients.

Beyond Hello is owned by Jushi, a Florida-based cannabusiness that provides legal cannabis for both medical and recreational use.

According to Sarah Proctor, Beyond/Hello’s public outreach and education specialist, the new locations will offer patient consultations, express pickup, over 20 point of sale registers, and free on-site parking for their customers.

The supply for the dispensaries will come from Beyond/Hello’s grow house, a two-story, 45,000-square-foot building based in Manassas. Opened in December 2020, the Manassas location was the company’s first dispensary in Virginia and will act as a hub for all of its satellite stores.

“Products that are dispensed will come from our vertically integrated facility in Manassas, which is a full seed-to-sale facility where we cultivate, manufacture and process products for registered patients,” Proctor said.

The new dispensaries will not be able to offer recreational cannabis. While adults 21 and older can now legally possess up to an ounce of pot in Virginia, recreational sales remain illegal, though that hasn’t stopped some products from hitting the market.

Regulations for the substance are being hammered out by the Virginia General Assembly and the newly created Cannabis Control Authority, which could operate similarly to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority if sales are allowed to begin as scheduled in 2024.

An effort to move up the timeline for legalizing retail sales died in the House of Delegates in February.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently signed a bill that eliminated the requirement that patients register with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy to be eligible for medical cannabis after receiving a written certification from a licensed practitioner. The new law will go into effect on July 1.

Photo via Add Weed/Unsplash

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Fairfax County Public Schools

Recent drug overdoses by teenagers in the Richmond Highway corridor and emergency care statistics have led Fairfax County officials to intensify their efforts to address the opioid epidemic.

Hospitals and urgent care centers in the county have seen nonfatal overdoses rise in the last three years, from 232 to 324 and 354 as of last year. Most of the opiate cases involve fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s 80-100 times more powerful than morphine, while heroin cases are declining, the county health department told FFXnow.

County Executive Bryan Hill and Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand reported in a March 15 letter that the county has seen “a concerning number” of nonfatal overdoses involving teens aged 15 to 17 in the Richmond Highway corridor.

They said the incidents have primarily involved illicit pills, likely fentanyl, but the substances weren’t verified by lab tests at the time of their writing.

“Individuals of all ages are impacted by the opioid epidemic in the Fairfax Health District, with the 18-34 age range having the highest rates of fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the Fairfax Health District in recent years,” the letter said.

In Fairfax County, opioid overdoses are the top non-natural cause of death. They were involved in the deaths of 83 people in 2019, 94 people in 2020, and 85 individuals for a nine-month period in 2021.

Last spring, the U.S. saw more than 100,000 people die from drug overdoses during a 12-month period — the highest rate ever recorded, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids were involved in most of those deaths.

Ellen Volo, Fairfax County’s opioid task force coordinator, says there are over 30 activities underway or in development across five priority areas:

  1. Education, prevention, and collaboration
  2. Early intervention and treatment
  3. Enforcement and criminal justice
  4. Data and monitoring
  5. Harm reduction

Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said the department is collaborating with the Fairfax County Opioid and Substance Use Task Force.

Resources for prevention, treatment, and enforcement can also be found through the school system, the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, the police department, and community organizations like the nonprofit Chris Atwood Foundation.

“It is not just one effort — it is the coordinated efforts — that will make a difference,” she said by email.

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Fairfax County police car lights (file photo)

A former Reston resident was sentenced yesterday (Wednesday) to 20 years years in prison for his role in a drug-related murder that happened in Reston in 2011.

Saul Pacheco Mejia, 55, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the use of a firearm in a drug trafficking conspiracy, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Originally from Honduras, Mejia was with two associates when they chased, shot, and killed a man who attempted to steal cocaine from the trio during a drug deal on Dec. 12, 2011, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says. The incident happened at a Reston apartment, court documents show.

Although Mejia did not have a firearm, court documents say he knew that his associates had firearms. Shortly after the murder, Mejia and his associates fled to Honduras.

He was arrested in Texas in 2019.

He pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy, causing death, and abetting the use of a firearm in connection with a drug conspiracy resulting in death.

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Praesum on Lorton Road (via Google Maps)

A new drug treatment center could revive a building that has been vacant for more than two decades on Lorton Road.

The Florida-based company Praesum Healthcare Services is seeking Fairfax County’s approval to repurpose the building at 7665 Lorton Road with a medical care facility for inpatient alcohol and addiction treatment and services.

Opioids are the number one cause of unnatural death in Fairfax County, according to the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board. Like elsewhere in the country, people between the ages of 25 and 34 have been hit harder by drug abuse than any other age group.

Although the county’s zoning allows for up to 67 beds, Praesum plans to offer up to 40 beds in the facility, which is off Richmond Highway near Gunston Plaza shopping center. The company says revitalizing the site will require “significant investment to make it operational again.”

The existing two-story building has been vacant for more than 20 years, according to the application. It was most recently used for assisted living and memory care housing.

“This application seeks to provide a much needed service in our community simply by changing the type of care provided under the same use that was previously approved within the existing structure,” a Feb. 7 statement of justification submitted by Praesum says.

Praesum says it hopes individuals struggling with substance abuse will learn to “develop healthy coping skills to deal with stress, triggers and anxiety.” The company did not return requests for comment from FFXnow.

The company has 28 similar facilities throughout the country. The Lorton site is expected to have 15 parking spaces.

In recent years, the county has amped up efforts to address drug abuse.

The Countywide Strategic Plan, a key guiding document for the county that was adopted last year, highlights the need to remove barriers to ensure the equitable access for individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse.

The county’s Opioid and Substance Use Task Force identified a two-pronged approach for fiscal years 2021 and 2022: reducing deaths through prevention and treatment, and using data to describe the problem and evaluate effectiveness.

Praesum’s case is under review by staff. Public hearing dates have not yet been set on the county’s land use docket.

Photo via Google Maps

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