The deteriorating parking garage at the Albert V. Bryan United States Courthouse is about to get an $11.5 million upgrade.
The U.S. General Services Administration announced Monday that the courthouse parking garage, located at 401 Courthouse Square in the city’s Carlyle neighborhood, is one of 150 project around the country that will be repaired using “low-embodied carbon materials” via the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The courthouse repair will be made with carbon concrete.
“The judiciary depends on safe and easy access to the Albert V. Bryan Courthouse,” acting Mid-Atlantic Region Regional Administrator Joanna Rosato said. “These repairs will provide a safe and sustainable investment in the future of the Courthouse.”
According to GSA:
The Inflation Reduction Act includes $3.4 billion for GSA to influence market research and development of low-embodied carbon materials, and to build more sustainable and cost-efficient high-performance facilities. GSA’s Inflation Reduction Act projects will implement new technologies and accelerate GSA’s efforts in achieving a net-zero emissions federal building portfolio by 2045.
Through these investments, GSA estimates that it could reduce carbon emissions by 2.3 million metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions. That is the equivalent of taking about 500,000 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles off the road for one year.
GSA offered no timeline for the projects.
A 32-year-old man from the Groveton area of Fairfax County, just south of Alexandria, pleaded guilty yesterday to defrauding the government of more than $1.4 million in fraudulent pandemic-related 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 — from an apartment in Springfield, an apartment in Tysons Corner and from his parent’s home in the Groveton neighborhood in Fairfax County.
“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.
Claude Ibrahim, 53, pleaded guilty in the Alexandria Circuit Court to nine counts of felony embezzlement and eight counts of misdemeanor embezzlement.
Ibrahim, who was released on bond, was indicted in May on 17 counts of felony embezzlement after creating “biographical and deposit information for five fictitious employees at Hank’s Oyster Bar and submitted biweekly timesheets for them while receiving their pay,” according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter.
Porter continued, “The first false employee account was set up in June 2014 and the embezzlement scheme continued until the Defendant’s termination in November 2022. When confronted about the false employees, the Defendant admitted her actions.”
Ibrahim will be sentenced on March 21, 2024, and faces a maximum of up to 20 years for each felony embezzlement count, and a maximum of one year per count of misdemeanor embezzlement. The maximum penalty for all of the counts combined is 188 years in prison.
Image via Hank’s Oyster Bar/Facebook
Calix said he frequently played with the firearm and aimed it at Chavez, thinking it was unloaded, according to a release from Commonealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter.
According to Porter:
The investigation showed that in the early afternoon of February 17, 2023, the Defendant shot Nabel in the head with a Polymer80 9mm pistol. The shooting happened in a private residence on E. Reed Avenue in the City of Alexandria.
The Defendant and Nabel, who were acquainted with one another, were inside of the residence. The investigation revealed the shooting occurred after the Defendant intentionally pointed a gun he believed was unloaded at Nabel and pulled the trigger. The Defendant told the police he frequently engaged in “play” with the firearm, that the shooting occurred while he was “playing” with it, and that he believed he had emptied the chamber of the firearm and removed the magazine prior to the shooting and did not know how a round remained in the chamber.
Nabel suffered one gunshot wound to the right side of his face and was pronounced dead on the scene. Evidence confirmed the accidental nature of the shooting.
Calix was released on bond pending sentencing, which is scheduled for a hearing on Dec. 21. The maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 10 years.
(Updated at 8:30 p.m.) A 17-year-old former Alexandria City High School student was sentenced Thursday to five years with the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice for the 2022 murder of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez in the parking lot of the Bradlee Shopping Center, with one of those years already served.
Ryan Vega was 16 when he fatally stabbed Hernandez during a melee with dozens of ACHS students in the parking lot. In a two-day June bench trial, Judge James C. Clark found Vega guilty of second-degree murder and murder by mob, and said that Vega took advantage of his time behind bars at the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center by exhibiting good behavior and doing well with school.
“It appears to your credit, Mr. Vega, that you have taken advantage of your time,” Clark said before announcing the sentence. “In making this decision, I cannot ignore the harm of your actions. If I thought a life sentence would bring Luis back, I’d do it.”
Clark sentenced Vega to remain in the juvenile detention center until he is 21, in addition to 10 years suspended with the Virginia Department of Corrections and five years of supervised probation. He’s already been in jail for 17 months, putting the total sentence for the homicide at approximately five years behind bars by the time he is released.
He must also continue behavioral therapy and have no contact with the victim’s family.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Lord asked Clark for a 30-year sentence in an adult prison, with 10 years suspended. Lord said Vega was addicted to fentanyl at the time of the incident and was part of a disturbing trend of young people living on the edge.
“Part of justice involves answering that pain by the imposing of justice by this court,” Lord said in his closing argument.
Vega, who wore black sneakers, dark slacks and a gray sweater on top of a blue button-up shirt, kept his head down as he read a statement to the court. He said that the events of May 24, 2022 never stop running through his head and that he wishes he could turn back the clock.
“I am deeply and terribly sorry for the pain and loss I have caused your family,” Vega said, after being admitted to address the victim’s family. “Please know I will always pray for your family and Luis until my final breath.”
Vega said in another statement to the court that he spent sleepless nights staring at the ceiling of the juvenile detention center and that he was “remorseful beyond comprehension.” His attorneys Sebastian Norton and Sean Sherlock said that he wrote letters to Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson asking for more books in the detention center, and that he has distinguished himself as a leader behind bars.
Osmin Mejia Romero, the victim’s father, was upset by the sentence.
“This sentence is nothing,” Mejia Romero said. “It’s not a good situation. I wanted him in jail for 30 years, and I waited more than a year for this. His apology means nothing. He’s a liar.”
Mayor Wilson said he never saw a letter from Vega and that the Commonwealth’s requested sentence seemed appropriate.
“I did not review the evidence or sit through the trial, but based on my knowledge of the case, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s requested sentence certainly seemed a lot more appropriate to me.”
The stabbing occurred during a brawl between two rival gangs of Alexandria City High School teenagers on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 — a week before graduation on a half-day while students took their Virginia Standards of Learning tests. The fight was over within one minute, and Mejia Hernandez was fatally stabbed in the heart. An autopsy showed that he also had abrasions to his neck, chin, the back of his hands, abdomen and knees, according to court records. The cause of death was a 7/8-inch stab wound to the chest.
Hernandez was given a posthumous diploma at graduation a week later.
Clark said that Vega was likely experiencing opioid withdrawal at the time of the incident.
“I just can’t help observe the defendant’s decision to start using drugs,” he said. “It likely was a significant factor in forming his judgment to be at Bradlee.”
The murder was one of several incidents that resulted in a number of new policies and security enhancements in and around Alexandria City High School, including a metal detector program, increased police patrols in the area, as well as a rule prohibiting kids from frequenting the shopping center during school hours.
Sherlock said that he is thankful for Clark’s “wise” decision.
“We are incredibly remorseful to the family of Luis Hernandez,” Sherlock said. “We’re very thankful for the wisdom of the court and Judge Clark in imposing this sentence, fully taking into account the seriousness of what happened on May 24, while balancing that appropriately with the goals of sentencing and the capabilities of rehabilitation for juveniles.”
A 46-year-old Alexandria man was charged with two counts of brandishing a firearm earlier this month after allegedly pointing a CO2-powered handheld pistol at a contractor working in his West End home.
On Sept. 5 (Tuesday), the contractor called police after the resident, Greco Gomez, allegedly brandished a firearm against him. The victim told police that he was working in the basement and took the trash outside and was “shocked” when Gomez allegedly threatened to shoot him, according to a recently released search warrant affidavit.
The victim told police that Gomez allegedly pulled a black pistol from his waistband, pointed it at the victim’s abdomen, turned and then walked back to the entrance of the two-story house. At the front door, Gomez, who is a tenant in the home, then allegedly turned around and pointed the pistol at the contractor again, according to the search warrant affidavit.
Police found that Gomez is a convicted felon prohibited from owning firearms and charged him with two counts of brandishing a firearm, according to the search warrant affidavit.
No firearm was found. Instead, police searched his room and confiscated a Byrna SD handheld pistol, three magazines, four empty ammunition tubes and boxes of CO2 cartridges, according to a search inventory.
The Byrna SD is legal in all 50 states, and does not require a background check for purchase. It costs $379.99, and has an effective range of 60 feet, according to Byrna. The company says their pistols are not firearms, since they are powered by compressed CO2 cartridges, like airsoft and paintball guns.
Byrna also sells three different types of hard plastic “Less-Lethal Self-Defense Ammo,” featuring “some of the strongest chemical compositions on the market,” the company said on its website. Additionally, the kinetic projectiles the company sells can reportedly break the side glass window of a vehicle from 30 feet away.
According to Byrna, the physical effects of being shot by one of their projectiles include: “Burning in the throat, inability to breathe, shortness of breath, nausea and excruciating physical pain.”
Gomez goes to court on October 10.
A 29-year-old Maryland man faces multiple charges after allegedly fleeing police in a stolen car in Alexandria’s West End.
The incident occurred at around 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday, August 30. Police found that a white Kia Forte with Virginia tags driving in the area of Duke Street and S. Reynolds Street was stolen, according to a recently released search warrant affidavit.
“The Kia Forte vehicle was found to have a busted rear driver side window and damaged and missing steering column cover where the ignition is normally located,” police said in the search warrant affidavit. “These damages appear to be consistent with those observed on the current TikTok car theft challenge.”
At a meeting with the City Council yesterday, Police Chief Don Hayes said that as of Aug. 31 there were 118 Hyundais and Kias stolen in the last year, which he attributed to a combination of software flaws and the TikTok challenge.
The suspect in the Kia then allegedly led police on a nearly two-mile chase before crashing into a fire hydrant near the intersection of Duke Street and Cockrell Avenue.
“The vehicle travelled east along Duke Street and attempted to lose the officer but crashed at a fire hydrant at the intersection of Duke Street and Cockrell Avenue,” according to the search warrant affidavit. “The Alexandria police officer commanded the subject to stop but he refused and continued running.”
A female passenger in the vehicle later told police that the suspect is an acquaintance and wasn’t aware that the vehicle was stolen, according to the search warrant affidavit. The woman was not charged.
The suspect was charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle, fleeing from law enforcement, falsely identifying himself to law enforcement, driving without a valid license, hit-and-run (property damage) and reckless driving.
The suspect was released on Sept. 7 on a $6,000 unsecured bond and goes to court on October 11.
A 28-year-old Alexandria man was charged with peeping into a dwelling last month in the West End.
Police were alerted after midnight on Sunday, Aug. 27, that a man was allegedly peering through the windows of a lower-level apartment in the 700 block of N. Howard Street. A witness told police that the suspect would hide when anyone approached and then would return to the window, according to a recently released search warrant affidavit.
The suspect allegedly ran from police and then jumped into his Toyota Rav4 a few blocks away, turned off the lights and hid in the trunk area, according to the search warrant affidavit.
The suspect “admitted he had been looking into the window at the incident location and fled from police upon their arrival,” according to the search warrant affidavit.
The suspect then reportedly told police that he “has a prior peeping tom conviction from 2020, also in the City of Alexandria,” according to the search warrant affidavit. Those previous charges against the suspect were dismissed in Nov. 2020, according to court records.
The suspect was charged with peeping into a dwelling, arrested and released that same day on a $5,000 unsecured bond. He goes to court for the alleged offense on Oct. 10.
After weeks of waiting, Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Katie Uston denied a petition to promote Alexandria Police Department Captain Monica Lisle to the rank of assistant police chief.
Lisle, a 29-year APD veteran, is a white, gay woman who has fought for more than a year to become the assistant chief of police. She sued the city after City Manager Jim Parajon refused a three-member city grievance panel’s order to promote her to the position after finding that she’d been harmed and discriminated against in her pursuit of the job.
In her decision, Uston wrote that City Manager Jim Parajon has the sole authority on hiring and promoting in Alexandria, and that the grievance panel exceeded its authority in demanding that he promote Lisle to one of two open assistant police chief positions.
Uston wrote in her decision that she would not restate the city’s “alleged failure to follow established procedures and standing practices in this selection process,” and that the panel went outside of its limited scope.
“While the panel may order such relief as it deems necessary to remedy the harm shown to have affected the grievant (Lisle), the actual scope of that relief, while not clearly defined, is clearly limited,” Uston wrote in her decision. “Any relief ordered must be consistent with written personnel policies of the City. Nowhere is the Panel empowered to promote an employee. That power is instead reserved to the City Manager.”
Lisle’s attorney Will Thetford said his client was disappointed by the ruling and is looking at appeal options.
“I do hope the city keeps one of those positions open for her,” Thetford said. “The panel said that Monica Lisle should be in that position and is qualified for the position.”
A flawed process
The grievance panel was comprised of an Alexandria Police Department lieutenant, a deputy director of planning, construction and facilities, and a staffer with the Department of Planning and Zoning. They found on July 3 that APD violated 10 city procedures in the effort to fill the vacant position. Those violations included improperly posting the job announcement in the summer of 2022, appointing under-qualified officers to question candidates, appointing an all-Black panel that “improperly” considered race, and tanking Lisle’s application with unfairly low scores.
On July 1, however, Parajon’s officer amended city administrative regulations so that only he – not a grievance panel – can promote employees in the city of Alexandria.
Parajon and Police Chief Don Hayes then submitted affidavits to the court acknowledging that they discussed “concerns” that had been raised regarding the hiring process last October. Parajon allowed the process to continue despite those concerns, and he told the court that he had nothing else to do with filling the position until Hayes finally selected now-Assistant Police Chief Easton McDonald.
Former Alexandria Police Chief David Baker is an Alexandria Police Foundation board member, and said that the optics of the hiring failure reflects poorly on the department’s leadership.
“I wish someone in the decision-making posture in the city would have corrected whatever was going wrong in this process and redid the whole thing,” Baker said. “I know this department, and there will be lingering ill-will, finger pointing and mistrust. None of that is good for the city, and I find it sad and unnecessary and I wish they’d handled it better.”
For the last year, Alexandria Police Department Capt. Monica Lisle has been embroiled in a promotion controversy.
Lisle, who is a white, gay woman, says that the hiring process for the open assistant police chief position was faulty from the start. After going through the city’s administrative procedures to contest her disqualification from promotion, a grievance panel determined that she’d been harmed in the hiring process and ordered her promotion.
Just as a grievance panel found she had been discriminated against in the promotional process, the city government changed its regulations to block the same panel from ordering the city manager to promote her, ALXnow found.
Lisle sued the city government and her case is now before the Circuit Court. Her case, and an investigation into the city’s promotional process, calls into question how the city picks officers to lead the police department, which has separately been accused of skipping over employees of color for promotions.
The city says that Lisle’s case is simpler than it seems. Last week, City Attorney Rob Porter told Circuit Court Judge Katie Uston that her decision boils down to whether a city grievance panel has the authority to force the city manager to promote an employee.
The three-person grievance panel — a deputy director of planning, construction and facilities, an APD lieutenant and a staffer with the Department of Planning and Zoning — unanimously found that Lisle was discriminated against in a deeply flawed promotional process.
In the summer of 2022, Lisle applied to be assistant police chief. Her efforts were “quickly undermined by a series of violations of City policy, violations of law, and violations of past practice that form the basis of unwritten policy,” according to the grievance panel’s findings.
Easton McDonald was eventually hired as assistant police chief in January. There are still two open assistant police chief positions, and whether Lisle is promoted to one of the open positions now lies with Uston.
The city contends that the grievance panel’s decision to promote Lisle “flouts the City’s organizational structure set out on its Charter and the law and policies governing the City’s grievance process,” according to court records.
“If enforced, the decision would install her as an Assistant Police Chief, overseeing a third of Alexandria’s Police Department and reporting directly to the Chief of Police, although neither the Chief nor the City Manager chose her for the job,” Porter wrote in a memo in opposition to Lisle’s petition.
But that process was changed by the city manager’s office while the panel was deciding on Lisle’s case. The grievance panel hearing was conducted on June 24, and on July 3 the grievance panel unanimously recommended that City Manager Jim Parajon promote her.
On July 1, however, two days before the grievance panel’s decision, the city’s administrative regulations on the subject changed. The city manager’s office says the change coincided with the city’s collective bargaining agreements with the police and fire departments.
“The City was (and remains) in the process of updating the Administrative Regulations (A.R.) with the aim of publishing them on July 1st to coincide with our two (Fire and Police) collective bargaining agreements taking effect,” Ebony Fleming, the city’s director of communications and public information, told ALXnow in an email. “We updated the language of the referenced A.R. to make clear the city is required to comply with the long-standing state law charter section that the city manager has the exclusive authority to appoint and remove any City employee.”
The old A.R. policy, enacted by City Manager Vola Lawson in 1991, stated that a city employee can eventually file an appeal by sending the city manager a letter and having an informal hearing with the manager serving as the administrative hearing officer.
Under the old policy:
When the grievant shows a failure by the City to follow policies or procedures, the grievant may be entitled to relief if he/she also shows, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he/she suffered harm as a direct result of the failure. In such a case, the panel may order such relief as it deems necessary to remedy the harm shown to have affected the grievant.
If the panel determines that the employee has not shown that he/she has been harmed as a direct result of the failure to follow policies or procedures, it may nonetheless inform the City Manager of the failure and recommend that steps be taken to ensure that the failure is not repeated.
The updated policy takes the city manager out of the equation, stating that the appeal will be heard by a department head and a representative from the city’s department of human resources. If, by that point, the issue is not resolved, city regulations now state that the grievant can contact the Supreme Court of Virginia to request the appointment of an administrative hearing officer.
The amended A.R. policy also removes the three-person grievance panel altogether.
The previous policy said that:
When the grievant shows a failure by the City to follow policies or procedures, the grievant may be entitled to relief if he/she shows by a preponderance of the evidence that he/she suffered harm as a direct result of the failure. In such a case, the panel may order such relief as it deems necessary to remedy the harm shown to have affected the grievant.
The new policy states that the decision of the administrative hearing officer shall be “final and binding,” and includes the following new language:
Upon a determination that the grievant is entitled to relief, the Hearing Officer may award such relief as he/she deems necessary to remedy the harm shown to have affected the grievant, provided that such relief shall be narrowly tailored to address only the specific grievance and harm proven.
Hearing officers have no authority to award punitive damages or to promote, assign, or transfer a grievant. Awards of relief shall not detract from, alter, amend, or modify in any way any written City or department policy or procedure.
This change in administrative regulations affects all city employees, who are now unable to file a grievance regarding the hiring process, no matter how faulty. Additionally, APD captains are not subject to the collective bargaining agreement due to their high rank, and, like Lisle, they must adhere to city policies.
The policy still states that failure to promote a city employee is a “non-grievable” offense, “except where the employee can show that established promotional policies or procedures were not followed or applied fairly.”
On July 6, Parajon wrote a letter to the chair of the grievance panel asking for a “modified decision” and said that the recommendation goes against the city’s administrative regulations.
“As you are aware, the panel award must be consistent with all laws and ordinances,” Parajon wrote. “In its July 3, 2023 decision, the panel awarded Cpt. Lisle a promotion to Assistant Chief. This award conflicts with the City’s administrative regulation on sworn promotions, which authorizes only the City Manager or a designee to make sworn promotion appointments.”
The grievance panel responded to Parajon in a July 18 letter, and stated that it felt its award was “consistent with all laws and ordinances.”
“Upon further review the panel recommends that the City Manager appoint Captain Monica Lisle to one of the currently open Assistant Chief positions within the Alexandria Police Department,” the panel wrote in the letter.
The grievance panel determined that Parajon and Hayes were aware that the promotional process for the assistant chief job was faulty and did not stop it. The panel found 10 violations in city policy, including improperly posting the job announcement, appointing under-qualified officers to question candidates, appointing an all-Black panel that “improperly” considered race, and torpedoing Lisle’s application with unfairly low scores.
Last Wednesday, Uston heard the case and told the city and Lisle to expect her decision within 48 hours. On Tuesday (Sept. 5), she requested more information from the city on or before Friday (Sept. 8).
The City did not respond to questions on whether the city employees union was notified of the administrative change. A representative of the city’s employees union did not return calls for comment.