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Police arrest two in December vehicle shootings

Fairfax County police have arrested two Arlington men in connection with dozens of West Springfield vehicles being shot with BB’s in December.

Herbert Reyes-Cartagena, 18, and Alexander Chase, 19, have been charged with destruction of property, shooting a missile at an occupied dwelling and an occupied vehicle. Police say the investigation is continuing, and they continue to follow up with more than 30 victims of these crimes.

After receiving numerous tips from the public, police arrested and charged the men, who they say are suspects in connection with vehicles shot in the Newington Forest and Terra Grande neighborhoods in late 2012.

During the course of the investigation, additional victims surfaced and police linked the suspects to an air rifle shooting into a home in the 8000 block of Parklane Court on November 28, just before midnight. They also linked them to shooting into an occupied vehicle in the 8600 block of Pohick Road on that date around the same time.

Captain Joe Hill, Commander of the West Springfield Police District, expressed his gratitude to the public for their cooperation with this investigation. “Without the public’s help, these cases can be tough to solve,” he said.

Four plead guilty to real estate fraud

Four individuals, including two Fairfax County residents, pleaded guilty in federal court Feb. 19 to conspiring to fraudulently taking over the titles of vacant and abandoned area homes without the property owners’ knowledge, selling those homes and keeping the profit.

Jamaul Roberts, 25, of College Park, Md., conspired with others to visit the D.C. tax courts to identify properties with overdue property tax bills, according to court records. They would use sources such as Ancestry.com and the D.C. property tax database to locate vulnerable properties where they could take over the home’s title without the real owners’ knowledge. These homes included those left vacant, passed on to heirs after the owner’s death or owned by the elderly in nursing homes who did not understand the transactions taking place.

Court records say the fraudulent sales were facilitated by two settlement agents, Patricia Mantilla, 35, of Lorton and Melissa McWilliams, 35, of Chantilly who worked at Ace Title & Escrow in Annandale.

Court records say McWilliams and Mantilla admitted to knowing the home sales were fraudulent, and the owners appearing at settlement were not the rightful owners. They also admitted to assisting the conspirators in hiding profits on the property sales from other parties involved in the sale through fictitious invoices to be paid at closing.

Court documents say the conspirators, including Michael Brown, 41, of Hyattsville, Md., recruited straw sellers to sign documents and falsely represent themselves as the owners of the properties. Brown, for example, appointed himself the personal representative of the rightful owner of a property and prepared a fake death certificate for the owner, although the owner was still living. He attempted to sell the property to another member of the conspiracy for $350,000.

During the course of the scheme, numerous properties were fraudulently sold, resulting in more than $1 million in actual and intended losses, according to court records.

Roberts and Brown pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud and face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when they are sentenced May 10 and May 3, respectively.

Mantilla and McWilliams pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud and face a maximum penalty of five years in prison when they are respectively sentenced April 26 and June 7.

House fire displaces six adults

A house fire that also damaged two vehicles parked in a driveway has displaced six adults.

Fairfax County firefighters said they responded to a house fire about 12:15 p.m. Feb. 17 near George Mason Park. The single family home is in the 9600 block of Braddock Road.

Firefighters reported seeing heavy dark smoke and fire coming from the left side and carport area of the two-story home upon their arrival. Firefighters said they conducted an aggressive fire attack from the interior and exterior of the home despite the heavy winds pushing the fire into the eaves and attic. Firefighters brought the fire under control in about 25 minutes.

Fire officials said a passing motorist called 911 and then stopped to alert the occupants of the home that it was on fire. Fire officials said all six occupants escaped unharmed. There were no working smoke alarms within the home. Damage is estimated at $175,000, including two vehicles in the driveway near the carport. The fire was accidental, according to fire investigators. The fire originated in the attached carport area. The specific cause of the fire remains undetermined; however, evidence of a damaged power strip and a junction box in the carport were present, according to fire officials.

McLean brokerage executive pleads guilty to stealing $20 million from hotel corporation

Jonathan Propp, 48, of McLean, pleaded guilty Feb. 19 to conspiring with others to steal more than $20 million from Host Hotels and Resorts L.P., one of the nation’s largest hotel owners, by executing a series of illegal sales of hotels, according to federal court records.

Records state Propp was the chief operating officer of Molinaro-Koger, an international hotel real estate brokerage firm headquartered in Tysons Corner from 2009 through 2012.

Records state Propp conspired with others to illegally sell hotels owned by Host to straw buyers, who would then immediately sell the properties to a buyer at a higher price, with the conspirators pocketing the difference. Propp admitted in court that he posed as a straw buyer, forged signatures and obtained a driver’s license for one of the straw buyers who had died before the fraudulent sale could be completed.

Todd Lawyer, 53, of Fairfax, also pleaded guilty Feb. 19 for his role as a straw buyer in the conspiracy. The conspirators earned more than $20 million by illegally flipping the hotels.

In addition, Propp admitted he participated in a scheme to steal and launder an additional $15 million from deposits provided by prospective buyers of hotels, which they purported to hold in escrow but instead used to pay for personal and business expenses. Propp used the money to pay Molinaro-Koger’s expenses and employee salaries, despite knowing the escrowed funds were obtained fraudulently.

Propp and Lawyer pled guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud and face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when they are sentenced May 31 and May 24, respectively.