While many high school graduates are enjoying their last few weeks of summer vacation before heading off to college, four South Lakes High School graduates are facing federal witness tampering charges in connection with an alleged counterfeit ring.
Reston residents David Alexander Post, 18, Adam John Blake, 18, and Trevor Harvey, 18, were arrested last week, accused of beating up a witness in a federal counterfeit investigation. Harvey was a former football player on the South Lakes football team, while Blake played on the school's basketball team. A fourth suspect, Joseph Lawrence Bleich, another former football standout at South Lakes, turned himself into authorities on Monday, Aug. 11.
According to an affidavit filed last week by Secret Service special agent Gregory Allen Watson, an investigation into an alleged counterfeit ring, first reported on in the Reston Connection on July 23, began after officers from the Fairfax County Police Department contacted Secret Service agents in reference to four teenagers accused of passing counterfeit U.S. currency, a federal offense, at the Silver Diner in Reston.
Frank Benedetto, a Secret Service spokesman in the Washington field office, confirmed that the students who appeared in federal court last week were a part of the ongoing counterfeit investigation, an investigation that Benedetto said would likely result in more arrests and more suspects on federal charges of manufacturing and distributing counterfeit U.S currency. "They compounded their problems by allegedly assaulting a witness in the case," Benedetto said on Wednesday. "The suspects thought they would beat up a witness."
Danny Onorato, an attorney for Blake, said he is still sorting through the details of the investigation and his client’s case. Onorato said Blake is a "bright young kid" and that the allegations are just that, allegations. "Our hope is that all of this will be cleared up as more details come to light about what really happened that night. We just don’t know the facts, yet," the defense lawyer said. "Obviously, this has been very difficult on my client and his family."
<b>ACCORDING TO COURT</b> documents, an employee of the Silver Diner recognized one of the individuals, who so far has not been charged, as a former star South Lakes basketball player. Helal Wardak, a manager at the diner, said a waiter who was serving the teenagers reported the counterfeit money as soon as he opened his bill jacket. "This kind of thing has only happened twice since we opened five years ago," the manager said. "I didn’t see it, but I am told the money looked like a real bill, but it felt different."
Wardak said that another waiter, who was also a South Lakes student, recognized the suspects after they left restaurant. Restaurant employees immediately took the fake money to the Reston police substation.
The Secret Service’s ensuing investigation, according to documents released last week, found that Post, Blake, Bleich and another basketball player were "knowingly involved with the illegal manufacture of approximately $4,000 in counterfeit $20 notes," using the basketball player's personally owned computer.
The report, a result of several interviews conducted by the Secret Service, also alleges that Post, Blake and two others were "knowingly involved with the illegal distribution of the subject currency."
Three more students, including the alleged victim, used an undetermined amount of the counterfeit currency, according to court papers.
<b>ON JULY 6</b>, Secret Service agents interviewed the 18-year-old victim in connection with the counterfeit investigation. The informant and victim who, according to court documents, assisted the U.S. Attorney’s office with the investigation, was also a former Seahawk football player. According to the affidavit, the informant identified Post, Blake, Bleich and two others, including the basketball player, as the distributors of the manufactured money. The victim had reportedly purchased $200 in counterfeit twenties from Post at Post’s Reston home on Golf Course Drive.
Nearly three weeks later, on July 25, Post, Blake, Bleich and Harvey allegedly "physically assaulted" and beat the former football player, resulting in several lacerations and abrasions, the Secret Service agent said in his sworn affidavit. While on the ground, witnesses reported seeing Post kick the victim in the head. During the incident, the suspects reportedly told two teenagers, including the victim, that they could, "die in the hood for snitching." In a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court on July 25, the U.S. Attorney alleged that the four suspects "unlawfully and knowingly engaged in conduct causing bodily injury to another person ... with intent to retaliate ... for information relating to the commission or possible commission of a federal offense."
<b>WITH THEIR PARENTS</b> looking on, Post, Blake and Harvey appeared in Federal Court on Wednesday, Aug. 6. Dressed casually in jeans, shorts and t-shirts, the three friends, sporting nearly identical short haircuts, appeared in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on charges that they intimidated, threatened and retaliated against a witness in an ongoing federal counterfeit investigation to which they have been linked.
On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry R. Poretz released the suspects into the custody of their parents, but not before he gave the three 18-year-old defendants a warning. Poretz released the three teenagers, but, as part of their release, they will not be able to have any contact, written or verbal, with any co-defendant or witnesses in the case. The defendants must also notify the court if they wish to travel outside of the Washington metro area. In addition, the suspects will be subject to regular pretrial substance abuse tests, including one immediately after last week’s proceedings. If the suspects violate their conditions, the judge said he would immediately detain the suspects. "I cannot be any more clear," Poretz said, looking at Post, Blake and Harvey. "If I find a violation, I will detain each of you. This is not juvenile court. There is zero tolerance here. They don’t want to test the court."
<b>PRETZ SET THE</b> preliminary hearing for Aug. 26, the same date as the first day of classes at Lynchburg College where Blake is scheduled to enroll in the fall.
Harvey, his lawyer said, starts school at Virginia Tech on Aug. 25.
Lawyers for both men indicated their clients would return to Northern Virginia for the hearing where they will be officially arraigned.
A spokesman for Lynchburg College said that the school has not received any notification about the situation. "We will review the situation as appropriate," said Gina Caldwell, director of media relations.
Larry Hinker, associate vice president of university relations for Virginia Tech, doubted that an incident that occurred before a student came to the Blacksburg campus would result in a revoked admission. "Since it was non-school related or on school grounds, I think that our procedure and university policy is silent on that," Hinker said.
Without commenting directly on Harvey’s case, Hinker added that the school does reserve the right to rescind its offer of admission if it thinks a student posed "an immediate threat" to students or faculty members, regardless of whether or not the charges have exhausted their way through the legal system.
<b>MOHAMMAD CHAWHAN</b>, a wide receiver and defensive end for the Seahawks last year, was a teammate and classmate of the suspects and he said that none of the teenagers ever showed any unusually violent tendencies. "I am very surprised to hear about the accusations," the recent graduate said. "We weren’t real close friends, but we were teammates and we would chat in the halls whenever we would see each other. They all seem like really good people."
Joe Trabucco, South Lakes’ head football coach, said he felt bad about the allegations, but that he did not know enough details to comment on the charges. "One thing I do know is that I would never speak bad about a former player," he said.
Wendell Byrd, the school’s basketball coach, declined comment. Two suspects, Blake and Bleich, were guards on Byrd’s varsity team last year.
Realista Rodriguez, the school’s principal, expressed surprise that the several of her former students whom she described as being "very active in the school" were linked to the investigation. "But otherwise, I have no comment." Paul Regnier, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Public Schools also declined to comment on the situation saying that the suspects are no longer students in the school system.