Alesha Janelle Saunders first came to the attention of the local community in March. That's when police arrested her for stealing outgoing mail — containing thousands of dollars in checks — from mailboxes in Centreville's Sully Estates community.
But actually, her illegal deeds date back to May 2003. And Tuesday afternoon in Fairfax County Circuit Court, the 23-year-old woman pleaded guilty to 12 felonies.
Saunders, of 7585 Margate Court, Apt. 203, in Manassas, pleaded guilty to three counts each of forgery and uttering (passing off phony checks as valid), two counts each of credit-card theft and embezzlement, and one count each of felony hit-and-run and obtaining money through false pretenses.
"Are you entering these pleas of guilty, freely and voluntarily — and because you are, in fact, guilty?" asked Judge Michael McWeeny. "Yes, sir," replied Saunders.
"DO YOU understand that the maximum punishment for these crimes — if the sentences are run consecutively — would be 170 years?" he asked. Again, Saunders said yes.
Noting that no plea agreement has been made in this case, the judge accepted her pleas. Then Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Marc Birnbaum presented details of the prosecution's case.
On Oct. 10, 2003, Saunders was employed by 3D Line Marketing in Manassas, but lost her job and used a company credit card to purchase a TV, refrigerator and DVD player valued at nearly $756 total. Explained Birnbaum: "She said she was angry about being fired and wanted revenge."
On Nov. 18, 2003, she went on another spending spree, using that same credit card to buy more things for herself totaling $3,151. Next, she got a job at Client Development Institute in Reston, swiping a check for $8,000 and making it payable to her daughter — who was then 2 years old.
"She deposited it into a joint checking account and withdrew $7,200, three days later," said Birnbaum. "Then she stole an American Express card belonging to a fellow CDI employee and made over $3,000 worth of purchases with it."
In the winter of 2003, Saunders attended a party in Centreville, where she stole the purse and driver's license of a woman there. That action, said Birnbaum, made it possible for her to commit further financial crimes.
On Dec. 23, 2003, she used the driver's license to open up a bank account in the victim's name at a Centreville BB&T and forged the woman's name on the account's signature card. She then presented a check payable to a third person — which she'd altered to be payable to the name on the bank account — and received $2,500.
But that wasn't all, said Birnbaum. Three days later, on Dec. 26, Saunders presented a withdrawal slip to the bank and got another $2,500 in cash from that account.
NEXT CAME the mailbox thefts from Chandley Farm Circle in Centreville. One of the checks Saunders pilfered, said Birnbaum, was for $3,834 and was originally made payable to a resident's mortgage company. But instead, "On March 1, 2004, she presented [this] check to the Bank of America," said Birnbaum. "She'd altered it to be made payable to [the name on the fraudulent account she'd set up], and she got cash."
Police Det. Bob Athing provided additional details in a March 24 affidavit for a search warrant for Saunders' own account at a Wachovia Bank in Fairfax.
"Saunders was captured on Bank of America surveillance video conducting a fraudulent transaction on March 1," he wrote. The next day, March 2, she was arrested in Maryland after trying to cash a forged check there.
Said Birnbaum: "Afterward, police inventoried her vehicle and found other mail belonging to the [mortgage-payment] victim, a BB&T statement from the [fraudulent] account and the [stolen] driver's license."
Meanwhile, Fairfax County police and the U.S. Postal Service had conducted a joint investigation and, March 22, police arrested Saunders. She was extradited here from Charles County, but was released May 2 on $90,000 bond.
As for the felony hit-and-run, it happened May 14, 2003 on I-66 at Route 123, and injured a Chantilly man. "There was more than $1,000 damage," said Birnbaum. "But Saunders said she was a police officer and left the scene [without providing] any information to the other person."
After hearing all this, Judge McWeeny set her sentencing for Sept. 3 and Birnbaum requested her bond be revoked. Defense attorney Dale Race argued against it — saying she's being supervised by this county plus federal authorities in Greenbelt, Md.
But McWeeny had the last word. "I'm afraid, on the nature of the charges, I can't agree," he said. "I'm going to revoke bond." And with that, Saunders was handcuffed and led to jail to await sentencing.