For awhile, Alesha Janelle Saunders had a pretty good time for herself. Benefiting financially from crimes including forgery, credit-card theft and embezzlement, she was responsible for a loss of nearly $31,000 to other people and businesses.
But after pleading guilty in July to 12 felonies, it was time to face the music. And last Friday, Sept. 3 in Fairfax County Circuit Court, she was sentenced to two years, three months in prison.
"This is a case where it's hard to say Miss Saunders' behavior was a momentary lapse of judgment," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jay Nanavati. "She was on a tear for quite awhile, victimizing people and profiting from it."
HER DUPLICITOUS deeds came to light locally in March. That's when police nabbed Saunders, 23, of 7585 Margate Court, Apt. 203, in Manassas, for stealing outgoing mail — containing thousands of dollars in checks — from mailboxes in Centreville's pricey Sully Estates community.
However, she was no novice; her criminal record dates back to May 2003. And when she pleaded guilty, July 13, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Marc Birnbaum detailed the cases against her.
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 a woman's purse and driver's license. That offense, 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 there was more to come, 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. 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."
But Saunders was captured on Bank of America surveillance video. Next day, 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."
FAIRFAX COUNTY police and the U.S. Postal Service had conducted a joint investigation and, March 22, police here arrested Saunders. They charged her with 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.
The hit-and-run injured a Chantilly man, May 14, 2003, on I-66 at Route 123. "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."
Friday, prosecutor Nanavati said her financial crimes "had ripple effects. The victims had to take lots of actions to restore their good names in the computers of the world."
Given Saunders' "criminal history and dishonesty," he said he believed the sentencing guidelines for her cases were sufficiently high, and he asked head Circuit Court Judge Michael McWeeny to sentence her to the midpoint — two years, three months.
Defense attorney Dale Race said that, by chance, he'd come into contact with a woman who'd attended Centreville High with Saunders, a 1999 graduate. "She said that, up until her senior year, my client was bright, with a lot of promise," he said. "But in her late teens, she embarked on this course of [criminal behavior]."
BEFORE BEING sentenced, Saunders stood and said, "I'm sorry for the crimes I have committed; I take full responsibility. Upon my release, I plan to live life productively. While in jail, I've reflected on my life and learned I can't live my life with disregard for the law."
McWeeny then sentenced her to a year behind bars, with nine months suspended, for the hit-and-run, and ordered this sentence to run consecutively to her others. For each of Saunders' other charges, he sentenced her to five years in prison, suspending three years of that time. He ordered these sentences to run concurrently to each other. That left her with two years, three months total to serve.
The judge also placed Saunders on four years active probation and ordered her to make restitution to her victims. The total loss was $30,896, but Race said all but $6,500 has been recovered. Afterward, he called the sentence "appropriate." Said Race: "It was what I expected, given her lengthy criminal history."