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Robberies Concern Merchants

Robberies at Lake Anne Plaza seem to be increasing.

A string of robberies in recent months has upset some store owners and managers at Lake Anne Plaza. The most recent robbery took place Tuesday, Feb. 22, at 12:10 a.m., at La Villa Market, 1611 Washington Plaza North.

"It is more dangerous now than it was before," said Marcia Garcia, a manager at La Villa. She said she does not see any type of security around the store or on the lakefront plaza. Garcia said she hopes to confront and discuss the problem at the next meeting of the Lake Anne Merchants Committee. She added she was concerned the store might get hit again by criminals and that a security presence of some sort would deter them from breaking in.

However, Fairfax County Police arrested three individuals because of the incident. Two of the three suspects were caught during the burglary, a press release from the FCPD Public Information Office stated.

The police were called to the area after reports of suspicious noise. Upon their arrival, the officers noticed La Villa Market was broken into and property from it was stolen. The responding officers then saw a pickup truck drive erratically within the perimeter set up by them. When an officer attempted to stop the truck, the three people in the truck jumped out and attempted to run away. Two were caught and a third ran away. The two caught were Ahmad M. Zahory, 19, of Cottonwood Court in Sterling, and Oliver J. Nelson, of North Sterling Boulevard in Sterling.

Zahory was charged with two counts of burglary, two counts of possession of burglarious tools and grand larceny. He was taken to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, where a bond was set at $12,500. Nelson was charged with burglary and possession of tools for burglaries and held at a bond of $5,000.

The FCPD arrested a third individual Wednesday, Feb. 23, in connection with the burglary. Louis A. Stieglbauer, of South Lincoln Avenue in Sterling, was arrested by officers near the intersection of Balmoral Greens Avenue and Cannon Fort Drive in Clifton. Patrol officers, a K-9 unit and a helicopter were used in the foot pursuit, leading to the suspect's arrest. Stieglbauer was also taken to the County's Adult Detention Center and held for a $12,500 bond. He was charged with two counts of burglary, two counts of possession of tools for burglaries and grand larceny.

But the merchants at Lake Anne were not aware of the arrests, including Garcia or Mo Hashem, a co-owner of Lake Mart. Hashem's store had not been targeted before, but he does not feel safe, knowing that in the past few months the Millennium Bank, the Gigante Express, the 24-7 Store and La Villa Market had all been involved in similar incidents to the one at La Villa Market.

However, it is not clear how much of an issue the incidents are raising, because the management at Lake Anne is not aware of most of them. "If it is not reported to the management, then it must not be that much of an issue," said Eve Thompson, the chairperson of the Lake Anne Plaza security committee. The subject was brought up at the last meeting of the Washington Plaza cluster meeting. She added the businesses that have been hit operate mostly with checks and cash, and are likely identified as easy targets for the criminals. Thompson said she does not feel there is a growing problem, but added that if there is an issue, the Lake Anne Condominium board will be "all over it."

On top of the robberies, the statue of Robert E. Simon, the founder of Reston, had also been removed from the plaza. The statue was later recovered on the other end of the plaza. "Every night when I go home, I don't know if I will return in the morning and have a broken window and things stolen from my store," Hashem said. He also said he had not noticed a police presence and would like to see some sort of security at the plaza. He added the management of Lake Anne could perhaps hire private security. "I am willing to pay my share," said Hashem.

He also said he started closing his store earlier, because he does not feel safe. When Lake Mart was first opened, it closed at 10 p.m. Now it closes at 7 p.m. and Hashem is considering closing the store at 6:30 p.m. He said he did not want to be killed because someone wanted to steal a carton of cigarettes nor did he want damage to the store for that price. "I will give them a carton of cigarettes," said Hashem, "but don't break my window."

Eduardo Faubert, owner of Jasmine Cafe, a restaurant at Lake Anne, and the president of Lake Anne Merchants Committee, said the robberies should not be blown out of proportion. "The more of a ruckus we raise about it, the more of a ruckus it will be," said Faubert. He said robberies happen, and will continue to happen, but it was important to keep low key about it.

Faubert also has noticed a decreased visitation by the police, but said it makes sense to have less visitation in the winter months. "I am in no way criticizing the police," he said. The decreased police activity corresponds with the decreased activity at Lake Anne. He added that nobody is patrolling the beaches during this time of the year either, because it would not make sense to do so with a small number of people there.

As far as hiring additional security, Faubert does not think that will happen. Instead, he recommends that individual merchants — "star attractions" to criminals — take steps to make their shops less attractive to robbers. If a thief looks inside the store and sees how much of a hard time he will have getting the money out, said Faubert, he is less likely to strike. "It is important to give them less reason to steal, less attraction," he said, "and get off their radar screens."

Faubert added the Lake Anne Merchants Committee meeting, held the first Wednesday of every month, will address the issue and a clearer picture of how to deal with the burglaries will be presented.