- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

WALDORF, Md. — Federal affidavits describe the “Unseen Cavaliers” as a gang, but people who know the group’s members say it is shocking to think they could organize the Charles County, Md., arsons that they are accused of setting.

Meanwhile, local police said they never had heard of the club of street racers.

“That name is not familiar to us,” said Kristen Adkins, a spokeswoman for the Charles County Sheriff’s Department. “It’s not something we were aware of until this week.”

The Dec. 6 fires at the Hunters Brooke housing development in Indian Head caused $10 million in damage, destroying 10 unfinished houses and damaging 16 others.

Six persons face federal arson charges, and investigators say they plan to question at least 10 others.

Roy Theodore McCann Jr., 22, of Waldorf, and Michael “White Mike”Gilbert, 21, of Fort Washington, both of whom were arrested Monday, told investigators that they were told the fires could make the club “bigger and more famous.”

They said the fires were the brainchild of Patrick Stephen Walsh, 20, of Fort Washington. Mr. Walsh was arrested Saturday, as were Michael McIntosh Everhart of Waldorf and Jeremy Daniel Parady of Accokeek, both 20.

Federal court documents state that Mr. Walsh owns a purple Chevrolet Cavalier and that a sniffing dog detected accelerants in the car when it was searched.

No one answered a phone call to Mr. Walsh’s home yesterday, and a “no trespassing” sign was posted on each side of his driveway. A purple Cavalier was parked about 50 feet from the road.

Aaron L. Speed, 21, of Waldorf, a security guard at the Hunters Brooke development, was arrested last week.

Authorities say the men kicked in doors of the unoccupied houses, splashed flammable liquids on the floors and set the buildings alight.

Law-enforcement officials are investigating whether the arsons were racially motivated, but have noted that at least three of the suspects have ties to the construction project and referred to the arson plan as “Operation Payback.”

“We were all into street racing,” Mr. Gilbert’s girlfriend, April Wilkinson, 19, of Waldorf, told the Associated Press. “It’s not a gang; it’s a couple of guys in a group who just take care of each other. They don’t go out beating up people or causing trouble.”

Miss Wilkinson said she is not a member of the Unseen Cavaliers.

One Waldorf man, who said he was not a member of the group but frequently stopped by the Wendy’s onCrain Highway in Waldorf, where they met Wednesday nights during the summer, said the meetings would draw 20 to 25 people.

He said the members, whose only requirement for joining the club is ownership of a Chevrolet Cavalier, would show off their latest customizations and brag about how fast their cars were.

The man, who asked to remain anonymous, said the members were “not the cleanest guys in the world, but not the type to start fires.”

He also dismissed statements that authorities have attributed to Mr. Walsh about planning to set a fire to draw attention to the group.

“When guys are standing around a parking lot, they’ll say a bunch of things,” the man said.

He said the group’s alternate nickname, “the family,” indicated their common interest.

But Charles County court records indicate that there was tension among some of the members.

McCann had a court appearance the day after the fires were set, during which he was found guilty and given probation on a charge of malicious destruction of property for an incident that occurred in July.

According to court records, the incident occurred on July 21, about a mile from the Wendy’s parking lot.. The records state that McCann punched another man in the face and smashed the rear window of the man’s 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix.

McCann also was charged with assault, but prosecutors declined to press charges.

The records also show that McCann had been charged with theft and an unspecified crime on school property in January 2003. Both cases were put on an inactive docket, akin to probation.

In September, Mr. Parady charged that McCann and other men he did not know confronted him at the Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department station where he worked. The men left but confronted him again that night as he was driving home and tried to box him in, using three cars to force him to stop.

In an application for a protective order against McCann filed Sept. 14, Mr. Parady said McCann and Mr. Walsh were in one of the cars and pointed “black cylinder-looking objects” out of the windows at him before he escaped them.

The protective order was granted, to be effective until March 16.

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