Members of the “Unseen Cavaliers” — a street-racing club in Charles County, Md. — ignited the state’s largest residential arson case at an upscale development in Indian Head this month in an effort to become “bigger and more famous,” according to federal court documents.
“This was a well-planned, organized group of adults who met together in advance to build what they wanted to have seem like a great event, something that would bring fame to their group,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Sanger said during a detention hearing yesterday for one of the six suspects charged with arson.
However, Miss Sanger said the arson was “an effort to wipe out a community” of mostly black homeowners, and authorities are “very carefully investigating” whether it was a racially motivated hate crime. The federal prosecutor added that not all of the suspects “are in custody at this time.” The six suspects currently in custody are white.
The only requirement for joining the street-racing club is ownership of a Chevrolet Cavalier, a mid-size economy car, according to the club’s Web site (www.unseen-cavaliers.webspace4free.biz/). The Web site says the club has a “few members” and is “always looking for more.”
“The club is open to any cavalier owner that is just looking to chill with other cavalier owners,” a greeting on the site reads. “There are no specific rules or mods needed. All we ask is that you show up to the meetings when we need u too, other than that its open game.”
Club meetings are held Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant off of Old Crain Highway in Waldorf — the same location where authorities say members gathered before setting the Dec. 6 fires.
The fires destroyed 10 unoccupied houses and damaged 16 others at the upscale Hunters Brooke development, much of which was still under construction.
According to the club’s Web site, the Unseen Cavaliers were formed by “Patrick” and “Brandon.” An affidavit supporting a criminal complaint in the arson case identifies the club’s leader as Patrick Stephen Walsh, 20, of Fort Washington. Mr. Walsh was arrested and charged with arson Saturday and faces a detention hearing today.
Setting the housing development ablaze was the brainchild of Mr. Walsh, court records state.
Mr. Walsh has denied involvement, but he was charged after an accelerant-sniffing dog detected traces of ignitable liquids in two cars he owned — a dark-blue Chevrolet Lumina and a purple Chevrolet Cavalier.
Details of the plot emerged after investigators interviewed Roy Theodore McCann Jr., 22, of Waldorf, and Michael Gilbert, 21, of Fort Washington, both of whom were arrested Monday and arraigned in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt yesterday.
Mr. Gilbert, who worked for a roofing supplier that delivered tiles to the development, told investigators that Mr. Walsh had told him about the plot a month before the fires were set.
He said Mr. Walsh told him of a plan to make the club, also known as “the family,” “bigger and more famous” and that the “plan had to do with setting ‘something’ on fire and that it would be big,” according to an affidavit.
Mr. Gilbert said he decided not to take part in the plan and has denied any involvement, though he admitted prior knowledge of the plot, the affidavit states.
Mr. McCann told investigators he was at Hunters Brooke before the fires started but that he left before they were lit. He also told investigators that “a couple months ago at Denny’s Patrick Walsh stated that he was going to go off and just start blowing stuff up,” according to the affidavit.
Mr. Gilbert and Mr. McCann yesterday were ordered to be held without bond until their detention hearings.
Six men have been arrested, and authorities have said they have interviewed or plan to question as many as 10 others about their involvement in the case.
During a detention hearing yesterday, federal Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day ordered Aaron L. Speed, 21, of Waldorf to remain in custody until trial. No trial date was set.
Mr. Speed was a security guard who worked for the company hired to protect the construction site. He has admitted knowing of a plot to set fire to the houses, which caused $10 million in damage, according to court documents.
Also in custody are Michael McIntosh Everhart of Waldorf and Jeremy Daniel Parady of Accokeek, both 20.
Miss Sanger said yesterday that prosecutors are “trying to be conservative in ascribing motives.”
She said the men charged in connection with the fires and several others who have not yet been charged referred to the plan as “Operation Payback,” and court records indicate at least three of the six had ties to the construction operation in the Hunters Brooke neighborhood.
If convicted of arson, each of the men face a minimum prison sentence of five years. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.