A federal judge in Greenbelt yesterday sentenced the mastermind of last year’s massive arson at an upscale housing development in Charles County, Md., to more than 19 years in prison, saying he was appalled by the magnitude of the crime and the suffering it caused the owners.
U.S. District Judge Roger Titus gave Patrick S. Walsh, 21, the maximum sentence under federal guidelines for leading a gang that set fire to the Hunters Brooke development in Indian Head a year ago today.
No one was injured, but dozens of people — most of them black — who planned to move into the nearly finished houses were displaced in a crime that had racial overtones.
“Words simply do not come to mind to adequately describe how horrific this crime was,” Judge Titus said.
Two of Walsh’s accomplices who had pleaded guilty in the case also were sentenced yesterday.
Aaron Lee Speed, 22, who worked as a security guard at Hunters Brooke, received an eight-year, four-month sentence.
Jeremy Daniel Parady, 21, a white man who admitted he targeted the development because he knew the new residents were black, was given a seven-year, three-month sentence.All three were ordered to help repay the $3.2 million in damage that the early morning fires caused.
Authorities earlier had set damage figures at $10 million, but that was lowered after the builder calculated the cost to rebuild the damaged homes.
Two other men charged in the case, Michael M. Everhart and Roy T. McCann Jr., are scheduled to go on trial next year.
In all, the group set fire to or attempted to burn 36 houses at Hunters Brooke. Only one was occupied.
Prosecutors have ascribed several different motives to members of the group.
Speed was mad at the security firm that employed him over a family issue, and Parady said in his plea agreement that racism drove him.
Attorneys for both men also said serious mental illnesses clouded their judgment and actions.
Walsh was consistently cast as the ringleader, a resourceful, manipulative power-hungry leader who gathered a cadre of men in their 20s around him. He formed groups called “The Family” and the “Unseen Cavaliers,” which coalesced around a mutual interest in street racing and hanging out at a Denny’s restaurant in Waldorf.
Prosecutors said Walsh was fascinated with explosives and fire. He was accused of creating the plan to set fire to Hunters Brooke, helping find supplies for the fires and recruiting others to take part.
He was convicted by a federal jury in September on arson and conspiracy charges.
Yet even as he awaited sentencing, prosecutors said Walsh continued to plot crimes.
Documents taken from his prison cell show he was trying to form a group called “The Unseen Brotherhood Coalition,” which would engage in financial crimes such as check fraud, stock scams and fake charity scams, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Sanger.
“What he is focused on is power,” she said. “He desires power above all things.”
Walsh attorney William Purpura characterized the writings as “childish immaturity,” but not the sign of a real threat.
Walsh did not speak during the hearing, and Mr. Purpura said the sentence was not a surprise given Walsh’s conviction.
An appeal is planned.
Speed pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit arson in June.
His attorney, John Chamble, said Speed is a “seriously flawed individual” who suffers from bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. Mr. Chamble said Speed’s precarious mental state was part of what led him to take part in the fires.
During a short statement, Speed apologized to the Hunters Brooke residents and said his actions were “stupid.”
Parady, once a firefighter trainee, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against Walsh, cooperation that led to a lower sentence.
He also apologized, and while addressing his racial motive, said, “Racial issues are dead and gone. They need to be left alone.”
But some Hunters Brooke residents, who have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the defendants, were skeptical of Parady’s apology.