Thursday, December 31, 2015

Do you recognize these Montgomery Village robbery/assault suspects? (Photos)

Montgomery County Police have released surveillance camera photos of three suspects in a November 10 robbery and assault in Montgomery Village. Detectives say the three - and as many as two additional accomplices - robbed and assaulted two adult male victims around 3:00 AM at the Shell gas station located at 19300 Montgomery Village Avenue.

They took property and money from the victims, and fled the area in a silver colored vehicle.

Anyone with information regarding these suspects or the robbery and assault is asked to call the 6th District Investigative Section at 240-773-5770. Those who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided to them that leads to an arrest and/or indictment for this felony crime.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas Grinches caught after trying to sell $20K in stolen merchandise to officers across from Germantown police station

Ho, ho, oh no! A couple of alleged Grinches tried to steal Christmas in Germantown last Friday. Or, at least, $20,000 in merchandise from a resident's vehicle. Now one man is in custody, and his alleged accomplice out on bail, after attempting to resell the stolen loot to police officers directly across from a Montgomery County Police station.

Police say over $20,000 in merchandise was stolen from a vehicle parked on Diamond Hill Court in Germantown. Items taken included two infrared cameras, a 12 megapixel digital camera, 70-200mm camera lens, gear motor, circuit boards, Beats by Dre earphones, Ipod nano, and two laptops.

Around 2:00 p.m., a neighbor suggested the victim utilize a cell phone app named “Offer Up” to see if the stolen property may have been listed for sale. After checking the app, the victim discovered one of the stolen infrared cameras and Beats by Dre earphones for sale, and called the person listed as the seller of the property.

The victim told the seller that they were interested purchasing items, and agreed to meet at the Rite Aid located at 19927 Century Boulevard in Germantown (located in the shopping center across the street from the 5th District station). The victim notified the investigating officer in advance of the meeting.

At 6:00 p.m., 5th District officers arrived at the Rite Aid in an unmarked vehicle, and posed as the potential buyers of the stolen merchandise. Mulloy and Pestun were arrested when they showed the undercover officers the stolen property that they were attempting to sell. Pestun was in possession of the stolen Ipon nano at the time of the arrest. Officers located the remaining stolen property and returned all the items to the victim.

Casey A. Mulloy, 20, and Kyle Pestun, 27, both of unknown addresses, were transported to the Central Processing Unit and charged with one count of theft: $10,000 to under $100,000, one count of theft: less than $100, two counts of rogue and vagabond, and one count of conspiracy. Mulloy was released after posting $2,600 bond. Pestun remains held on a $7,500 bond.

Officers suspect there may be additional victims of thefts who have not reported the incidents to police. Anyone who has been a victim of a theft from vehicle, and has not already reported the theft, is asked to call the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Montgomery County Council helps their billionaire sugar daddy evade taxes

Councilmember Hans Riemer, a
leading recipient of campaign
donations from billionaire
under investigation for tax evasion
Senate Finance Committee
investigating museum scheme

Most of the controversy surrounding Potomac billionaire Mitch Rales' Glenstone museum has related to its private operation, its addition of a sewer line, and his sugar daddy status to members of the Montgomery County Council, to whom he has donated tens of thousands of dollars. Now a U.S. Senate Finance Committee investigation is looking into another question - is Glenstone actually an art museum, or simply an easy way to avoid personal, capital gains and estate taxes through its Glenstone Foundation?

Councilmember Roger Berliner has received at least $27,000 from Rales, according to blogger Eric Hensal. The second-biggest recipient of money from Rales, a pioneer in outsourcing American jobs to China, has been Councilmember Hans Riemer. 

Riemer has used a mysterious out-of-state bounty of cash from a rogue's gallery of Wall Street scoundrels, banks, mortgage sharks, and lobbyists - who together caused the "Great Recession" - to win two council elections. Yet, he has faced no media scrutiny of his unusual campaign finances. 

Rales' Danaher Corporation wrested 140 jobs away from Hanover, Maryland alone, in a four-state liquidation of factories, as the linked video demonstrates. Is it surprising that Riemer would support a Wall Street outsourcer in evading taxes right here in Montgomery County? After all, Riemer also took a fat campaign check from Mitt Romney's Bain Capital, another pioneer in closing factories, and outsourcing jobs to overseas countries. And, while receiving funds from anti-Obamacare lobbyists, Riemer endorsed dropping the public option from the Affordable Care Act in 2009, creating a huge payday for the insurance companies.

Both councilmen, and several other colleagues who received Rales booty, delivered a series of votes that enabled the expansion of Glenstone in recent years.

While they spoke of Glenstone as a public amenity, it is actually private, not open to just anyone to visit during set hours, and located on Rales' Potomac estate, nowhere near public transit infrastructure. Glenstone has already denied access to visitors, including reporters who have dared to criticize it.

The Senate Finance Committee has heard enough, and is now investigating whether Glenstone - enabled by the County Council - is violating IRS rules and evading taxes. While the New York Times accepted Glenstone's visitor numbers at face value, fortunately, the City Paper actually did the research and found just how few visitors there have been over the years in relation to similar facilities elsewhere - and that no visitor records are publicly available for the past two years.

Meanwhile, the City Paper found that Rales is stashing away more than $360,000,000 in Danaher stock in Glenstone, and another $26 million from his Janalia Corporation. Can you get into Glenstone? City Paper reporter Kriston Capps has been rejected from visiting twice. That's not a public museum.

Aside from determining whether tax evasion has occurred (gee, you think?) with the aid and abettance of the County Council, there is another possible benefit to the Senate-level investigation. Investigations tend to turn up more than what they start out looking for. Montgomery County has a false reputation as an ethical jurisdiction primarily because there have not been federal investigations here. In a federal probe, a lesser member of a political machine can be threatened with jail time - until he or she starts talking about the bigger scandal going on higher up, in exchange for leniency or immunity. 

Farm Road, the Silver Spring Transit Center, the Council-connected nonprofit that "lost" $900,000 in taxpayer money? In every case the politicians themselves were able to control what passed for an "investigation", and declare the case closed. While the feds seem to be in constant pursuit of African-American officials in the District and Prince George's County, our white Montgomery County and Maryland politicians continue to evade scrutiny.

That has to change.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Gaithersburg McDonald's shooting still under investigation

A Christmas Eve shooting at the McDonald's restaurant at 469 Frederick Avenue in Gaithersburg remains under investigation by Montgomery County Police detectives. What is known to this point, is that a firearm was reportedly discharged inside the restaurant around 8:00 PM that night. When police and firefighters responded, neither the alleged shooter nor victim were present.

Police found evidence of a shooting inside the McDonald's restroom. At that time, they were alerted that a gunshot victim had arrived at a local hospital. No information regarding how that patient arrived at the hospital has been made available as of press time, but the man has been interviewed by detectives.

Anyone with information regarding this incident or the person(s) involved is asked to contact the 6th District Investigation Section at 240.773.5770. Those who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 240-773-TIPS (8477) or Text-A-Tip to: CRIMES (274637), text MCPD and your crime tip. Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided to them that leads to an arrest and/or indictment for this crime.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Police searching for missing Germantown teen (Photo)

A Germantown teenager is missing, and Montgomery County Police are seeking the community's help in finding her. Rocio Beatriz Cardenas Gomez, 15, of the 12000 block of Kitchen House Way in Germantown, was last seen at her home on December 10. 

Rocio is described as a Latina, 5’05” tall, and weighing 120 pounds. She has brown eyes and black hair. When she was last seen, Rocio was wearing a green jacket, blue jeans, and black and white tennis shoes. She is known to frequent the area around Northwest High School, and the Clopper Mill Village Shopping Center in Germantown.

Police say they and her family are concerned for Rocio’s physical and emotional welfare.

Anyone who has information regarding the whereabouts of Rocio Beatriz is asked to call the Montgomery County Police Special Victims Division at 240-773-5400 or the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (24 hours).

Police investigate fatal crash in Damascus

Montgomery County Police are investigating a one-car accident that killed the vehicle's lone occupant Tuesday night around 6:25 PM. Officers responding to the scene in the 5200 block of Damascus Road found a silver, 2002 Volkswagen Passat that had exited the roadway and struck a utility pole.

The driver, David Mark Harris, 20, of the 20200 block of Lea Pond Place in Gaithersburg, died from his injuries at the scene.

This collision remains under investigation. Anyone who witnessed this collision is asked to call the Collision Reconstruction Unit at 240-773-6620.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Fourth suspect charged in Montgomery Village homicide

Montgomery County Police have charged a fourth suspect in the November 2 homicide of Roberto Gutierrez Cruz in Montgomery Village. Edwin E. Reyes-Martinez, 18, of the unit block of Whetstone Drive in Montgomery Village has been charged with one count of being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder, and with one count of possession of a handgun.

On November 2 around 12:42 p.m., 6th District officers and Fire and Rescue personnel responded to the woods behind the 18200 block of Contour Road after the report of a possibly injured person. A passerby had called 911. Officers located the victim, 22-year-old Roberto Gutierrez Cruz, of Lost Knife Road in Montgomery Village, deceased on the ground.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the manner of Cruz’s death a homicide and the cause of his death as multiple gunshot wounds. Three suspects were subsequently identified and charged in the case.

In the course of their investigation, detectives determined that Reyes-Martinez was involved in concealing the gun after the murder the murder. Although he was a minor at the time of the incident, he has been charged as an adult. Police have declined to release his mugshot, however.

Damascus homicide suspect charged with RIdge Road shooting death

Damascus homicide suspect
Francisco A. Trujillo
Montgomery County Police detectives have charged the suspect in the early morning murder of Mario Alberto Perez in a Damascus home. Officers and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue personnel responded to the scene in the 24600 block of Ridge Road (MD 27), after receiving a 911 call at 12:38 AM Monday morning.

Responders found Perez suffering from a gunshot wound to the torso on the home's main level. He died at the scene despite efforts to save him.

Francisco A. Trujillo, 35, of the 24600 block of Ridge Road in Damascus, was taken into custody at the scene. Trujillo has now been charged with first-degree murder, and is being held without bond. Detectives say Trujillo invited Perez, of no confirmed address, to his home. An argument ensued between the two, and police allege Trujillo then shot Perez.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Cafe Deluxe closes in Gaithersburg (Photos)

Cafe Deluxe has closed in Gaithersburg. Located in the Rio/Washingtonian Center, the restaurant was usually crowded and had popular boardwalk seating overlooking the water. The chain's other locations remain open.

Cafe Deluxe opened at Rio in November 2011. I'm personally disappointed, because this was one of my favorite restaurants at Rio, serving one of my favorite DC-area dishes, their Chicken Pot Pie. Fortunately, they still have their other locations.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Woodfield Commons approved in Damascus despite 100% resident opposition

Yesterday was a historic day for the Montgomery County Planning Board. Two unanimous votes by the body signaled authoritatively that the County is walking away from its self-proclaimed commitment to "smart growth." In approving the Westbard Sector Plan, the Board endorsed transit-oriented density for a location not served by any form of rapid transit. It is a plan with heights and density written as if the Purple Line was being extended to Westbard, but without actually extending it. And in rural Damascus, the Board approved what will be the tallest building in town, and with minimal parking spaces in an entirely-auto-dependent exurban town.

How do you know you have a dysfunctional Planning Board? When two agenda items on the same day both end with citizens interrupting and shouting at the Board. And the Board Chair bickering back and forth with them in response. How do things unravel to that unruly point? Maybe because in both cases, the Board just completely ignored the residents' opinions, and approved two items for which there was either 99% resident opposition (Westbard), or 100% resident opposition (Woodfield Commons).

If anyone still harbored any doubt as to whether developers literally control Montgomery County, that wishful thinking was quickly dispelled Thursday.

We no longer need to hold Planning Board meetings, or have a public Sector Plan process. Kabuki theater good cop/bad cop shows aside, everything has gone exactly as the developers wanted in both cases. Any public input unacceptable to the developers was simply disregarded.

Westbard passed with the excessive height and density, no enforceable protection for gas stations or mom-and-pop businesses, not a single highway capacity improvement, and a last-minute affordable housing dump on the Little Falls Library site. How much of the County's right-of-way plans, land grabs next to the Capital Crescent Trail ,and intriguingly-vague plans for certain parts of the River Road industrial area south of the road relate to secret plans to extend the Purple Line - and perhaps even dump a rail yard there - should tax the minds of the greatest conspiracy theorists in Montgomery County for the next decade.

There's no point getting excited, of course. There will be absolutely nothing you can do to stop it. Call your Councilman? He or she is likely funded by the developer, and his or her Chief of Staff may have even tweeted approval of the developer before the public has even had a chance to weigh in (yes, that actually happened). Plead with staff? If the staff responds to resident concerns, the Board simply puts the offending proposal back into the plan prior to the vote. Testify at the Board? Sure. Talk on. But ask the folks who took off from work, and drove literally the length of the County through the rain to testify yesterday, how successful you will be.

Without the fig leaf of the Purple Line (Chevy Chase Lake) or even a MARC line (Kensington), the Board made history in ramming through high-density at Westbard, which is far beyond the consensus walking distance from Metro smart growth experts would recommend.

In Damascus, the Board not only approved a 55' building in a rural area, but one that will offer 89% affordable units. No, that's not a typo. In 2015, the Board approved a Great Society-style housing project widely discredited in urban areas today. In a rural area, where those low-income residents will find little (weekdays) to no (the sole bus connection, Ride On Route 90, doesn't run on weekends) transit, few job opportunities, and no social services. Makes perfect sense, right? Meanwhile, in downtown Bethesda, luxury condos "from the several millions" are rising in corridor previously set aside for affordable housing.

After getting more than an earful from residents, 100% of which opposed Woodfield Commons, several commissioners pleaded impotence. We can't do anything to stop it, they said, because the proposal is consistent with the current Damascus master plan.

Except, it isn't. That plan designated two properties in the "town center" for a development such as Woodfield Commons. But Woodfield Commons is proposed for neither of those sites.

The plan said that views of the surrounding rural and agricultural area could not be obstructed. Resident measurements found that Woodfield Commons will indeed obstruct views.

Resident Ron Turner noted that the zoning of the site permits 78 units; 84 have been proposed.

And, as Commissioner Amy Presley noted despite ultimately voting to approve Woodfield Commons, developments of that type were specifically required by the plan to provide some benefit or enhancement to the existing residents of Damascus, and help make for a livelier downtown. Woodfield Commons is all-residential, and contains no public amenities and no retail.

But wait, there's more.

Anderson stated that the only purview the Board has, is to determine that an application is compliant with not only the master plan, but also consider whether it will too severely impact road and school capacity.

But the data used by staff is clearly false. In a town where it can take several light cycles to get through an intersection, and where traffic snakes all the way out of the "downtown" during rush hour, the Planning Department's traffic gurus say no intersections are failing. It's pick-your-head-off-the-floor-and-screw-it-back-on-disbelief time here, folks. A chart shows that, for over 168 residents, only 30 cars will drive out in the morning, and only 26 return in the evening (should we send out a search party for the missing 4?). With stats like these, who needs laughing gas?

They also say the applicant for Woodfield Commons will only need to provide a school payment at the middle school level, despite the town's crowded, aging schools.

And what about the environmental issues? No issues, staff and the Board said yesterday. But neither they, no the applicant, were able to produce a letter from the Maryland Department of the Environment yesterday to prove the state had actually washed their hands of oversight of the wetlands on the property slated to become Woodfield Commons. Did Anderson tenaciously pursue that lapse of documentation, and potential violation of the rules? Nope.
Steep descent from Route 27
into the shopping center;
stream valley lies in the distance
Being very familiar with the site, I am shocked at the assessment by both the Planning Department, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that there is no significant environmental impact for this project. Just to give you an idea of the topography there, look how steep the drop is from the elevation at Route 27 (from which the above photo was taken) into the shopping center property. Now consider that beyond that shopping center, directly across the street from it, is another steep drop off into a stream valley. Wouldn't the runoff heading down toward that stream be tremendous and high in velocity during rainstorms? There are wetlands on the property, as well as wetland buffers.

You tell me. You tell me.

Or let the residents of Damascus tell you.

Jason Goldsmith testified that Maryland law says when you have a steep slope next to a wetland, there are certain things that cannot be done.

The broad consensus? This is simply more low-income housing than the town can bear. Damascus Gardens, one of two low-income housing sites in the Damascus area, generated more than 200 calls for police this year alone, said resident George Boyce. That "troubled community" has experienced shootings, homicides, sexual assaults, open-air drug markets and even prostitution investigations - all within 500 yards of Damascus High School (even worse, Damascus Elementary is diagonally across the street from the high school).

Jim Brown, a 20-year Damascus resident, said Damascus Gardens alone requires off-duty officers to patrol it 26 hours a week. Even after 200 police officers raided the Damascus Gardens complex (can you imagine this in "wealthy" Montgomery County?), and 18 suspects were charged with felony distribution, the level of police calls remains just as high.

I can tell you that, directly across the street from Damascus Gardens, the single-family home neighborhood has erected forboding Neighborhood Watch signage that says the tag numbers of all vehicles entering the neighborhood are being reported to the police. That level of crime and aggressive signage to combat it have to take a toll on property values.

A Metropolitan Police Department officer who lives in Damascus said she grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn, and saw the worst at an early age: murders, shootings and drugs in her own housing complex. "There is a relationship between low-income housing and crime. I've lived it," she said. She noted that she had chosen to live in Damascus, and drives two-and-half hours each day, to escape those kind of neighborhoods.

"You cannot deny that these types of developments often bring crime," argued Jim Mullally, who lives only a block from Damascus Gardens. Calling such public housing "an antiquated policy tool," he recommended commissioners take the Woodfield Commons proposal and "put it into a housing policy museum where it belongs."

Testimony became emotional at times. A Damascus High School student who had to miss class, and get a ride from a teacher, just to get to the afternoon public hearing, broke down in tears at the end of his testimony. "We are nothing more than a rock on the railroad tracks of your [proposal], just waiting to be shoved aside," he said. Planning Director Gwen Wright brought tissues over to the distraught young man as the Board moved on to the next speaker. "Damascus is our home, our community, our everything," said resident Gretchen Goldsmith, who described the connection of upcounty growth with the increase in crime, bullying and school safety issues since 2007. Already, school personnel are "gravely overtaxed" meeting the growing challenges, she said. Resident Patty Walker delivered a Powerpoint presentation highlighting the small town charm of Damascus, and how best to preserve it. Her daughter Kelly noted that numerous blended classes on her middle school schedule were reducing the rigor and quality of her education. Longtime resident Pat Fenati recalled her children's "idyllic childhood" growing up when many of the roads were still dirt. "People who move to the country don't want the city to follow them there," she said.

While the testimony was never angry in nature, residents were angered by the end of the meeting when the Board made clear that, despite 100% of testimony having opposed the project, it was going to go ahead and approve it.

If the Board didn't approve Woodfield Commons, "We will get sued, and we'll lose," Anderson predicted.

Jessica Zuniga, representing developer Conifer, which has partnered with the Housing Opportunities Commission for Woodfield Commons, defended her company's record. "We are an award-winning owner and manager of affordable housing," she said. "I do not believe that we are concentrating poverty with this project."

Anderson moved ahead to the vote. The crowd grew upset. "I'm sorry if that's not satisfactory to you," Anderson said.

"Vistas and the views must be maintained," quoted one resident from the master plan. "There is a're ignoring the master plan," that audience member said as Anderson tried to speak louder over it. "We took testimony for two hours," he replied. "You didn't listen!" someone shouted. "Don't say you're conforming to the master plan, so just admit it please!"

Commissioner Natali Fani-Gonzalez made a motion to approve the project; it and the site plan were approved unanimously.

Residents stormed out, stunned. "You just lost a lot of citizens from your county, damn it! I'm moving," one shouted at the Board. Some were in tears.

Surely an overwhelming turnout, with logical, fact-based opposing arguments, and not a single person testifying in favor of the plan, would have an impact and move the Board to postpone or address the concerns, right?


Anderson seemed to contradict his past arguments in two ways. First, in defending the Board from criticism by "Westbard" residents, Anderson had previously argued that he and the Board were indispensible, and able to make land-use decisions that residents are simply incapable of comprehending the longer-term value of. Now, in claiming impotence, Anderson presents us with a passive body that can only rubber stamp applications (notice every single one was approved yesterday).

Second, Anderson often chastizes people for getting too detailed at the sector plan stage. "This is more of a site plan issue," is the often-heard phrase. Yesterday shot that argument full of holes.

If indeed that idea is true, then it means the people literally have no recourse. We can't request a protection be put in at the Sector Plan writing stage. But if we let it go then, it turns out that when we go to the vaunted site plan stage, we can't ask about it, either. And the Board is supposedly powerless to stop anything at that juncture, Anderson made clear yesterday.

So where exactly does public input have any relevance? Why did residents in Bethesda and Damascus spend hours researching, attending meetings and testifying, only to find what they opposed sailing through to approval.

It's outrageous.