One of the suspects in the arson that caused $10 million in damage to a Charles County subdivision told authorities that a local gang leader planned the blaze to increase notoriety for the group, known as the "Unseen Cavaliers."
According to an affidavit made public yesterday, suspect Michael Gilbert told authorities that his cousin Patrick Walsh had approached him a month ago with a plan to make the gang - also known as "The Family" - "bigger and more famous." Gilbert identified Walsh as the leader of the gang and said the plan involved setting something on fire.
Gilbert told authorities that on Dec. 3 - three days before the fires - Walsh approached him and said: "Look, you know something's going down, and it will probably be Sunday. I want you to know that this is your last chance. Do you want to be in on it or not?"
Walsh, who most recently lived in Fort Washington, was arrested Saturday and charged with arson. Arrested the same day were 20-year-olds Jeremy Daniel Parady of Accokeek and Michael McIntosh Everhart of Waldorf.
They joined Aaron L. Speed, 21, a security guard at the Hunters Brooke subdivision who was arrested last week in the fires. Speed was denied bail yesterday at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.
On Monday, authorities arrested Gilbert, 21, of Fort Washington, and Roy T. "Brian" McCann, 22, of Waldorf. McCann is on probation after pleading guilty to a previous malicious destruction of property charge in July, according to court records.
The group - which allegedly had been talking about setting the Hunters Brooke fires since August - called their plan "Operation Payback," according to court records.
At least two of the six suspects apparently had grudges against companies affiliated with Hunters Brooke. Speed worked for Security Services of America, the company hired to guard the upscale subdivision, and was angry with his employers because he felt they were not sympathetic after his infant son died in April. Parady, a volunteer firefighter who works for an alarm company, reportedly tried and failed to get a job working on the construction site.
Ten homes were destroyed and 16 damaged in the blaze set in the early-morning hours of Dec. 6. Investigators found that someone had attempted to set fires in 45 homes in the Indian Head subdivision, all of which were in various stages of construction and sold for about a half-million dollars apiece.
U.S. Magistrate Charles B. Day denied a plea to let Speed go free on bail after Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Sanger argued that the nature of the crime showed that Speed poses a continuing risk to the community. "This was not a random or impulsive act of juveniles," she said. "This was a well-planned, organized group of adults."
Public defender John Chamble described the case against Speed as "extremely thin" and accused prosecutors of trying to build it into the "crime of the century." He said the fact nobody was hurt in the fires should be considered a mitigating factor.
"As far as arsons go, quite frankly, if we want to keep it real, this is as benign as it gets," Chamble said.
Sanger noted that most of the people who bought homes in Hunters Brooke are African-American, but backpedaled when Day asked whether the race of the prospective homeowners was relevant. The prosecutor said the government is being conservative about ascribing "ultimate motives" but is continuing to investigate that angle.
In denying bail, Day said the fires posed a great risk to the community and to firefighters who responded to the alarm. After the ruling, Speed - who had watched impassively during the arguments - let his head slump to his chest.
Gilbert, clean-shaven and with a close-cropped buzz cut, wore a long-sleeved undershirt that covered most of what appeared to be extensive tattoos. He answered quietly when asked if he understood the charges against him.
McCann, sporting a thin strip of beard and a sweat shirt, answered with a firm "no, sir" when the judge asked if he was under the influence of any substance or had any mental disorder. Day ordered both men held pending a bail review tomorrow.
Though the affidavit refers to the Unseen Cavaliers as a gang, authorities seemed to still be piecing together details about it. Police in Charles and Prince George's counties said they were not familiar with the group, which appears to have started as a club for aficionados of the popular Chevrolet car.
The Unseen Cavaliers' Web site says the group is open to "any Cavalier owner who is just looking to chill with other Cavalier owners." The site says the group meets every Wednesday night at the parking lot of the Waldorf Wendy's -the same place where authorities say the arsonists met before dawn on the day of the fires to gather their gas cans and carpool to the subdivision.
Gilbert was not the only suspect to point to Walsh as the instigator in the affidavit.
Everhart told investigators that in August he joined Walsh, Gilbert and McCann at the Denny's in Waldorf. The group, according to Everhart, was talking about "how they wanted to burn things down and light fires."
Everhart then said he overheard Walsh talk of burning down homes at Hunters Brooke.
McCann allegedly told authorities of a discussion at Denny's a couple of months ago, where Walsh "stated that he was going to go off and just start blowing stuff up."
McCann also said that an acquaintance called him on the night of the fires and told him Walsh was going to do "something stupid" at the new housing development off Route 225. McCann said he then traveled to Hunters Brooke and saw Walsh, Parady, Speed and Gilbert unloading what appeared to be bottles of laundry detergent.
Walsh has denied any knowledge of or participation in the fires. But on Saturday, police dogs searched his two cars - a Chevrolet Lumina and his purple Cavalier - and found accelerants in both vehicles.
Gilbert's mother, Christine Gilbert, told a reporter yesterday that her son was employed, but declined to say where he worked or what he did. She described him as "a good kid. He's a caring kid."
None of the four Charles County suspects graduated from high school, according to county school officials. McCann dropped out in ninth grade; Everhart and Speed in 10th grade. Parady went to school until 12th grade but withdrew before his graduation.
Sun staff writer Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.