FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Brandon White was given a choice, prosecutors say: If he opted not to testify against a member of the Reccless Tigers street gang who had assaulted him, a gang member would pay him $8,000 for his injuries. But if he testified, he’d be killed.
White testified. Less than three months later, he was dead, his body left in the Virginia woods.
Now federal prosecutors have charged multiple members of the Reccless Tigers with murder in a sweeping new indictment that blames the northern Virginia street gang with two deaths, multiple fire bombings and a sophisticated bi-coastal drug operation that supplied marijuana-laced vape pens to kids throughout the region’s school systems.
The new indictment handed up Thursday night by a federal grand jury in Alexandria charges seven alleged gang members with racketeering, drug conspiracy and other charges. Three of the seven — Peter Le, Young Yoo and Joseph Lamborn — are explicitly charged with White’s murder in February 2019. One of the seven is the gang’s founder, Tony Minh Le.
Lana Manitta, a lawyer for Le, declined comment on the specific allegations but cautioned against a rush to judgment. “Trial is likely a long way off, and we look forward to mounting a defense as to all of the charges against Mr. Le,” she said.
Alan Yamamoto, a lawyer for Lamborn, declined comment. Yoo’s lawyer did not return a call and email.
The indictment also blames unspecified gang members with the April 2016 stabbing death of Ho Lee at a house party in Herndon. According to the indictment, Lee died a few hours after getting into a fight with gang members who punched and stabbed him.
Nearly 20 other gang members and associates have already pleaded guilty in federal court to drug trafficking and other charges, but Thursday’s indictment is the first to include murder charges.
In court papers, the government says Le and another individual founded Reccless Tigers in 2011 out of other predominantly Asian gangs operating in the Centreville area. The indictment says the gang “became well known throughout secondary schools in Northern Virginia as a source of marijuana, vape pens containing THC, and other drugs.”
In charges filed last year against a Hayfork, California farm owner. Joshua Miliaresis, the FBI alleged the gang would induce drug dealers to take on debt when buying drugs from the gang, and then pressure them to work off the debt at Miliaresis’ marijuana farm, which had extensive ties to the gang. The farm was raided in July 2019.
An FBI affidavit says the gang conducted at least a dozen fire bombings targeting people who owed money to the gang.
According to the indictment, White was among the dealers in debt to Reccless Tigers. Prosecutors say gang members assaulted White in the summer of 2018 over the debt, putting him in the hospital and resulting in local charges against White’s attacker.
In the weeks leading up to the attacker’s preliminary hearing, gang members approached White and offered to forgive his debt and pay him $8,000 for his injuries if he refused to testify. They also made threats to harm him and his grandmother if the case went forward.
White did testify at the preliminary hearing. A few months later, White was lured from his grandmother’s home in Falls Church to help broker another drug deal, according to the indictment, when he was kidnapped and driven to the Richmond area.
It was there that gang members fatally shot and stabbed him, according to the indictment.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which is prosecuting the case, has made gang cases a priority, though most of the high-profile cases before this one have involved the MS-13 street gang. Prosecutors are pursuing a death penalty against an MS-13 gang member in one case, and earlier this year used terrorism statutes for the first time against another alleged MS-13 member.