The Los Angeles County district attorney brought new charges Tuesday against two men whose arrests last month allegedly broke open a plot to attack National Guard recruitment centers, synagogues and other sites in Southern California.
During a 15-minute appearance in Torrance Superior Court, Levar Haney Washington, 25, and Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21, arrested in connection with a spate of gas station stickups, were accused of 10 counts of robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery. Washington, who served time at a state prison in Folsom, was also charged with one count of illegally possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. These charges replaced the nine counts of robbery and one count of attempted robbery in an earlier complaint.
The new charges come amid an FBI-led investigation into a suspected plot by the two men -- and others -- to go on a shooting rampage at any of more than two dozen locations in the area. The alleged plot, according to sources close to the investigation, has links to a group of Islamic extremists in California prisons -- including one in Folsom -- known as Jamiyyat ul Islam Is Saheeh, or Assembly of Authentic Islam.
No terror-related charges have been filed. The investigation has involved more than 200 agents, Los Angeles detectives and counterterrorism officials with other federal, state and local agencies. To date, sources say, they have found no links between the local men and any overseas terrorist organization. Instead, they say, the alleged plot seems to have been designed by American-born followers of the prison-based group.
At Tuesday’s appearance, Judge Thomas R. Sokolov granted a prosecution request for DNA samples from both men so investigators could continue to compile evidence in the gas station robberies. The request was granted despite concerns expressed by attorneys for Washington and Patterson that federal authorities might attempt to use the evidence in their own investigation without having to seek a new court order.
The two men were arrested July 5 during police surveillance related to the gas station robberies. Police began staking the men out after Patterson allegedly dropped his cellphone at one of the stations.
After the arrests, investigators went to Washington’s South Los Angeles apartment and allegedly found bulletproof vests, knives and documents suggesting that a terrorist attack had been planned for some time, sources say. The shooting spree, authorities say, could have begun as early as Sept. 11, the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and near Washington, D.C.
The investigation, authorities say, has determined that Patterson, who has no criminal record, was just days away from picking up an AR-15 assault rifle he had purchased at a South Bay sporting goods store. Records and interviews suggest that he and Washington already had a double-barrel shotgun that was allegedly used in the robberies.
The new criminal complaint filed Tuesday alleges that about 3 p.m. July 5, Patterson left Washington’s apartment on West 27th Street carrying a duffel bag that he placed in the trunk of a car. Three hours later, the complaint says, Patterson drove that car and picked up Washington at an address on Venice Boulevard.
Later that night, according to the complaint, the two men drove to Orange County and parked their car across the street from a Chevron gas station. About 9:40 p.m., the complaint says, Patterson got out of the car dressed in a black trench coat, hood and mask. He then took off the coat and mask and placed them in the trunk before driving to another gas station at South Brookhurst Road and Orangethorpe Avenue in Fullerton.
Washington then left the car, scaled a nearby wall, and, wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, robbed a clerk at gunpoint with the shotgun, the complaint says.
Washington and Patterson have pleaded not guilty in connection with the robberies. They remain in Men’s Central Jail with bail set at $2 million and $1 million, respectively.
Their next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 14.
Although they are aware of the highly publicized federal investigation, Patterson’s attorney, Winston McKesson, and Washington’s lawyer, Deputy Alternate Public Defender Jerome Haig, told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing that authorities had given them no evidence of terrorist activity involving their clients.
Nearly a month after the arrests of Washington and Patterson, federal authorities took Hammad Riaz Samana, 21, of Inglewood into custody in connection with the ongoing terrorism investigation. Sources say he first came to the attention of authorities during the surveillance by Torrance police of the two suspected gas station robbers. They also say he and the other two men attended the same mosque in Inglewood.
A Pakistani national, Samana remains at the Metropolitan Detention Center downtown on an unspecified charge. His attorney has declined to comment on the case.
Sources say the investigation has also focused on two prisoners in Folsom: Kevin Lamar James, 29, and his onetime cellmate, Victor Martinez, 37.
James, a convicted armed robber from Gardena, was allegedly instrumental in designing the purported plot that would begin Sept. 11, sources say.
Records and interviews show that James entered state prison in 1996 after he was convicted in Los Angeles County of second-degree robbery.
Martinez, of Oakland, was convicted in 1999 of attempted murder and is serving a 40-year sentence at the prison in Folsom. He previously served three years in prison for purchasing and possessing cocaine.
Times staff writer Jenifer Warren contributed to this report.