[After you read the following, you can find more on this topic at this post, a week later]

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This is what “blight” looks like from the house across the street, and this is how it is allowed to happen. (click on photos for larger images)

For all of you who don’t have firsthand familiarity with the illegal alien problem in Northern Virginia, let me share a true-life story which might help paint the picture of what has been happening here in Sterling for the past five to seven years. In sum, I believe segments of our government at every level are at war with the legal residents of our nation, an economic war conducted on behalf of powerful business interests, a war that most citizens don’t even realize has already been declared on them.

I am going to relate this tale about Sterling to demonstrate what has gone wrong at the micro level – because the macro-level issues have been so thoroughly politicized that most people who are not on the front lines can’t make heads or tails of the controversy. Facts about border security and what the federal government is or isn’t doing are remote and opaque. Facts about what is happening at the neighborhood level are much easier to grasp.

In most American communities, where the rubber hits the road on the illegal immigration problem lies in the actions of three local government functions: Public safety, business licensing and zoning enforcement. We have covered the first two in substantial depth on this blog over the years (check here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) We’ve touched on zoning, but it is time to probe a little further.

When we turn over this particular log, as most Sterling residents know and which was amply testified to at the May 14 community meeting, the reality is not pretty. Both the Sheriff’s Office and the Zoning Administration division received abysmally low grades from local residents.

This was no major surprise to me.

From my personal experience with filing zoning violation complaints in Loudoun County for the past two-plus years, I believe the Zoning Administration division of the Department of Building and Development is worse than ineffective. From my vantage point, I believe this particular section of the county government is, like Robert Mugabe’s Ministry of Justice, “part of the problem.”

Frankly, I don’t understand why our Department of Building and Development has not yet been investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), because it appears to me this department is engaged in violations of Title 8, Section 1324 of the U.S. Code:

(iii) knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, conceals, harbors, or shields from detection, or attempts to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building or any means of transportation…

A harsh assessment? Yes, because this is a very bad situation. From what I can see, and from what many other Sterling residents have said, this is government-sponsored community degradation.

The problem is not who they are, but what they do

During an interview with the Washington Post a couple weeks ago, the reporter was surprised to hear me say that Loudoun County’s focus on “quality of life” problems was just as welcome as the previous board of supervisors’ focus on illegal immigration per se. The previous board investigated cutting off publicly funded benefits for illegal aliens and imposing restrictions on illegal businesses; the new board is attempting to crack down on overcrowding and badly-kept properties. Both approaches, in my view, are different angles of attack on the same problem.

The reporter asked: “But if they clean up these houses by forcing them to comply with community standards, the residents STILL might be here illegally. Isn’t that a problem for groups like Help Save Loudoun?” I replied: “If the residents are living like everyone else, then no one would care if they were here illegally or not. I don’t think any Help Save Loudoun members would take time off from their lives to advocate against people who follow the rules and happen to be here illegally.” If it is one family in one house like everyone else, and they follow the rules, who cares?

What is happening here is an underground economy which depends on illegal workers living in our neighborhoods on a residency model where formerly single-family homes are transformed into boarding houses. The residents are migrant workers who have no buy-in to the mores of American society or any of our community rules and regulations. The owners of the properties are able to subsidize their mortgages by renting out floor space, which can be a very profitable endeavor and which is explicitly forbidden by law. Furthermore, many of these workers are employed by unregistered subcontracting firms – some also having financial interest in the housing arrangements – businesses being run from homes – and in which the construction equipment along with the personnel are quartered at the respective residences. They don’t have to maintain a storefront, they can operate off the tax rolls, and the owners don’t give a rat’s patoutie whether they adhere to neighborhood customs. Consequently, if you drive through Sterling in the evening or on the weekend, you will find what used to be normal neighborhoods transformed into industrial parks.

If the actions of the new BOS result in a true crackdown on any of these violations, the whole economic house of cards will fall down. If you can no longer keep a legion of migrant workers at your property, and you have to comply with community standards for the upkeep of your property, and you can’t run a business from it, the business operation is going to have to leave because you will no longer be able to provide the cheap labor which is the central cog in the illegal machinery.

This may be politically incorrect to say, but it is the absolute truth which everyone in Sterling already knows: While we cannot say who is legal or illegal, we can definitely make certain observations about the newcomers which leads us to conclude they are probably illegal aliens.

- If they flagrantly break the rules, including zoning regulations and other laws, and show no interest in conforming to community standards, they give the appearance of not being on the track to seeking citizenship but appear to be merely migrant workers with no investment in the community.

- If they do not speak English they certainly do not appear to be on the track to seeking citizenship.

- And, most importantly, if they are always given a free pass by certain government entities for violations that would certainly land legal residents in trouble, they appear to be operating under the corrupt umbrella of official latitude which has been the cornerstone of the massive problem in eastern Loudoun County. When certain government agencies investigate and consistently exonerate behavior which every local resident knows is unlawful, the citizens know the fix is in.

When all three of the above conditions apply, the burden is on the newcomers to at very least show proof of legal residency.

And if this seems even mildly controversial, please just focus on the first criteria: If you are breaking the law, the onus is on you to prove legal residency. In 99.9% of cases, the suspected illegal aliens are living in illegal housing and working at illegal businesses where the vehicles are not licensed and equipment is illegally housed at residential properties. They may also be throwing trash out in the yard and turning the property into a public pig sty, but overcrowding and running a business out of the home are nearly always the core components, which any reasonably competent government agency should be able to quickly identify and prosecute.

Here in Loudoun County, unfortunately, “reasonably competent” is not even on the horizon.

Something rotten in the Loudoun County government

If you see a violation of the zoning laws in Loudoun County, the only way you can report is via the Zoning Violation Form. You complete the form, and then fax, mail or hand carry it to the Zoning Administration division offices. I have personally been familiar with dozens of such filings over the past two years.

Often, legal residents are reticent to submit the complaint forms because they are afraid of retaliation. Many of those most impacted by the illegal alien influx are the elderly, female citizens, or generally people who shrink from confrontations. In the typical scenario, a formerly single-family home changes ownership, and a large number of non-English speaking male, Latino construction workers moves into the house. Neighbors who are retired, or housewives, or families with daughters, observe with consternation the new gathering of young adult men who let the property go to pot and who act in ways that make the neighbors uncomfortable. Like, in my neighborhood, hanging out in the front yard, staring at wives and daughters and shouting things like “Hey, Baby” at women walking their dogs.

When I first got involved with Help Save Loudoun, one of my initial tasks was to educate members of the community on how to submit zoning violations. The number one concern I heard was that residents did not want their names to appear on forms, because in the past when complaints had been submitted there were instances of intimidation and acts of retaliation such as minor vandalism. The people who filed the complaints believed strongly that their names were given to the offenders by Loudoun County Zoning Administration workers.

So as one lady told me: “After I filed the complaint, the men glared at us in the morning when I drove my daughter to school.”

Back in 2006, therefore, I began submitting complaint forms on behalf of people in my neighborhood, because I did not care if anyone knew I filed the reports. A number of other Help Save Loudoun members did the same thing. Over time, I learned about the adjudication of many dozens of zoning complaint cases throughout Sterling.

If I had to summarize the illegal immigration problem in Sterling, it would be as follows: The crux of the problem is that illegal aliens have been moving into eastern Loudoun County on a massive scale, and the citizens of Loudoun are afraid to report even the most egregious violations of the law because they think they will become victims of retaliation. Neither the Sheriff’s Office nor the Zoning Administration division will do anything on their own – they do no pro-active enforcement whatsoever – and therefore the problem only continues to get worse.

It absolutely amazed me that the only possible avenue to address the hundreds of illegal alien fortresses which had become established throughout Sterling was for individual citizens to file complaints, and that these filings could not be kept confidential. After all, the complaint form specifically says if you check the box to retain anonymity your name will not be divulged to the offending parties.

In case after case, I learned that people who filed zoning complaints felt their identities had been disclosed. My neighbor three houses down had submitted a complaint about a house across the street, where the people appeared to be running an illegal day care facility from the home (in addition to housing a bunch of workers). Zoning Administration investigated, and said there was no day care … and after the investigation my neighbor noticed that when he came home from work, the people picking up their kids from the “nonexistent” day care waited down the street until he went into his house, before continuing to the house in question to pick up their children.

From the reports I received, it appeared that in the majority of cases, Loudoun County Zoning Administration staff seemed to have revealed the names of those who submitted complaints to the offenders. Maybe this is anecdotal, and maybe the people I talked with were not representative of the largest share of the Zoning Administration’s work – but talk about a chilling effect on the only possible way for citizens to report violations … violations which the County would never otherwise investigate.

On the evening of September 19, 2007, during a board of supervisors’ Committee of the Whole meeting at the Loudoun County government building, I had a chance to speak with Terry Wharton, Director of the Department of Building and Development. I told him there was a big problem with the way his agency handled zoning complaints, and I rattled off descriptions of numerous instances where zoning complaint forms had been filed and afterwards the complainants’ identities seemed to have been revealed to the alleged violators.

Mr. Wharton replied: “Well, they could get that information anyway from a Freedom of Information Act request.”

Think about this: In other words, the head of the department is of the opinion that giving out the identities of those who file complaints is no big deal! I wonder if that trickles down to his staff.

Obviously, anyone can get almost anything from a FOIA request, but that does not mean the government has to make it easier to hurt the citizens of Loudoun.

So this tells us all we need to know about how our local government thinks about us, and the fact that Loudoun County is taking the side of the offenders. Terry Wharton’s attitude of giving the benefit of the doubt to the illegals is exemplified in the performance of his zoning inspection personnel. The game is rigged against the law-abiding citizens of Loudoun County.

I gave up on filing any zoning complaints last year, because from what I saw the department was worse than ineffective, and told some of my fellow Sterling residents that filing complaints was a waste of time. Some of them continued to file complaints and have told me of the resolution.

A little over a year ago, the Loudoun County Zoning Administration division was reduced in personnel to having only one Spanish-speaking inspector, a woman by the name of Juanita Toriello. By way of comparison, when the town of Herndon next-door, with 10% of Loudoun County’s population, decided to address their zoning problems, they hired 8 Spanish-speaking inspectors.

For quite a long time, all of the significant complaints in Sterling have gone to Juanita, because virtually all of these cases have fit the profile described above – a large number of Hispanic men moving into a formerly single-family house.

Juanita has been identified as follows:

Juanita Toriello works for Loudoun County as well as continuing to help immigrants though part-time work for an immigration law firm.

Maybe it is no small wonder, then, that of the cases I have seen Juanita has exonerated, excused, given a pass to pretty much EVERY SINGLE ONE.

Let me be clear on this: For all I know, Juanita has prosecuted every case I am not aware of and has ensured all of THOSE cases have been rectified according to Virginia law.

But in every case I am aware of, Juanita has let just about every single one of them off the hook. I can’t recall a single case that has resulted in enforcement, excepting one in which she maintained that an illegal kitchen that had been built in a basement had been removed. Sure, this is anecdotal and only my personal impression, but a drive around Sterling will demonstrate very clearly the Zoning Administration division has accomplished exactly bupkiss in terms of actual zoning enforcement.

A case study: House A

Let’s get into some specifics. Across the street from my house is a house that has followed the pattern that many, many people I know in Herndon and eastern Loudoun have said precisely exemplifies what has been happening for the past seven years in this area. It shows why the illegals are a problem, and it shows why our government is impossibly corrupt and ineffectual.

I’ll just call it “House A” so we don’t impinge on anyone’s privacy. It is right across the street from my house. If I had more time, I could easily write a longer post dealing with houses “B” and “C” and “D” on my block, because we have illegals all over the place on this street. We would be talking about events all within eight houses from mine. From my front yard, I could throw a baseball and hit every one of the properties. But I only have so much free time, so House A is all we can deal with tonight.

So here’s how it happens, folks.

On April 3rd, 2008, a bunch of new people moved into the house across the street.

It was a single family home, but suddenly a whole bunch of construction workers moved in. I sent a call out to friends, and they almost to a tee described what would be happening because they had seen it over and over in their own neighborhoods in Herndon and Sterling.

Large numbers of men and construction equipment showed up simultaneously. There were 5-7 pickup trucks and various pieces of heavy equipment parked on the street every night. From a normal neighborhood street, the front of my house changed to a semi-industrial park. I called the Sheriff’s Office about the heavy duty air compressor parked in the street; the deputies tagged it, and the equipment was moved into the driveway. (Funny how the violators always seem to find out that commercial equipment in the street is under the Sheriff’s jurisdiction, but in the driveway it becomes Zoning’s jurisdiction, and Zoning is much less responsive.)

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Nights and weekends, for periods of time the property becomes like the Port of Baltimore: Vehicles and heavy equipment moving in and out, lots of people being unloaded, equipment being unloaded. Trucks are zooming down the street, metal clanking, people yelling, most nights of the week.

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The guy next door submitted a complain to Zoning. Juanita Toriello “investigated” and reported there were no violations at the property, that there was a “family of six and two unrelateds”.

This is significant because it demonstrates the utter BS our government – specifically Terry Wharton and Juanita Toriello – feeds us: By the letter of the law, a “family” and “two unrelated” is what is exactly allowed and coincidentally a substantial number of Zoning exonerations fit this schema. “A family of XYZ and two unrelateds”.

In this case, the “family” would have been six of the young adult men living there, and the “unrelateds” would have been two more of the young adult men. My neighbor who submitted the complaint, and was incredulous about her report that this industrial operation was a “family”, was told my Juanita “I can’t check their DNA.”

In other words, “Shut up, you idiot citizen.” And this has been the pattern. If we report a day care, the result is “it is not a day care.” If we report a boarding house, the result is “technically this is not a boarding house.”

And let me point out here that almost every single case I have seen investigated by Juanita has resulted in complete exoneration for the accused parties. I have not seen one single overcrowding or commercial vehicle violation fixed by the Loudoun County government. To repeat, maybe Juanita closed every other case satisfactorily, but it does seem strange that her office has such a perfect record of ineffectiveness on the many cases I know about.

So if you want to know why Sterling looks so screwed up, follow the government investigations. Follow the work product of the Loudoun County Department of Building and Development staff. Why the heck have not Kirby Bowers or ICE looked into the incredibly ineffectual job these people have been doing?

As Greg Stone stated in his letter to Leesbug Today: “The Loudoun County Zoning Department is broken and in desperate need of repair.” This was the overwhelming sentiment at the May 14 community meeting. The board of supervisors should force Kirby Bowers to make a serious change. My suggestion was: Fire Terry Wharton and Juanita Toriello, and bring in representives from Herndon’s Zoning Enforcement division to show Loudoun County how to enforce the law. Herndon drastically reduced its caseload of overcrowded houses, so obviously it can be done.

Money talks

Why is this being allowed to happen? I can’t say for sure. What I can say is what I observed, which at least in the case of House A points to the policies of a certain large corporation currently doing business in eastern Loudoun County.

First it was the air compressor in the street, which quickly became the air compressor parked in the driveway every night, and all of the pickup trucks parked in front of our houses. It took approximately two seconds of sleuthing to figure out who all these construction workers were ultimately employed by:

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Of course, the spools of bright orange cable were another giveaway. During the day you can see the air compressors, pickup trucks and spools of cable around Sterling neighborhoods where Verizon is in the process of laying it’s new FIOS cable, after work you could see them parked in our neighborhood.

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Other trucks at these work sites carried another insignia, that of a company called “Ivy.”

You could google “Verizon,” “Ivy,” and “illegal alien” and learn that there is in fact some recent history down in Hampton Roads. I will save you the trouble:

A contractor hired by Verizon Communications to install fiber-optic lines is blaming a subcontractor for employing 14 suspected illegal immigrants who were detained by federal authorities earlier this week.

Ivy H. Smith Co., with a local office on Curlew Drive, issued a statement Thursday saying it has opened an investigation into the hiring practices of its subcontractors.

The Ivy subcontractor got prison time for using illegal workers. More here.

Punishment of Verizon and Ivy H. Smith? Not so much. So my initial take on what is happening in Sterling was, “these companies sure did not learn their lesson.”

But on second thought, I realized: They actually learned the lesson perfectly. Keeping the illegal workers a couple levels away by using subcontractors of your subcontractors means you can get away with anything.

Resolution

Now you may be wondering what makes me think the Verizon subcontractor operating from the house across the street was employing illegals.

Let’s start with the last two of my test rules: Don’t speak English? Could not tell for sure of all the workers, but never heard a word of English in two months. Inconclusive, though likely the rule fit.

Free pass from local authorities? Gosh yes. Check out the photos below, recall Juanita’s final decision, and the fact neither Zoning nor any other county department lifted a finger about any of the following.

Breaking rules? Yes, they broke all sorts of rules, very flagrantly. Oh, did they ever. Of the five to seven vehicles operating from there for the roughly two month period, none had Loudoun County stickers, and most had out of state plates. The house was definitely a boarding house, as the “family” of six adult men actually changed as more men showed up, different overnight vehicles came and went, and groups of workers were often ferried in and out in a variety of different vehicles from week to week. Even if by some crazy anomaly all the workers were legal, the subcontractor was breaking numerous laws.

There were all kinds of subtleties that indicated what was going on – too miniscule for our crack employees at the Department of Building and Development to notice, apparently, but which anyone with a brain could pick up on in an instant. Here was the scene from a couple weekends ago:

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Men and equipment being dropped off for the day.house_a_june_7_street_truck_sm.jpg
More men being dropped off.

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Hey-oh, here comes the heavy equipment. “Family of six and two unrelated.”

Just in case you can’t read the sign on that backhoe trailer:
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And the second compressor comes home for the night.

Still on the topic of “broken rules,” notice the window screen busted out so the window could be used as an entrance. What you can’t see so well are the empty Corona cases around the front yard, the fact the grass was over a foot high, and the pile of several trash bags next to the front stoop. On the side of the house, in front of the backyard fence, was a pile of around 10 large trash bags and various construction-related trash. This latter is what finally made me contact the police. The house had never had trash pickup since April 3, and there was the evidence that trash was piling up.

Although I have been harshly critical of the Sheriff’s Office on this blog and even in this post, something happened a couple weeks ago to slightly change my perspective, and that is why I bothered to place that call. (Was NOT going to waste my breath on Zoning, however). A friend told me that there was one Sheriff’s deputy who occasionally worked in Sterling who seemed to take an interest in what was happening here. I contacted him, told him there was a troublesome situation developing in the house across the street.

He showed up on the first weekend in June, the day after several of the photos above were taken. When the deputy arrived, one of my neighbors was in the process of mowing the lawn at House A – rather pissed off, I might add – so the deputy talked to my neighbor, then knocked on the door to the house and talked to one of the residents. After about 20 minutes, the deputy came over and talked to me, and informed me that in the back yard of the house there were something like 30 – 50 large trash bags laying in the back yard and that the back deck was also filled up with trash bags. So the trash we could see from the street was simply the overflow.

Just a family of six and two unrelated. Thank you, Loudoun County government.

The deputy also told me the resident said they were all being evicted because the house was in foreclosure and that everyone would be gone the following week. So what Terry Wharton and Juanita Toriello could not accomplish, reality did. Apart from the fact that when this house is sold by the bank it is likely to reduce our property values even further, the story has ended on a more or less happy note in that we no longer have the Port of Baltimore across the street.

Of course, the Verizon FIOS digging in Sterling is far from completed, and I strongly doubt the subcontractor who was working out of House A got himself a warehouse to keep all the equipment, so I would bet the equipment and illegal workers have simply been moved to another neighborhood in the Sterling area.

Well, not all the equipment. This photo was taken two hours ago (tonight, June 23).

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Yep, the Verizon cable truck is still parked there every night, totally illegally.

Is there by chance any county agency interested in the fact that Verizon equipment is being stored on residential property? Contact me and I can probably help you track down the above illegal item. We’ll start the search from my driveway and … we’ll be on our quarry real quick like.

But my faith in the Sheriff’s Office has increased dramatically. We know there is at least one deputy who cares about our neighborhood, and just this afternoon I received an e-mail from our esteemed Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio reporting that Sheriff’s deputies had temporarily shut down Pepe’s “restaurant” in our local shopping center. Pepe’s is trouble central, responsible for all kinds of problems – but that is a post for another day. Suffice it to say, I am going to keep an open mind on Sheriff Steve Simpson from here on out. Maybe at least one arm of the local government is no longer going to write off Sterling as unsalvageable.

I have to wonder why our Treasurer and our Commissioner of the Revenue, not to mention our Commonwealth’s Attorney, have not taken a more active interest in this unfolding scandal. The vehicles are all supposed to be registered, and these subcontractors are probably supposed to have business licenses to work here. It looks like what happened in Hampton Roads is in full bloom in eastern Loudoun. And where is Virginia’s Attorney General, for goodness sakes?!

I know someone who works with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to whom I will forward this info, and needless to say I will send it to ICE. I don’t expect any of them will do anything, however. A few ruined neighborhoods are probably viewed as a small price to pay for a world class fiber-optic network – collateral damage, if you will.