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Man pleads guilty to string of regional robberies

Sometimes, he wore a business suit, wig and sunglass. Other times, it was a flowing white robe and headdress. A fake goatee -- and even a fake nose -- rounded out the ensemble.

But Andualem Tesema Kusa made one critical mistake when he donned these disguises during a string of robberies throughout Northern Virginia and Maryland: he carried, and sometimes fired, a revolver. That, court documents said, will land him in prison for at least 35 years.

Kusa, 27, pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria in the robberies or attempted robberies of at least eight businesses in Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince William counties and Alexandria.

The businesses, including banks, convenience stores and check cashing stores, were hit during a spree from Aug. 21 to Sept. 3. Court documents said Kusa got away with between $400 and $1,900 at each successful job.

The Falls Church man pleaded guilty to one count of using and carrying a firearm in a crime of violence and another count of also brandishing and discharging the weapon.

Federal gun charges often carry stiff penalties, and Kusa faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years in prison, with a maximum life term, when he is sentenced March 19, prosecutors said.

Court documents cited at least four accomplices in the capers. No one else has been charged, but federal officials said the investigation is continuing.

In one of the first robberies, a man wearing a business suit, wig and sunglasses entered the Check Cash Depot on Columbia Pike in Arlington on the afternoon of Aug. 21. He pretended to fill out a Western Union form, then asked a teller to use the bathroom, according to an affidavit signed by Victor Castro, a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and filed in court.

When the teller refused, the man produced a note demanding cash from a leather portfolio. The teller sounded a silent alarm, and the man took a small revolver from his waist, pushed it into the cash slot and fired it, the affidavit said. No one was injured.

Arlington and Fairfax police called in the ATF, and on Aug. 22 Arlington police released a photo of a wigged man trying to rob a check-cashing store. The man was later identified as Kusa, court documents said.

Officers from a federal-local law enforcement task force then began tailing Kusa, and he was arrested Sept. 3 after a traffic stop in Lorton. A search of his home found a .357 caliber Colt revolver in a closet, court documents said.

It also yielded a business suit, dress shirts, ties, and a bag containing a wig, headdress and fake goatee.

-- Jerry Markon

By Washington Post editors  |  January 6, 2010; 2:50 PM ET
Categories:  Alexandria , Arlington , Fairfax , Falls Church , Jerry Markon , Montgomery , Pr. William , The Region  
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