WALDORF, Md. (AP) -- Wednesday nights were race nights in Charles County, and among the drivers were a group of men in early 20s who dubbed themselves the UnSeen Cavaliers, named for the Chevy Cavalier car. Their purpose, according to their Web site, was to just ``chill with other Cavalier owners.'' But investigators say the group planned more than just races.
Authorities believe members of the UnSeen Cavaliers burned dozens of homes Dec. 6 in a $10 million arson spree at upscale housing development. In court records made public this week, one of those under arrest said the fires were part of a bid by the UnSeen Cavaliers to become ``bigger and more famous.''
Six men face federal arson charges, and investigators plan to question up to a dozen more people. At least several of those arrested were allegedly members of the UnSeen Cavaliers.
The supposed role of the UnSeen Cavaliers has made the alleged plot appear more complex and less tidy. Over the past several days, investigators have offered several possible motives for the attack, including racism and revenge. With the latest allegations, it appears each of the alleged participants came with his own agenda.
All six young men are white, many of the homeowners at Hunters Brooke are black, and some of the suspects allegedly made racial remarks under interrogation. One of those arrested, a security guard at the construction site, complained that his employer was not sympathetic enough after the death of his infant son. And another defendant was said to have been turned down for a job with the builder.
It is still unclear how organized the UnSeen Cavaliers are or whether all arrested were members. And authorities are still trying to determine if the UnSeen Cavaliers is just a bunch of street racing enthusiasts or a destructive gang.
``It appears right now that it is just a car club, but there is much more work to be done,'' said a law enforcement source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In any case, the plotters allegedly called the fires ``Operation Payback.''
The fires destroyed 10 unfinished houses and damaged 16 other homes. Investigators believe the arsonists tried to burn down 45 houses in Hunters Brooke.
Investigators always believed more than one person was responsible, but as the probe unfolded, they developed more than a dozen suspects to their initial surprise.
Among the six arrested, there are common threads. Some expressed interest in firefighting, and one was a volunteer firefighter. A few were distantly related.
One factor that tied them together was street racing, according to authorities. The men were often among the crowds that met up in the parking lot, sometimes moving to shopping centers when police chased them away. Young drivers would show off their cars, set up races and, sometimes, get into fights.
``We all used to meet at Wendy's and listen to people talk about how fast their cars were,'' said April Wilkinson, 19. Her boyfriend, Michael ``White Mike'' Gilbert was arrested Monday.
``We were all into street racing,'' said Stephanie Cave, a friend of Gilbert's. ``It's not a gang. It's a couple of guys in a group who just take care of each other. They don't go out beating up people or causing trouble.''
Papers filed in federal court identify another one of those under arrest, Patrick Walsh, as the leader of the UnSeen Cavaliers, although his attorney denies he headed a gang. The documents say that Walsh owns a purple Chevy Cavalier and that a dog detected flammable accelerants in the car when it was searched.
According to court papers, Gilbert, Walsh, Michael Everhart, Roy McCann and others plotted the crimes as early as August.
According to statements Everhart made after his arrest, the group talked about ``how they wanted to burn things down and light fires.'' McCann told investigators that Walsh said he was going to ``go off and just start blowing stuff up.''