Anacostia restaurateur charged in federal drug-trafficking case

The woman who opened a hip new bar and restaurant this year in Anacostia has been charged in a federal drug-trafficking investigation that tracked 65 kilograms of cocaine from Texas to the doorstep of her office in Fort Washington.

Natasha Dasher, 36, whose Uniontown Bar and Grill has become a popular destination in Southeast Washington, was confronted late last month by federal drug agents who had followed a tractor-trailer carrying the cocaine, about 140 pounds of it, to Fort Washington, according to an affidavit by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent.

(Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST) - Natasha Dasher, who owns Uniontown Bar and Grill in Anacostia, was confronted late last month by federal drug agents who had followed a tractor-trailer carrying about 140 pounds of cocaine from Texas to her Fort Washington office.

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Dasher, who arrived at the office complex shortly after the truck pulled in, confirmed to the agents that the truck driver, Manuel Jesus Robles, had entered her office, according to the affidavit. Dasher provided the agents with a key to the suite, and when they went inside, they found Robles and three large duffel bags containing about $1.5 million, the affidavit says. Robles told agents that 65 kilograms of cocaine could be found in the fuel tank of the truck, according to the affidavit.

Agents seized the money, as well as the cocaine, which was to be divided between Dasher and alleged co-conspirator Derek Anthony Tinsley, the affidavit says.

Dasher, Robles and Tinsley were charged in U.S. District Court in Maryland and Texas with possession with the intent to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine.

On Saturday afternoon, Dasher was not at her Southwest Washington home or at her restaurant. She did not answer at the most current phone number listed for her in public records, and a message could not be left at that number. Mirriam Seddiq, the lawyer listed in court records as representing Dasher, did not return a call placed Saturday seeking comment.

The charges seemed an unlikely turn in the life of Dasher, who has said she returned from Houston to her native Washington two years ago to establish a community hub and help revitalize the District’s historic but long-struggling Anacostia neighborhood.

The restaurant opened in early February to well-chronicled success, drawing crowds of locals with its high-vaulted ceilings, trendy cocktails and a sense of urban style more commonly found in Dupont Circle or the U Street corridor.

Until recently, Dasher showed no signs of being anything but a successful business owner, said Stan Voudrie, the restaurant’s landlord. Uniontown has been thriving, he said. “Business has been very good.”

But Dasher did not pay her rent for November, Voudrie said, the first time she had been late. Voudrie stopped by the restaurant several times in recent weeks to ask about the rent, but staff members told him that Dasher wasn’t available, Voudrie said.

“They kept saying, ‘Oh, yeah, she’s been out sick, she’s been out sick,’ but that didn’t really make sense to me,” he said.

Voudrie recalled Dasher telling him that her husband owned a construction company in Texas, which Voudrie thought explained Dasher’s financial ability to open a new restaurant. “I really had no reason to suspect she wasn’t on the up and up,” Voudrie said.

When Uniontown opened, Dasher was applauded by residents and community organizations for creating an establishment that served as a social meeting place and provided much-needed jobs to Ward 8 residents.

“We have the highest unemployment percentage here, and being able to work and live in the same community is important,” Dasher told The Washington Post in February. “It shows a commitment to a community.”

Business continued as usual Saturday at Uniontown, where the late-afternoon flow of customers was slow. A handful of diners sipped iced tea and beer while watching college football on the restaurant’s flat-screen televisions, and a pair of employees chatted at the granite bar.

Court documents suggest that a deal between Dasher and the U.S. attorney’s office could be in the works. In a letter dated two days after Dasher’s Nov. 1 arrest, the U.S. attorney’s office notified Dasher’s attorney that prosecutors would delay filing an indictment or holding a preliminary hearing so that the two sides could proceed with “negotiations.” Dasher is not in custody but was told to surrender her passport.

James N. Papirmeister, who was listed in court records as Tinsley’s attorney in the case, did not return a call placed Saturday seeking comment. Federal court records did not appear to list an attorney for Robles.

Staff writers Mike DeBonis and Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.

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