SNOW HILL — Berlin businessman Bill Scott was found guilty this week on three counts of theft scheme after bilking several resort area condo associations out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and was sentenced to a combined 55 years in jail, all but 10 of which were then suspended.
In April, a Worcester County grand jury indicted Scott, president of Scott and Associates, an accounting and property management firm, on six counts of theft and theft scheme for clearing out the accounts of a handful of condominium associations over a two-year period that ended with his confession earlier this year. His victims included, among others, Sunset Village, Assateague House and San Remo condo associations, from which Scott absconded with over $800,000 from various operating and reserve accounts.
The trial began last Wednesday with victim testimony building the case against Scott. Also last Wednesday, a videotaped confession was shown in court, taken last February by Maryland State Police when Scott’s theft scheme began to unravel. On Tuesday, after closing statements by both sides in the case, Judge Richard Bloxom found Scott guilty of two counts of theft scheme over $100,000 and one count of theft scheme from $10,000 to $100,000.
For each of the first two counts, Bloxom sentenced Scott to 20 years with all but 10 years suspended. For the lesser conviction, Bloxom sentenced Scott to 15 years with all but 10 years suspended. The sentences are to be served concurrently, netting Scott a total of 10 years. He was also placed on probation for five years upon release and ordered to pay restitution to the victims, although the details of the latter will be worked out at a later date.
Before finding Scott guilty and ultimately meting out the sentences, Bloxom heard closing statements from prosecutor Steve Rakow and public defender Chastity Simpson. He also heard emotional testimony from Scott and his wife, Elizabeth, who made an impassioned appeal for leniency on her husband’s behalf.
Bloxom related a story from his service as a public defender early in his career about a client he defended who was convicted of theft and received a significant sentence. According to the judge’s story, the convicted man remarked on the disparity of sentences for low-level theft convictions and convictions for so-called “white collar” theft schemes. Bloxom said he was not going to let that recollection be his guide before dropping the hammer on Scott.
“I don’t know what to make of you,” he said. “You speak well and I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of your remorse, but the amount of theft here is staggering and the extent of the deviousness and deceit is staggering.”
Bloxom said the extent of the theft scheme and the amount of money stolen deserved a hefty sentence.
“These schemes are staggering to me,” he said. “It seems to me the sentence the court imposes has to reflect society’s absolute repugnance for the criminal behavior you engaged in.”
In his closing statement, Rakow pointed out Scott’s theft scheme was carried out against victims who had placed their trust in him to handle their money.
“It was easy for Mr. Scott to steal, to make checks out to himself, because he had unfettered access to those accounts,” he said. “We don’t know why he took the money and we don’t know where the money is, we only know he stole over $800,000. Just because one has unfettered access to accounts doesn’t give one the right to steal money from those accounts.”
Last December and early this year, Scott’s vast embezzlement and theft scheme began to come to light after irregularities were detected in his various clients’ books. When the extent of the thefts started to become revealed, Scott went to the Maryland State Police barrack in Berlin and confessed the crimes, setting off the investigation that led to his indictment.
The defense on Tuesday attempted to paint Scott’s confession in a positive light.
“He walked in there apologetic, seeking to make things right,” said Simpson. “He’s still remorseful. He shamed himself and he shamed his entire family, but he chose to walk in and confess and he was not obligated to do that.”
However, Rakow pointed out Scott’s confession came only after the writing was on the wall.
“Only after he was caught did he go to the Maryland State Police to clear his soul,” he said. “Who knows how long it would have going on if he didn’t get caught? He was obviously taking money from one condo association to pay another so the theft would not be uncovered. Only after he was caught was the existence, mechanism and extent of his theft revealed.”
Simpson also attempted to point out not all of the roughly $800,000 was permanently stolen and that Scott had moved funds from one association’s accounts to another in some cases to offset the deficits.
“This is a case of temporary deprivation versus permanent deprivation,” she said. “Much of the money taken was later returned.”
However, Rakow discounted the defense’s effort to somehow minimize the extent of the theft scheme.
“Theft is theft,” he said. “If you steal from me and you put it back, it’s still theft. The evidence shows a pattern of deceit, manipulation, lies and theft. He admitted to stealing the money from the condo associations.”
Simpson also appealed to the judge to consider allowing Scott to take a reported employment position in Baltimore that would allow him to begin paying back the victims rather than sitting in jail.
“With a felony conviction, it will likely be impossible for him to ever get a job in his field, or even McDonalds,” she said. “He has an opportunity for a job in Baltimore where he can live relatively free while he starts to make restitution.”
For her part, Scott’s wife, Elizabeth, said he was a good husband and father and urged the judge to consider leniency in the case.
“He’s a good man that made bad choices,” she said. “I give him credit for trying to make things right. His conscience led him to the State Police to try to make things right. He’s a good person who can benefit society, my family and our child more by being allowed to work and begin to repay this. Over the course of his lifetime, he has done far more good than the wrongs he had done recently.”
Scott was given the opportunity to speak on his behalf and delivered an emotional statement to the judge.
“I stand here humble, ashamed and embarrassed,” he said. “My actions have tormented me over the last few years, and when someone asked me how I thought it would play out, I honestly thought of taking my own life.”
A tearful Scott implored the judge to allow him to pursue the employment opportunity in Baltimore to begin to repay his victims.
“I exercised tremendously poor judgment and made horrible decisions,” he said. “I want to make them whole again. My name is mud now, but I have an opportunity in Baltimore and I feel like it might be my best opportunity to have a job and make restitution.”
In the end, Bloxom was not persuaded and handed down the stringent sentences in the case.
“Punishment is to deter people from engaging in future criminal activity,” he said. “Some people need more deterrence than others.”