SUSPECT HISTORY OF A SUSPECT

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Where is Charles Edward Gresham Jr.'s money? Where are his reported chemical waste factories in the Sudan, Egypt and Brazil? And what events would have led him to plant bombs at a chemical facility in Norfolk, Va.?

The questions nag federal investigators who are attempting to piece together financial information on a man whose business enterprises may help explain a puzzling crime.

But perhaps the foremost question on the minds of Gresham's friends and neighbors is: How did Ed Gresham from Ellicott City become a criminal suspect, with a shadowy past as an international businessman?

Gresham, 57 and a former University of Baltimore vice president, has lived for 20 years on Spring Meadow Drive in the Dunloggin neighborhood of Ellicott City. Neighbors describe him as a sociable friend and family man who was active in the Roman Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City and volunteered in archdiocese schools as his three children were growing up.

But federal officials are accusing Gresham of attempting to blow up two highly volatile chemical storage tanks Feb. 4. Two homemade pipe bombs attached to the side of the tanks failed to detonate.

Prosecutors say Gresham stood to gain$2.7 million in insurance money by destroying his investment in sodium hydrosulfide, a chemical used in tanning, papermaking and mining,which was stored in the tanks. But friends and neighbors say they can't believe it.

"I cannot imagine that Charles Gresham could have done what is reported. . . . Nothing would lead me to think he is a dangerous person who would seek to harm his country, his family or anyone else," the Rev. Paul G. Cook, pastor at St. Joseph's Parish in Cockeysville, wrote to federal officials.

Thirty other letters -- several of them written by physicians and clergy members -- depict Gresham as a solid family man of impeccable character. Many of the writers say they are sure Gresham will prove himself innocent in the monthsahead.

But federal, state and county records reviewed by The Howard County Sun and spanning 20 years suggest that Gresham will have a tough time explaining his predicament and his past.

16 years in academia

In late 1985, Gresham left a 16-year career in academia to embark on a string of business ventures that involved many trips around the world and provided him with a flashy lifestyle and an estate in the Caribbean.

The life of an intercontinental traveler, whether ornot he was building factories as he claimed, was indeed a far cry from his academic career. His years as a college teacher and administrator were stable but hardly spectacular.

As a student he had earneda bachelor's degree in industrial management at the University of Baltimore and later a master's degree at George Washington University.

He began teaching at the University of Baltimore in 1970 and quickly moved up, becoming a vice president there in 1972, a job he held for 10 years.

University photographs show Gresham at faculty and student gatherings -- toasting students at one celebration, accepting aclass gift in 1973 at another. He served as a faculty adviser for the Society for the Advancement of Management.

As a fund-raiser and an alumni liaison, Gresham seemed to be well-regarded and accepted byfellow administrators.

After his departure, which university officials refused to discuss, he did not make a triumphant return to classroom teaching.

Subsequent teaching jobs at Morgan and Towson state universities didn't lead to tenured positions because of his lack of impressive qualifications, former colleagues said. Gresham had received his doctorate from California Western University, an independent-study college that did not impress prestige-seeking administrators.

"The administration didn't think he was setting the world on fire,although students seemed to like him pretty well," said a former Towson State colleague, Charles H. Mott. "I think Ed was very disappointed when he didn't get a promotion. He felt he earned it."

As his interest in college life fizzled, it was supplanted by a new career inbusiness.

"Here was a guy who taught about business all his career, and now he had a chance to go out and actually play in the field,"said one former colleague who asked not to be identified. "He was able to get out of the stifled classroom and out into the world of money. I think it consumed him."

Into a world of business

In 1984, about a year before his departure from his academic career, Gresham launched Applied Technology Inc. Articles of incorporation describe the company as a waste-treatment business that planned to operate extensively in other countries. The office was based in his home.

Gresham immediately began a pattern of international travel. His passport, now confiscated by a federal magistrate, shows he visited Liberia and Egypt in 1984 and traveled to Europe and Saudi Arabia in 1985.

Stamps on the passport he was issued in 1984, about the time he began operating Applied Technology, also show trips to Brazil, New Guinea, theSudan, Jordan, Italy and Singapore.

Between May 1986 and June 1990, Gresham and his wife, Catherine, borrowed $250,000 in four loans from CentraBank and Signet Bank, according to Howard County mortgage and deed records. In each case, Gresham told the lenders he intended to use the money for business investments.

Gresham's business partners and associates say that he often spoke about investing money overseas in such places as Morocco and Egypt.

"One time, he showed me pictures of a waste-treatment plant he claimed he had bought in SaudiArabia," said one former business partner who asked not to be identified.

But none of those interviewed say they knew details about Gresham's business dealings.

"I have no idea whether he was telling the truth or not. I also have no idea why he would have bought it (the plant) or why he would have claimed to have bought it," the partnersaid. "The only thing I know is that he loved to tell people he had a scheme going."

Fined by regulators

In late 1986, Gresham opened Oak Charter Insurance Ltd. The company was based in Gresham's home but reportedly had offices in the Bahamas and Bermuda. It issued 32 liability policies to Maryland businesses.

But within a year, the company came under a lengthy investigation by the Insurance Division of the Maryland Department of Licensing and Regulation. The probe revealed that Gresham's family-run business was unlicensed and had insufficient assets to pay claims.

Investigators also alleged that money from policyholders was used to pay for an extravagant business office called Cloister's Estates on Nassau's Paradise Island.

Case records show many checks were paid from the business to Gresham and his relatives. Other checks were made payable to personal causes, such as $900 a month for payments on Gresham's leased Jaguar automobile and $240 for tickets to "a cultural event at the Moroccan Embassy in Washington."

During the investigation, Assistant Insurance Commissioner Paul Raimondi recalls the difficulty in pinpointing Gresham's assets.

"We tried to get documentation on the businesses he claimed to have been running, but I really don't believe he had much money," he said. "We weren't able to verify his actual worth, but I'd say it was nomore than $100,000."

At times during the insurance fraud hearings, Gresham joked about his alleged wealth. During one exchange, when asked why he needed a Jaguar, he answered, "Well, I used to drive a Mercedes."

Gresham claimed the business held more than $5 million incash and assets, although he was unable to supply detailed financialand property records.

Gresham's own colleagues say that he frequently boasted about his holdings. His statements at the 1988 hearings suggested that his business investments totaled more than $5.6 million, a figure Raimondi scoffs at.

"He must be real good at hiding it, then," he said.

Gresham, who told investigators at the hearings that he was unaware he needed a license to sell insurance, was fined $25,000 by the licensing board and ordered to terminate the business.

Within two days of the order, Gresham filed articles of incorporation for Applied Technology International, a subsidiary of Applied Technology. Shortly after, Mott, his former colleague from Towson State University, ran into him on York Road.

"He seemed in a very goodmood, much more talkative than I had remembered him," said Mott, whois now a professor at West Chester State University in Pennsylvania.

A Towson State administrator had mentioned to Mott that he had offered Gresham a chance to return to the university to work as a consultant. But Gresham turned the job down, saying that he no longer cared about returning to university life, Mott said.

A well-traveled man

Federal officials are continuing an investigation into Gresham's financial records and his alleged property holdings.

Still unexplained are Gresham's numerous trips to South America, the West Indies, Africa and the Middle East. Gresham told many of his associates that he owned chemical waste factories in those locations.

State insurance records also show that Gresham maintained bank accounts in the Bahamas and Nova Scotia, although the balances of those accounts is unknown.

But questions abound, says Jeffrey A. Lampinski, an FBI agentin Norfolk who is handling the investigation.

"We haven't come toany conclusions yet about what he owns and doesn't own in other countries," Lampinski said. "Just because he has bank accounts in foreigncountries doesn't mean he owns factories in those countries."

Investment gone wrong

Throughout 1990, Gresham, apparently getting deeper and deeper into trouble with a chemical investment he had made, began working on a plan to rid himself of the sodium hydrosulfide, FBI investigators say.

Gresham's purchase date of the chemicals he stored at the Virginia facility is not clear. But FBI officials say that he frequently complained that his lease payments, which topped $16,000 a month, were draining him and that he was unable to sell the chemical.

An FBI affidavit says that Gresham increased his insurance onthe chemical to $2.7 million late last year, after convincing an insurance agent that he had a contract with a Hong Kong company that wasinterested in buying the sodium hydrosulfide for $4 million.

Gresham visited Hong Kong five times between April and August 1990, his passport shows. Contacted by FBI officials, Henry Wong, owner of Jin Dou, denied signing a contract to buy the chemicals, the affidavit shows.

On Feb. 7, Gresham was arrested and charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud; an informant had tipped FBI officials that Gresham had approached him about planting the bombs at the chemical site. Two Arizona men also were arrested in connection with the scheme. Gresham is being held without bail in the Baltimore City Jail, where he is awaiting a Feb. 26 preliminary hearing.

The bomb scheme was the culmination of a virtually frenzied business career in which Gresham seemed to fancy himself as having made the transition from an unremarkable academician to a free-wheeling entrepreneur, said one of his former business colleagues, who asked not to be identified.

"It's a story of a wheeler-dealer gone mad," the former colleague said."He said several times that he'd had it with being a college administrator.

"I think he hoped people would regard him as a big shot."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
34°