A former Towson investment counselor, who stole $843,000 from nine clients, has pleaded guilty in Baltimore County Circuit Court to one count each of theft, failure to file a tax return and securities fraud.
Michael E. Hart, 34, who many of his former mostly retired clients said they thought of as a son, entered the guilty plea in exchange for the state dropping other charges against him.
Judge J. Norris Byrnes immediately revoked Hart's $500,000 bail -- a bail he was never able to post -- and ordered a presentence report.
Hart, who used his clients' money to pay off debts, buy
fancy cars and a big house in Hunt Valley, faces a maximum of 23 years in prison. Sentencing has been set for Jan. 6.
Carolyn H. Henneman, the assistant state attorney general who prosecuted Hart, said she will seek a minimum of 15 years plus restitution.
Henneman read a statement of facts into the court record which said that Hart stole $843,000 from nine clients over several years. For some, their life savings were stolen.
Hart met his clients, who were blue-collar workers, at seminars he gave in 1982 and 1983.
After establishing a trusting relationship over three or four years, Hart used his clients' money for his own benefit, playing the stock market and purchasing two Mercedes-Benz automobiles, an Ocean City condominium and a huge gun collection for his $350,000 Hunt Valley home.
Henneman said Hart lied to clients, telling them he had invested thousands of dollars in real estate partnerships.
Many of Hart's victims were in court yesterday to watch the proceedings.
Richard Alley, who retired from Bethlehem Steel Corp. in 1983 after 36 years, said he lost more than $157,000.
"Most of us worked 30 or 40 years, starting from scratch, to save up that money," Alley fumed. "Here's a boy who never got his fingers dirty and he's put most of us nearly on welfare."
Instead of the comfortable retirement Alley imagined, with vacations and travel, he is reduced to living on his Social Security check and the part-time earnings of his wife.
"Here my wife is a travel agent and she gets good deals on vacations, but we still can't afford to go anywhere," Alley said.
Despite the fact that Hart will likely be ordered to make restitution to his victims, Alley is not comforted.
"I'm 64 years old now," Alley said. "He'll never be out in time to pay me. And the amounts he owes, he'd have to go back to stealing to pay us all off."