Woman convicted of theft after swindling couple Victims lent her $149,000


An Anne Arundel County jury convicted a 38-year-old businesswoman Friday of bilking an Annapolis couple of $149,000 two years ago by promising them lucrative returns on computer contracts, then spending the money on herself.

The jury of eight men and four women deliberated for seven hours after an eight-day trial before convicting Debra D. Winter of Hanover, Pa., of six counts of theft.

"I'm not guilty. What else can I say?" said Winter, a former Annapolis businesswoman and a single mother of two.

Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. allowed Winter to remain free on $5,000 bond pending sentencing Dec. 13.

According to court testimony, Winter had experience working with computers and was trying to get her computer consulting firm off the ground three years ago when she borrowed $1,300 from Stephen Hopp, the general manager of WNAV-AM, an Annapolis radio station.

She told him she was helping an insurance firm expand its operations with laptop computers. She repaid Mr. Hopp $1,600 a month later.

Winter then told Mr. Hopp that she had other computer projects lined up, but that she lacked capital and was anxious to contact a major investor.

Mr. Hopp introduced her to David and Virginia Holmes, who had recently become part-owners of the radio station.

Mr. Holmes, a retired Navy captain, agreed to lend Winter $149,000 at 25 percent interest. He delivered the money in four checks written between January and May 1991.

According to testimony, the Holmeses never saw any return on their money.

Mrs. Holmes declined to comment after the verdict.

In closing arguments Friday, Barbara Jo Entwistle, Winter's lawyer, argued that her client had had back surgery in 1990 and was unemployed from March 1990 to June 1991. Winter hadn't repaid the loans because she had fallen on hard times and was forced to file for bankruptcy, Ms. Entwistle said.

She said Winter's failure to return the money and to fulfill other promises was a civil matter, not a basis for criminal charges.

She said Mr. Holmes never intended to have the loan paid back, but planned to write it off as a loss on his federal income taxes.

But prosecutor Robert L. Bittman countered that Mr. Holmes filed a civil suit against Winter, protested her Pennsylvania bankruptcy claim and filed a criminal complaint with Maryland State Police. Mr. Holmes would not have done that if he was looking for a tax write-off, Mr. Bittman argued.

"If this conspiracy theory were true, why would Mr. Holmes have put himself in jeopardy like that?" Mr. Bittman said.

The Holmeses never checked out Winter's credit rating because she came recommended to them by Mr. Hopp and "they trusted her," Mr. Bittman added.

He said that theft charges were filed because Winter not only didn't return any money, but also deceived her victims by telling them she had prospective computer contracts lined up that turned up to be nonexistent.

"She was just bent on spending that money," he said.

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