'Dr. Bob' big boasts, big plans, big trouble

THE BALTIMORE SUN

He was a jet-set investor who boasted of piles of money in foreign banks and of flying to California to cut multimillion-dollar deals that would turn tankers into floating casinos.

Robert Franklin Miller, known as "Dr. Bob," was a charismatic, hyperkinetic businessman who talked about plans to sell recapped tires to the Chinese, inflatable tents to the Germans and "odorless underwear" to the military.

He had a law degree on his wall, a chiropractor's certificate on his desk and posh offices in Annapolis, where he told friends that he served on the boards of two universities and was dean of a third.

He loved to sing karaoke at the Annapolis restaurant where he had his own table and was part-owner -- and often demonstrated his chiropractic skills by manipulating the backs of the waitresses and kitchen workers.

But police say "Dr. Bob" is not a chiropractor or a lawyer.

He is, they say, a first-rate liar and fraud.

In May, Mr. Miller -- with Annapolis police looking on -- took a pair of bolt cutters and, according to prosecutors, broke into Dr. Bob's 911 Club, of which he had been part-owner. He hauled off everything that wasn't nailed down, police said.

Robert Franklin Miller, 40, is now in the Anne Arundel County Jail on $150,000 bail awaiting trial on theft and breaking-and-entering charges in the May 24 incident, and on conspiracy charges related to a diploma mill scam he has been accused of setting up.

He has left behind a host of angry creditors, some red-faced police officials, an upset state regulatory agency and a former business partner who says he is out $100,000 and is wondering what happened to the $20,000 Mr. Miller allegedly stashed in a briefcase the night he removed the restaurant's contents.

State police Trooper Anthony Faggio, who spent three months investigating the case, said Mr. Miller is responsible for a string of unpaid bills.

"This guy didn't pay for anything. You're talking about food services, gardening services, laundry bills, cleaning. Everything he used or got involved in he owes money for -- Federal Express, the phone company, mail order catalogs."

Mr. Miller's attorney, Anne Arundel County public defender Alan R. Friedman, said he would not let his client discuss his case with a reporter. Mr. Friedman was in court Nov. 15 successfully arguing for the release of evidence he said prosecutors were withholding.

Mr. Miller's trial is scheduled for January in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

Mr. Miller, who was born in Jersey City, N.J., has a decade-long history of run-ins with police in New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Franklin, Pa., and Rockville involving charges that include theft, passing bad checks and sexual assault.

But convictions have been few.

In 1990, he was charged with two rapes in Montgomery County. One case was dismissed by the county state's attorney, and he was acquitted in the other, according to a police spokeswoman there.

Last year, he was convicted of the unauthorized practice of law in Venango County Court of Common Pleas in Franklin, Pa., and was ordered to pay restitution to a couple who paid him $29,000 to represent a suspect charged with sexual assault, according to a spokeswoman for the Venango County district attorney's office.

Mr. Miller served time in 1982 at the State Corrections Institution in Pittsburgh after he was found guilty of trying to bribe a Pittsburgh official $100 to overlook a building code violation, the spokeswoman said.

He spent a year in the State Regional Correctional Facility at Mercer, Pa., on a disorderly conduct conviction and was released June 21, 1987, according to a prison spokesman, who could not explain why the prison term was so lengthy.

"This guy was a real operator," said Anne Arundel Assistant State's Attorney Robert J. Bittman, who is prosecuting the the theft and conspiracy charges.

According to Anne Arundel Circuit Court records, Mr. Miller's recent brush with the law started with a drunken-driving conviction in Montgomery County in 1991.

Because that conviction violated terms of his probation for a theft conviction in Venango County, Mr. Miller was transferred to the Pennsylvania county's jail, where he was placed on work release in late 1991, court records show.

And it was there, according to court papers, that he developed the vision of the college he would start -- the Washington Chiropractic College.

He started small.

In fact, prosecutors say, his college was no larger than an answering service and a post office box where unsuspecting students would have sent tuition checks of $4,000 to $5,000 for training at a school with no campus, no teachers and no classrooms.

Mr. Bittman said no students were duped by the scheme but that the 40 boxes of letters, memos and other documents confiscated by police in a June 21 raid on Mr. Miller's Annapolis offices provided sufficient evidence for the conspiracy charge.

State police say Mr. Miller arrived in Anne Arundel County and set up shop about nine months ago, renting a suite of offices in Annapolis and a comfortable house in the 800 block of Dividing Road in Severna Park, where he often met with two business associates, Charles Park and Dr. Gi Young Kim.

"He had people coming and going over there all the time," said Thomas Huhn, a neighbor. "He was gone most weekends, but during the week it looked like business meetings with all the cars and people."

Charles Ellenberger, a retired Howard County police officer, said he met "Dr. Bob" in February when he answered a newspaper classified advertisement Mr. Miller had placed offering a used car for sale.

Mr. Ellenberger, who runs his own detective agency in Ellicott City, agreed to buy the 1987 Ford Taurus for $2,000, saying he needed a second car for his detective agency. He told Mr. Miller that he was a 22-year police veteran with enough cash in the bank and that he was about to retire.

Mr. Ellenberger said Mr. Miller introduced him to Dr. Kim and Mr. Park and that the three of them gave the former narcotics squad officer a first-rate sales pitch, outlining plans to recruit Korean students to the United States to train them in chiropractic medicine.

Dr. Kim and Mr. Park, who are being sought in connection with the case, are believed to be in Korea, authorities said.

The men also had plans to buy two tankers anchored off the coast of San Diego and turn them into floating casinos, Mr. Ellenberger said.

"They had pictures of the ships, charts and graphics showing their size. It looked like they had done their homework and had it all thought out," he said.

He said Mr. Miller also boasted of Swiss bank accounts, often flew to California to negotiate business deals and outlined plans to sell recapped tires to the Chinese, inflatable tents to the Germans and an odor-resistant underwear to the military.

"He said it could be worn for up to a week and it wouldn't smell," Mr. Ellenberger said.

Over a series of four or five meetings at Mr. Miller's rented house and at his office, Mr. Miller talked Mr. Ellenberger into expanding his detective agency by opening an office in Mr. Miller's suite at 275 West St.

Eventually, Mr. Miller persuaded him to invest in an Eastport restaurant, the Bridgeview. The two of them would be partners: Mr. Miller would run the place, naming it for himself. Mr. Ellenberger would put up the initial $20,000 as a down payment on the restaurant but would remain a "silent partner."

"I didn't know anything about the restaurant business and didn't want any part of it. I was just looking for a retirement investment," Mr. Ellenberger said.

It took about a month for things to turn sour.

In early May, Mr. Ellenberger said, he was contacted by the previous owner, James C. Foote, who complained that he wasn't getting paid and had changed the Bridgeview's locks at least twice to keep Mr. Miller out.

The two men concluded that Mr. Miller was pocketing Mr. Ellenberger's payments and agreed orally to cut their partner out of the deal.

"He said, 'Why don't we just forget about the original deal, and you just buy it from me?' " Mr. Ellenberger recalled.

When confronted, Mr. Miller admitted he was struggling, promised to pay back what he owed and agreed to bow out of the partnership.

The three men met May 18 and signed a purchase agreement transferring ownership to Mr. Ellenberger, according to Mr. Ellenberger and state police.

The alleged break-in occurred a week later. Mr. Miller asked Annapolis police to provide security for the move, saying he feared that a former partner might cause trouble. He also hired two private security guards, eight movers and three rental trucks, and rented a Glen Burnie storage locker in which to store the restaurant's contents, Mr. Ellenberger said.

Mr. Ellenberger said Mr. Miller knew when to make his move -- the night of the party for his retirement from the Howard County police. He found out about the alleged break-in the next day, when employees were barred from entering the restaurant by two security guards.

"They took every bottle of beer, every chair, every napkin, all the food from the coolers. He ripped the audio equipment out of the walls and took that. I mean he took everything," Mr. Ellenberger said.

Mr. Ellenberger said he is out $100,000 because of his dealings with Mr. Miller: $30,000 that he sank into the restaurant and $70,000 owed to restaurant suppliers, hired help and contractors hired to repair damage to the property.

He is angry that Annapolis police stood by during the alleged break-in and refused to press charges afterward.

"I kept hearing it was a civil matter and there was no probable cause. I was a police officer for 22 years, I know what probable cause is," he said.

He said he learned one valuable lesson from the experience.

"I don't trust anyone," he said.

Annapolis police confirmed that Mr. Miller asked them for protection but said he showed them legal papers that outlined his ownership interest, papers they later learned were outdated.

Detective Sgt. Zora Lykken, who investigated the matter for the Annapolis police, said the department was told by the state's attorney's office that the dispute between Mr. Miller and Mr. Ellenberger was a civil matter and that they shouldn't prosecute.

"We convinced a lot of people that it was a civil matter, and it didn't look very good when he was charged by the state police," Sergeant Lykken said.

Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee confirmed that his office initially advised Annapolis police not to press charges.

"It seemed like initially that it was a case of partners fighting over who owned what. But as we looked into it more, we determined the belief that it was a civil matter was incorrect and that Dr. Bob was a thief," Mr. Weathersbee said. "It wasn't their [Annapolis police] fault at all."

When he moved into his Annapolis office space, Mr. Miller agreed to sublease about 2,000 square feet from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce but did not pay the rent, according to a chamber official.

Acting President Gene Burner said the chamber secured a court order in Annapolis District Court requiring Mr. Miller to pay up.

Mr. Burner would not say how much Mr. Miller owed, but he acknowledged that the chamber never collected the full amount.

Dr. D. Brent Owens, vice president of the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners, said his agency would like to see Mr. Miller brought up on criminal charges.

Mr. Miller has never been licensed to practice chiropractic medicine and has never applied to the board for a license to practice, Dr. Owens said.

After receiving reports from Mr. Miller's patients, Dr. Owens said, the board sent him a letter May 12 ordering him to close his practice.

If Mr. Miller ignores the letter, he can be charged criminally with practicing chiropractic medicine without a license, Dr. Owens said.

"It's inherently dangerous for untrained and unlicensed people to perform spinal manipulative therapy," said Dr. Owens, who is a chiropractor.

Mr. Ellenberger, who met with Mr. Miller about 10 times, said his former partner might actually believe the stories he tells about himself.

He said Mr. Miller probably was angry and frustrated that he no longer owned the restaurant where he once crooned to audiences and that the anger prompted the break-in.

As evidence of that, he pointed to the one piece of furniture left behind by the crews that tore the stereo speakers from the walls, took all eight television sets and every salt and pepper shaker.

Mr. Miller's reserved table -- the one patrons knew as "Dr. Bob's table" -- was left immaculately set.

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