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Man given 8 years on theft charges Victims lost money, cars to phony dealership


Due to an editing error, an article yesterday misstated the details of Robert Franklin Miller's plea agreement. He pleaded guilty and agreed to an eight-year sentence for two theft counts; he will be sentenced by a judge next month.

The Sun regrets the errors.

A Woodlawn man pleaded guilty yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court to two theft charges -- part of a series of schemes that took thousands of dollars from victims, as well as their cars.

Robert Franklin Miller, 42, lived above Brickyard Auto Traders at 7230 Milford Mill Road in Woodlawn and passed it off as a used car dealership, although it was unlicensed and was closed down last spring.

He took customers' vehicles, promising to sell them for a commission. Then he sold them, kept the money, and told the owner that the vehicles had been stolen or vandalized.

"He has no conscience," said victim Thelma Neal. "He feels nothing about what he does at all."

Yesterday, Baltimore County Assistant State's Attorney Peter McDowell reached an agreement with Miller's two attorneys. He agreed to prosecute only two of eight felony theft charges stemming from incidents in the summer of 1994.

In exchange, Miller pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison; he also faces a restitution hearing Dec. 12.

During the restitution hearing, victims will tell Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger how much money they lost -- the total is estimated to be at least $25,000.

Miller pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his involvement with Mrs. Neal, who wanted to sell a car through him and have him repair a van. Both vehicles disappeared.

Miller told Paul Sowers, an auto body repairman at the Woodlawn lot, to get rid of Mrs. Neal by giving her any excuse when she made her daily visit to see about her vehicles, according to the prosecutor. Miller also told the repairman to disable her car and hide the keys.

A handful of people attended yesterday's trial and said they had fallen for Miller's schemes.

Tammy Samuel, 29, of Brooklyn asked Miller in the spring of 1994 to sell her two cars. Less than two weeks later, they were gone. "He said [they] must have been stolen," she explained, adding that she never got any money and lost a job as a waitress because she did not have transportation.

Paula Hollingsworth, a 38-year-old Catonsville woman who works a cashier at Home Depot, said she lost even more.

She wanted to be in business for herself, and when Miller suggested in March 1994 that they start a wholesale company, she agreed. She said she took a new mortgage on her house and gave Miller $55,000 to start the business; he promised to make her mortgage payments and give her $500 a month.

It never happened, she said. Now, she's tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and working several jobs to get into the black. "He's ruined my life," she said, fighting back tears.

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