A Carroll County judge sentenced a Baltimore County man yesterday to nine years in prison for impersonating a police officer and conning a Finksburg woman out of nearly $41,800 in one month - money he said was going toward undercover investigations but that authorities said was gambled away in Atlantic City.
Circuit Judge J. Barry Hughes described John Howard Sachs III, 28, of the 1700 block of Woodland Drive in Dundalk as a "thief, con artist and predator" in his manipulation of Mary Wall, a Finksburg nurse and single mother who first met Sachs in late 2003 in an Internet chat room under his screen name of "bmoreshottestcop."
Sachs pleaded guilty to felony theft and impersonating a police officer and asked for a five-year sentence as part of a plea agreement.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and charging documents showed that Sachs had a history of conning women out of thousands of dollars to finance a gambling addiction.
The judge went beyond the sentencing guidelines to hand down a 15-year term with all but nine years suspended.
"You've shown yourself to be a thief, a con artist and a predator on this community," Hughes told Sachs. "I can't take the chance you'd do this to someone else."
He compared Sachs to the con artist in the film Catch Me if You Can.
"That was a romantic comedy, but there is nothing romantic about what you've done and nothing funny about what you've done," Hughes said.
Sachs apologized to Wall in court.
"I'm really sorry for what took place," said Sachs, a nearly 6-foot-tall, 250-pound man with a crewcut. "I knew I was doing wrong. My gambling problem has gotten out of control the last few years."
Sachs is being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center, where he has been held since August and will remain until July for his convictions last year stemming from similar schemes involving two Baltimore County women. He will serve the nine-year sentence in a state prison.
The judge also ordered five years of supervised probation for Sachs after he is released and ordered him to pay full restitution to Wall.
Defense attorney David P. Henninger said that Sachs "has every intention in the world" of paying restitution.
Wall appeared shaken as she tearfully told the judge how Sachs' "betrayal of trust" had turned her life upside down and how she has to work overtime to repay her debts.
"Unlike Mr. Sachs, I am an honest and decent member of society," Wall said.
Melissa O. Hockensmith, senior assistant state's attorney for Carroll County, said that Sachs should receive as many years in jail as Wall will spend digging out from under that debt.
Police said that between Dec. 14, 2003, and Jan. 17, 2004, Sachs persuaded Wall to give him more than $41,000, which wiped out her checking and savings accounts and maxed out her credit cards with cash advances.
Police said the two met in a Westminster restaurant, where Sachs "flashed a badge" and told her that he was a Baltimore City police officer who worked as an undercover narcotics detective.
Charging documents described 13 instances in which Sachs fabricated reasons to extract at least $500 at a time - and once as much as $10,000.
According to police, Sachs told Wall that he needed $3,000 to pay for expenses associated with undercover narcotics investigations; $5,800 to pay taxes, tags and title for a Hummer he won at Bally's Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.; and $10,000 to pay off a man he said he hit in a parking garage in Atlantic City.
Sachs told Wall that he had been drinking when the accident occurred and that he wanted to settle the matter off the record because he didn't want to get into trouble.
Police said the events Sachs described never happened.
Investigators later discovered that Sachs had established a nearly $34,000 line of credit at Bally's Casino in Atlantic City.
Wall discovered the deception Jan. 16, 2004, after Sachs told Wall he needed to be bailed out of jail after the purported car accident. She contacted a bail bondsman who pulled up Sachs' criminal history.
Sachs was arrested by Baltimore County police in Dundalk on Jan. 26, 2004.
Hockensmith said that Sachs' action had "devastated" Wall both "emotionally and financially." She said that Sachs took advantage of Wall during a very vulnerable period - right after her divorce.
The prosecutor added that Sachs targeted "compassionate" nurses like Wall.
"His whole history has been of defrauding victims and preying on nurses," Hockensmith said. "He is a con artist who has the boy-next-door look. It's been his life's career to convince women he is who he says he is. It's a shame he doesn't put his talents to real use and work for a living."
In charging documents, state police said they uncovered Sachs' criminal history, which included 18 arrests for crimes such as impersonating a police officer, assault, carrying deadly weapons, violation of probation, theft and misuse of credit cards.