Howard art dealer gets 6 1/2 -year term

The Baltimore Sun

A Howard County art dealer who devised a Ponzi-style scheme and bilked investors out of more than $1.2 million was sentenced yesterday to 6 1/2 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore.

U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis had harsh words for the 52-year-old defendant, Thomas H. Akins, according to a copy of the judge's statement provided afterward.

"It is difficult to find much in the way of mitigation or explanation. There is none. The need for specific deterrence is quite extraordinary," Davis said.

In court papers, prosecutors noted that Akins had wiped out the life savings of three families, forcing one couple to delay retirement and preventing another man from paying for nursing home care for his 95-year-old father-in-law.

"Mr. Akins' record makes it abundantly clear that this case was not an instance of a legitimate business gone sour, or good intentions dimmed by changing circumstances," Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara S. Sale wrote in sentencing memorandum filed in court. "Rather, it appears that Mr. Akins is nothing but a lifelong thief, a con artist who, perhaps because of an exaggerated view of his rightful station in life, refused to keep his hands off other people's money."

Akins owned and operated Thomas H. Akins Co. from 2001 to 2006 and Galarie Elan, an art sales gallery on Main Street in Ellicott City. Prosecutors said that from 2002 to 2006, the Rockville resident attracted investors to the Art Investment Program.

Prosecutors said Akins claimed to be a friend of a noted actress and bragged about a position he held at Howard Community College in Columbia. A college spokesman, Randy Bangford, said Akins is a past member of the institution's Educational Foundation, a fundraising arm.

"People believed him to be a man of substance," Sale said of Akins.

Prosecutors said investors lent money to Akins for the purchase of fine art in exchange for monthly interest-only payments. Akins used the money to make interest payments to earlier investors and to support his gallery and a luxurious lifestyle that included expensive cars, they said, calling it a Ponzi-style scheme.

In court papers, prosecutors said Kenneth Hosto refinanced his home so that he could lend Akins $150,000. He lost the principal and had to refinance again, "and now has to sell the home in which he has lived for 19 years because Mr. Akins stole his money," the court documents say.

Prosecutors also said Akins persuaded people to tell their friends that investing with him was a good deal, and he once solicited business while attending the funeral of one of his clients.

An article in yesterday's Maryland section misspelled the last name of Howard Community College spokesman Randy Bengfort.The Sun regrets the error.
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