A federal grand jury indicted a former employee of a Baltimore County law firm and accused him of stealing $1 million from his employer and then setting the offices on fire to cover his tracks, prosecutors said yesterday.
George Michael Perez, 32, of Dundalk faces wire fraud, arson and money laundering charges in connection with alleged thefts from Wittstadt & Wittstadt P.A., and the three-alarm fire at the firm's former offices at 40 S. Dundalk Ave., according to the indictment.
A message left with Mark H. Wittstadt, the firm's managing partner, was not immediately returned yesterday afternoon. The firm focuses on real estate law, specifically foreclosures and evictions, according to its Web site.
According to the indictment, the firm deposited profits from the sale of foreclosed properties in an escrow account at First Mariner Bank, which could be managed via online banking.
Perez, who worked in the firm's accounting department, would meet monthly with Wittstadt to review account statements. At those meetings, Perez supplied his boss with altered Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that showed normal activity to conceal transfers into Perez's personal bank account at Bank of America, according to the indictment.
From Dec. 12, 2005, to April 12, 2007, the indictment alleges, Perez made 14 wire transfers totaling $1.04 million from the First Mariner account to his personal one, and then set fire to the office on April 23, 2007, 11 days after the last transfer.
The fire, which was reported about 1:30 a.m., caused an estimated $800,000 in damages to the six-story building, said Donna Welsh of the Baltimore County Fire Department.
The fire was started "at multiple points" and brought under control at 3:44 a.m., she said. One firefighter was taken to Mercy Hospital with minor injuries.
Perez faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each of the 10 wire fraud counts; 10 years for each of the five money laundering counts; and a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years in prison for arson, according to the U.S. attorney's office for Maryland.