Millionaire entrepreneur Alan Fabian strode from the main house on his North Carolina beach property last August to deliver the bad news to a colleague vacationing in a guest cottage.
In a brief conversation, Fabian told employee Greg Barr that he was leaving for a few days to face an indictment for fraud in a Baltimore federal court. But he assured Barr that things would be OK.
"He was supremely confident and saying that it was basically a misunderstanding," said Barr, who worked for Fabian at a Maryland nonprofit.
And Barr believed him.
Such bravado was typical for Fabian, a smooth-talking businessman who built a leading government consulting firm, sold it for $1.8 million and then launched several other ventures from an office overlooking the Inner Harbor. Meanwhile, Fabian's lifestyle grew to include a Hunt Valley mansion on 3.5 acres, the North Carolina vacation properties, a 39-foot Silverton yacht and trips on private jets.
His success also gave him freedom to form the nonprofit. Fabian was sure he could make it a success, too, raising money to help those in need.
That fundraising prowess earned him top posts in Maryland Republican campaigns, where he served as finance committee chairman for Michael S. Steele's 2006 U.S. Senate bid. It also afforded him a ticket to one of President Bush's 2005 inaugural balls after Fabian donated $100,000 for the festivities.
But along the way, according to federal prosecutors, Fabian stole up to $40 million, in part through a complex computer lease-back scheme that entangled his own companies, those that he worked for and even his nonprofit, the Centre for Management and Technology, also known as CMAT.
Fabian pleaded guilty last month in Baltimore federal court to one count of mail fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. The plea was part of a deal made with the U.S. attorney's office. He had been charged with 26 counts. He will learn at his September sentencing whether decades in prison await him.
Those who knew Fabian were stunned by the indictment and his guilty plea, saying that isn't the man they know.
Interviews with two dozen people - colleagues, acquaintances, law enforcement officials and political organizers - show that Fabian had many sides. There was the driven businessman, the attentive father, the friendly neighbor.
But one trait stands out: Fabian, it seemed, could sell anyone on anything, including his credibility.
"This is a person who was thought of as a successful businessman. ... And I think his ability to talk the talk with investors really gave people a degree of confidence that was not warranted," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. "He was counting on people trusting in his reputation."
Alan Brian Fabian was born in Reading, Pa.. He grew up tall and slim with sandy blond hair. He earned a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance and economics from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania in 1986.
He moved and worked for the now-defunct Arthur Andersen accounting firm. He developed a name for himself as an accounting expert who helped businesses build better budgets. And he had a knack for surrounding himself with talented people, colleagues said, and the big ideas to inspire them.
Fabian created the accounting consulting company Strategic Partners International LLC during the mid '90s, landing contracts with several government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the city of Philadelphia.
Fabian is "very entrepreneurial. He's the kind of person that if you wanted to close the deal, you could always rely on him," said Eric Dixon, who met Fabian when he was still at Arthur Andersen and later worked for him, most recently at CMAT.
In July 2000, Maximus Inc., a Virginia-based public government services company, paid $1.8 million to acquire Fabian's SPI. Maximus took on the company's nine employees, including Fabian, who became vice president of a new division. They were now part of a team of 4,000 workers in 130 offices across the U.S.
Colleagues said Fabian's division didn't mesh well with Maximus' corporate culture. Fabian and some of his employees grew disenchanted. Maximus representatives either declined to comment or did not return calls.
Fabian started the nonprofit center in early 2003, telling others he wanted to help other nonprofits improve their technology. The Baltimore Business Journal characterized the center as a way to "marry his religious faith to his work."
"Now I worry about the problems I'm going to fix, not the hours I'm going to bill," Fabian told the publication. He eventually left Maximus to concentrate on the center.
After leaving Maximus in 2004, Fabian incorporated a for-profit version of the center, called CMAT International, which sold technology consulting services. Over four years, the company received $986,160 in state contracts, including partial payment on a multiyear pact worth $2.2 million for providing software and "strategic budgeting activities."
Both CMAT entities outwardly appeared to be doing well, setting up shop on the second floor of the Power Plant building near the National Aquarium. Fabian had a corner office and paid more than $1 million in salaries to CMAT's top eight employees during the 2005 tax year. In an IRS filing, Fabian claimed CMAT had revenue of $5 million that year and that the center assisted more than 100 organizations in managing their operations and technology.
"As a result, we have served millions of the homeless, the sick, the unemployed, the disadvantaged," Fabian wrote in the filing.
Both CMATs faced challenges, according to former employees. Donations weren't flowing in, and neither were big contracts.
"We knew that we weren't producing enough to cover operations" at the center, Dixon said. "But it's one of those things where I was completely convinced that Alan was a young entrepreneur who was independently wealthy and he was ... investing some of his own money in this enterprise - that it was his vision, if you will."
At the same time, Fabian was making a name for himself in Republican circles. He founded the American Patriot Political Action Committee in 2003, which donated to several Republican candidates and at least one Democrat: Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
Fabian himself gave thousands to various candidates, including $100,000 to President Bush's Presidential Inaugural Committee. He received tickets to the swearing-in and one of the inaugural balls, according to Capital News Service.
A photo of the couple shows Fabian in a three-button black jacket and bowtie and his wife, Jackie, in a sparkling teal dress. They look happy, if a little tired.
Now, many Republicans refused to talk about Fabian publicly, most expressing disbelief at the situation. The Republican National Committee did not return e-mails and telephone calls requesting comment.
Those who worked with Fabian on political campaigns considered him a go-to guy, whose phone calls were always returned.
When Fabian learned that then-Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele was planning to run for the U.S. Senate, he volunteered as his finance chairman. The campaign raised $8.4 million in an unsuccessful Senate bid against Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin.
Fabian then volunteered to be one of 67 finance chairs for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Louis Pope, a Romney for President Maryland co-chair, said Fabian never held a position of power within the campaign and was removed immediately after the indictment.
"I'm sorry about his troubles," Pope said. "But it has nothing to do with the Romney campaign or the Steele campaign."
To the outside world, Fabian appeared to be living a life with few troubles.
The Fabians worked their way up to the 7,900-square-foot Hunt Valley home, starting out with one in the Lutherville-Timonium area that was roughly a third the size in 1995. They traded it for a larger home in Reisterstown three years later, before buying the $1.5 million mansion in 2003.
There, the Fabians built a pool house with its own kitchen, which was highlighted in Baltimore's Style magazine. And the family spent $10,000 to upgrade and organize the home's garage, which was featured in The Sun.
John Gaffigan, who would later donate to Fabian's PAC, met him through a friend and attended a party at his French country-style house. Gaffigan thinks of it as a Better Homes and Gardens sort of place, with one cool feature: Fabian had a secret room inside.
Gaffigan recalled one of those situations where you move a book and a wall slides away, he said, then you get "access to the inner realm."
Hunt Valley neighbors describe the Fabian family as friendly and outgoing. Jackie Fabian was quick to invite people over for coffee. Alan Fabian always waved to passers-by.
Mindy Overocker, a North Carolina real estate agent, remembers meeting the Fabians eight years ago when their youngest son was a baby, the other two children barely school-age.
The family bought a four-bedroom beach house that year, according to property records. It is in Holden Beach, which is about a half-hour south of Wilmington. Since then, the family bought many more properties and began making regular sojourns to the island - trips they would later make by private jet, bringing their two small dogs along.
"When he's in business mode, he's definitely a businessman," Overocker said. "When he's in family mode, he's a family man. When he is on the beach having fun with my husband and I, he's just a good friend."
North Carolina artist Sue Scharling remembers preparing them all for a family portrait on the beach as they alternated between stiff grins and joking about no-see-um bugs in their teeth.
"They just had a good time," Scharling said. "They were low-key and fun."
Fabian kept up the well-off and relaxed facade even after he knew investigators began unraveling his scheme in 2004, according to court documents. And some of his employees, including Barr, were called in for questioning by the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore.
According to the statement of facts Fabian signed, he incorporated a new company that he purported was part of Maximus even though it wasn't. He used that company to enter into a series of lease-back agreements between 2001 and 2004 with Georgia-based Solarcom, a computer broker.
Without notifying his new bosses, Fabian signed the deals using a company name that was similar to the firm he sold to Maximus. Fabian formed SPI Inc. for these lease backs. The company Maximus bought from him earlier was SPI LLC.
When he pleaded guilty last month, Fabian acknowledged that he falsified invoices to make it look as if he had spent millions for computers never purchased. Solarcom and its investors thought they were buying Dell laptops and computer servers from Fabian. In turn, Solarcom rented the computers back to Fabian, who falsified documents to guarantee the lease payments through Maximus. Prosecutors say the scheme illegally netted $32 million from Solarcom and its investors.
Solarcom is now owned by a Maryland technology company, which declined to comment.
Fabian defaulted on 11 leases in 2004. Solarcom then sued Maximus for payment, which uncovered the scheme. Maximus then filed a lawsuit in Howard County Circuit Court in July of that year against Fabian and his companies, along with a business partner. It also forwarded the allegations to the U.S. Department of Justice, which launched a lengthy criminal investigation.
Solarcom investors filed paperwork forcing Fabian's SPI Inc. into involuntary bankruptcy weeks later. A federal bankruptcy trustee hired forensic accountants to follow Fabian's spending.
Fabian used stolen money to purchase some North Carolina real estate and pay for the private jets that shuttled his family to and from those retreats, according to court records.
Now virtually all of his property - his homes, his three cars, and the yacht - is subject to forfeiture. While he was working at both CMATs, he created new schemes, according to court documents.
Between 2005 and 2007, Fabian took out lines of credit from various banks on behalf of both CMAT entities.
He secured them with phony accounts-receivable certificates that showed revenue potential the CMAT entities didn't have, according to the statement of facts read during Fabian's guilty plea. When the banks called in almost $8 million worth of loans last summer, Fabian couldn't make payment.
Reaction to the allegations was swift. After the indictment, several politicians returned money Fabian donated to their campaigns. Steele, who returned $4,200 in donations, did not return multiple calls for comment. Romney, who returned the $2,300 Fabian personally donated to his campaign, declined to comment through a spokesman.
Fabian was also asked to resign from the board of the Cambridge School in Pikesville, the private Christian school attended by two of his children, after six years of volunteer service.
After Fabian pleaded guilty, Gov. Martin O'Malley asked agencies that hired CMAT's for-profit affiliate to review work done in 2005 and 2006, according to Shaun Adamec, a spokesman. There is no evidence of impropriety, Adamec said, "but we want to make sure."
The government totals the fraud at about $40 million - $32 million from Solarcom and almost $8 million from the banks. But Fabian's attorney, James Wyda, says it's no more than half that. He and Fabian declined to be interviewed for this article.
"Alan is trying as best he can to protect his wife and kids. It's a painful time," Wyda said in an e-mail.
Fabian faces a maximum of 30 years on the mail fraud count and three years on the tax count. His bankruptcy cases - for SPI Inc. and the nonprofit entity of CMAT - continue. The Maximus case is awaiting arbitration.
And former CMAT employees still can't understand any of it.
"It completely boggles my mind," said Barr, who was a senior vice president at the center. "I've always presumed him innocent."