Developer Builds Check Defense Chris Hill's Legal And Financial Difficulties Continue To Mount

November 16, 1990|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

Christopher H. Hill, the former Arnold home builder whose business collapsed under revelations of his multi-million-dollar fraud, went to court yesterday to fight charges of passing less than $3,000 in bad checks.

Hill, who lost an $8 million judgment last year in a civil suit stemming from his role in a title-insurance scam, was on trial yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court for bouncing checks ranging from $80 to one of his laborers to $1,195 to an Annapolis roofing company.

A former attorney disbarred in 1987 after being named in a $24 million legal malpractice suit, Hill represented himself yesterday in front of a jury.

While Assistant State's Attorney John LeCornu seemed determined to focus his case on the nuts and bolts of bad check law, Hill made mention of the financial downfall of his American Homes Corp. and made an appeal to the jury.

"The rest of my life depends on this," Hill told the jurors before calmly outlining his side of the case.

He said his checks bounced only because his bank accounts were frozen when a title insurance company filed its multi-million civil suit. He said his business failings left him unable to pay many of his creditors.

"For what it's worth, I feel really terrible about that. If I had any choice or any way to control that, it wouldn't have happened," Hill said.

Last year, a Circuit Court judge ruled that Hill, who had worked as an agent for the Stewart Title Guaranty Co., must pay more than $3 million in actual damages and $5 million in punitive damages to the Texas title insurance company. That judgment stemmed from a civil suit in which the company claimed Hill sold homes without paying off construction loans borrowed against the homes. Hill never responded to the suit and lost by default.

Court records show Hill claims to have been destitute and unemployed, except for piecework carpentry jobs, since his businesses went under. Asked yesterday during a brief interview how he will deal with an $8 million judgment over his head, he said, "You have to live bankrupt for the rest of your life."

Hill temporarily fled the state in October 1989 -- after he had been indicted for theft. Although county State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee has said the FBI was investigating the case, Hill has never faced federal criminal charges and has been charged only in Maryland and Pennsylvania, where he also built homes.

In sworn testimony last April, part of a deposition taken in connection with the Stewart Title civil suit, Hill said he moved to Takoma, Wash., only to have FBI agents and Takoma police kick down his door one Friday night in March with a warrant for his arrest on the Pennsylvania charges.

After a weekend in jail in Takoma, he was allowed to drive back east to surrender in Pennsylvania. He then turned himself in in Maryland and spent another weekend in jail before posting $25,000 bond.

In August, Hill pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft, said Rolf Bienk, chief deputy district attorney in Dauphin County, Pa. Bienk said Hill was fined $500, placed on 23 months' probation and was ordered to pay $11,600 in restitution to the Chartwood Manor Homeowners Association in Harrisburg.

In Maryland, Hill faces three felony counts and six misdemeanor counts, all from passing bad checks.

Among the prosecution witnesses yesterday was Victoria Albrittain, Hill's sister-in-law and a former bookkeeper for his companies. Also present was his estranged wife, Katherine Hill. Hill arrived with his parents; he has been living with them in Silver Spring, records show.

The trial will resume this morning with closing arguments. Hill faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison for each felony count and 18 months for each misdemeanor.

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