Hill Not Guilty Of Bouncing Payroll Checks

November 18, 1990|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

Chris Hill stood and faced the jury. "Not guilty." He bent to make a note on his yellow legal pad, just like the lawyers do.

The former Arnold home builder whose business collapsed under revelations of his multimillion dollar fraud, had been brought into criminal court on charges he wrote about $3,000 in bad checks.

Christopher H. Hill, an attorney until he was disbarred in 1987 after being named in a $24 million legal malpractice suit, represented himself.

His form may have been a little rusty and he may have squirmed and fidgeted while the prosecutor issued his final arguments, but Hill argued his case and won.

"No comment, except that I'm happy," said the former owner of the now-defunct American Homes Corp., smiling as he left the courthouse with his parents.

Hill lost an $8 million default judgment last year in a civil suit from his role in a title-insurance scam. When his trial for bouncing checks as small as $80 started Thursday, he told the jury, "The rest of my life depends on this."

Once a builder of luxury homes who lived in a waterfront house and drove a $60,000 car, Hill spent part of the past year on the lam in Tacoma, Wash.

FBI agents and Tacoma police kicked in his door one Friday night in March, and he was soon on his way back East to answer criminal charges in Pennsylvania and in Maryland.

He spent a weekend in jail in Washington and a weekend in the Anne Arundel County Detention Center waiting to make bail. Hill says he is destitute and living with his parents in Silver Spring, working odd jobs as a carpenter.

Pacing and drinking coffee while awaiting the jury's verdict, Hill, 37, said he was afraid of being convicted. He also said he thinks the FBI will, sooner or later, charge him with crimes. He said federal agents interrogated him after his arrest in Washington.

But for now, Hill has only one criminal charge hanging over his head. He has been charged with bouncing about $15,000 in commission checks to Long & Foster Realtors. Assistant State's Attorney John LeCornu said that in light of Friday's verdict, he will take another look at the Long & Foster case before deciding whether to go ahead with it.

In August, Hill pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft, said Rolf Bienk, chief deputy district attorney for Daulphin 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 last week's trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, prosecution witnesses, including Hill's sister-in-law, Victoria Albrittain, a former bookkeeper for his companies, said Hill approved all checks issued by his companies, American Homes Corp., ARC Inc and AFC Inc.

A bank officer testified that the account Hill drew on to pay a $1,195 bill to an Annapolis roofing company had, at the time, a balance of minus $1,878.29.

Another bank officer said an account used to write about $1,700 in payroll checks contained only $67.

LeCornu, the prosecutor, said Hill's business was "a financial Titanic," sinking amid the noisy complaints of creditors seeking payment. Trying to show that Hill intentionally bounced checks -- a necessary element for conviction -- LeCornu said Hill was "no dummy" and knew the checks would be no good, but "he had bigger bullets to dodge."

But Hill told the jury that the prosecution did not prove he authorized the checks specified in the charges, and he said the checks bounced because his bank accounts were frozen on July 14, 1989, when Stewart Title Guaranty Co. of Texas filed its multimillion fraud suit against him.

He also said one of the banks had authority to transfer money from his other accounts there to cover overdrafts, but failed to do so.

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