Confined to a prison cell and armed with nothing more than court records, a photocopy machine and a bottle of Wite-Out, Michael Wayne Carroll found a way to steal thousands of dollars.
What's more, his victims dutifully wrote him checks -- and mailed them to the House of Correction in Jessup.
"This is the most ingenious scam -- and the most creative one -- that I've seen," prosecutor William C. Mulford II said yesterday after Carroll was sentenced to 10 more years in prison. "It involvedcourtdocuments. It involved state agencies. It involved private entities.And it involved current news events."
Mulford was clearly impressed by the flim-flams pulled off last year by Carroll, a grifter who could be called the Picasso of cut-and-paste.
Take the ruse Carroll, aka Michael W. Thomas, pulled on the state Comptroller's Office. Scanning a list of people who had rights to "unclaimed property" held by the state, Carroll noted that a George H. Pappas was due a tax refund of $9,771 because of a reduction in the assessment of property he owned in Baltimore.
Carroll, 36, set out to convince state officials that he was George H. Pappas. To do so, he doctored his copy of a 1983 Montgomery County Circuit Court order sentencing him to three years in prison for writing bad checks.
A few dabs of correction fluid, a run through the photocopying machine and . . . voila! The document was now an order, complete with a fancy seal and signed by a judge and the Clerk of Court, telling the world that George Pappas had changed his name to Michael Carroll. Using a similar modus operandi, hecreated a bogus George Pappas birth certificate. He pocketed a blankform for temporary automobile registration -- they're produced at the prison's printing shop -- and filled in the forms as George Pappas,car owner.
To top it off, Carroll even sent state officials a copy of a bogus employee identification card for Pappas -- complete withCarroll's prison photo ID. Convinced, the office sent Carroll a check for $9,771.
Comptroller's Office spokesman Marvin A. Bond said he had never before heard of anyone admitting to tricking the state out of unclaimed property. "We have been overly cautious in giving money away to the point where some corporations and individuals felt, if anything, that we were putting up roadblocks in the way of people whohad legitimate claims to property."
Carroll did not stop with theComptroller's Office. Reading about an explosion that had rocked a Hagerstown hotel in February 1990, he set out to con the hotel's insurance company out of $786. He sent the hotel a letter demanding reimbursement for body repairs, saying his car had been hit by debris in the explosion.He included a bogus repair bill -- a doctored document that appeared to be written under the letterhead used by the Ford MotorCo.'s parts and service division.
Carroll had thought to demand his file from a public defender who represented him in a previous case. Included in the file were copies of money orders, two for $300 and one for $186. Carroll simply blotted out the portion following "pay to the order of," made a copy, wrote in Ford Motor Co. and provided the "proof" that he had paid $786 for auto repairs.
He also was charged with falsely claiming he had paid $600 (with two $300 money orders, of course) for a membership in a health club that never opened. Hehad heard through news reports that partial refunds were available through the state attorney general's office. In addition, he was charged with trying to get in on government-ordered refunds being offered by a shady Pennsylvania campground.
Those charges were dropped in exchange for guilty pleas to theft charges stemming from the unclaimed property and hotel explosion scams. Yesterday's plea bargain also requires him to forfeit approximately $10,000 toward restitution.
Carroll, who since 1983 has been serving a 15-year sentence for forgery, fraud and a drug charge, was found out when prison officials noticed an unusually large amount of money in his prison account, Mulford said. A search of Carroll's cell turned up newspaper clippings, the court documents and the Ford letterhead.