Former investment adviser Michael E. Hart pleaded guilty yesterday in Towson to stealing more than $800,000 from eight clients, including several who entrusted him with their pensions and life savings.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge J. Norris Byrnes set a Jan. 6 sentencing for Mr. Hart, 34, whose last known address was in Owings Mills. Hart could be sentenced to 23 years on consolidated charges of theft, securities fraud and failure to file income tax returns from 1983 to 1989, said Assistant Attorney General Carolyn H. Henneman.
Hart, who had offices in Baltimore County, first on Bellona Lane and then on Deerco Road, was charged with 29 counts last May, and subsequently was arrested in San Diego, where he was living under an assumed name with his black hair dyed blond.
Many of his victims were retired Bethlehem Steel workers, the prosecutor said. The thefts ranged from $6,000 to $369,000.
According to a statement of facts, Hart used the money for his business and stock market investments, a lifestyle that included a house in Hunt Valley, an Ocean City condominium and two Mercedes-Benzes.
He would also use the money periodically to cover up thefts from other clients who became suspicious.
When one client confronted him about the disappearance of $250,000 and the forgery of her signature, Hart admitted taking the money and claimed to have problems with alcohol and
He told several clients that they had invested in real estate through Hart Limited Partnership II -- actually a Hardee's restaurant in Rocky Mount, N.C. He never made the investments.
Among Hart's victims was his wife's uncle, Harry Trout, a 63-year-old retired dairy farmer who had given a loan to Hart to promote the financial seminars he conducted for Bethlehem Steel retirees, according to the statement of facts. Hart persuaded the Trouts to take $26,500 out of a retirement plan and to give it to him to invest in another institution.
Hart lost the money in the stock market.