Former radio talk-show host Alan Christian, who was found guilty of misappropriating $680,000 from hundreds of Maryland investors in 1990, has won a $14.5 million court judgment against a man he says caused his financial downfall two years ago.
Mr. Christian accused Leighton E. Harrell Jr. of promising to provide financing for his proposed purchase of area radio stations -- but producing nothing. After a brief hearing before Judge Christian M. Kahl in Baltimore County Circuit Court March 10, Mr. Harrell agreed to the judgment.
Mr. Harrell, who appeared without an attorney, had filed for federal bankruptcy protection in October 1991. But his case was dismissed last month when he didn't show up for a hearing. That left him vulnerable to Mr. Christian's lawsuit.
Yesterday, Mr. Christian said he was not sure whether the judgment will bring him any money. But the suit, he said, is "one of the steps I'll take" toward paying back the more than 800 local listeners who invested in his dreams of owning a network of radio stations and lost their money.
The case against Mr. Christian and his associate, Grace M. Starmer, was initiated in 1988 by the Maryland Securities Division, which is part of the attorney general's office. It charged that Mr. Christian told investors he planned to buy radio stations and make movies, among other enterprises, but that Mr. Christian and his associates engaged in a "desperate attempt" to get enough money to build Atlantic Coast Radio.
Many of the investors placed just a few hundred dollars with Mr. Christian; several invested more than $10,000. A few members of one family put up about $22,000. According to case records, one of the first letters sent to investors in September 1988 assured them that "any money received toward this project will be deposited in an escrow fund and will not be released until the deal is completed."
But Mr. Christian and his colleagues began using funds from the supposedly inviolate escrow fund, exhausting it by early 1990.
After pleading guilty to embezzlement and violations of the Maryland Securities Act in November of that year, Mr. Christian and Ms. Starmer, a vice president of Atlantic Coast Radio, were given five-year suspended sentences. Mr. Christian was ordered to do 1,500 hours of community service work and pay $679,894 in restitution.
So far Mr. Christian, who says he is working only sporadically, has paid back "less than $5,000."
In the Baltimore County Circuit Court suit last week, Mr. Christian claimed that Mr. Harrell had arranged to get big investors to provide millions of dollars in loans, with which he could buy the Baltimore radio station WITH, and perhaps a station in Delaware as well.
Mr. Christian said he traveled to Panama to meet with some of these investors, a trip arranged through Mr. Harrell's company. The former broadcaster said the Panamanian contacts assured him that they were selling stock in his firm -- and that $8 million would be available by December 1989.
Mr. Christian contended in his suit that he paid Mr. Harrell $136,500 between 1988 and 1990 to help him find financing for his venture. And he paid Theodosia "Teddi" Barry, an associate of Mr. Harrell's, $2,500 in fees. In a February 1990 letter, Mr. Christian claimed, Ms. Barry promised to raise $85 million.
However, despite continuing promises from both Mr. Harrell and Ms. Barry that millions of dollars would be forthcoming, no money ever was raised, Mr. Christian said. In the meantime, he said, he and Ms. Starmer spent the money local investors had provided.
"I had absolute trust in this fellow [Mr. Harrell]" Mr. Christian said. "He's a retired Methodist minister, a well-respected person -- a man of integrity."
Two other men, also seeking financing for their separate business ventures, joined in the suit also claiming they paid Mr. Harrell and Ms. Barry to arrange financing for them, but got nothing. Thomas Dorn won a judgment of $3.2 million, and Nicholas Devoles won a judgment of $480,000.
Mr. Harrell could not be reached for comment yesterday.