Doris Cohens raised her hand. She had something to say about Michael Anthony Henson, a flimflam man appearing in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday to admit to his latest scam -- one that found him posing, convincingly, as a sales tax auditor for the state.
Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe called on the woman.
"That young man is a pro," Mrs. Cohens said.
"You don't have to tell anyone here," Judge Bothe responded. "He's a pro pro."
Mrs. Cohens said she met the man while eating breakfast in a neighborhood restaurant, only to have him talk his way into her home and her pocketbook by posing as an official from the state comptroller's office.
"If you let me get my hands on him you won't have to put him in jail, I'll put him in the hospital," the 48-year-old North Baltimore woman said. "He's a rotten bastard."
Henson has been described by authorities as a veteran grifter who conned and swindled his way around the world, acquiring a taste for diamond rings and fur coats along the way. He apparently resurfaced in Baltimore late last year with his latest con.
Authorities say he would approach small businesses and identify himself as a state official. While reviewing the shopkeeper's tax and checking records, he would help himself to a page of checks, police said.
Mrs. Cohens said Henson charged her $150 to expedite the filing of her tax return and then stole money from her purse.
Charged in 20 cases as Michael Johnson, one of his aliases, the 37-year-old Baltimore man pleaded guilty yesterday to two counts of felony theft, one count of misdemeanor theft and one count of forgery, prosecutor Haven H. Kodek said.
Mr. Kodek said the plea agreement allows him to recommend up to five years in prison for Henson, but he will wait to see what happens at the July 23 hearing in which Henson will likely be sentenced to 36 to 50 months in prison for violating parole in a federal case.
Judge Bothe mentioned that Henson is terminally ill and is likely to die within three years. She then opened the floor to the victims of Henson's swindles.
"I feel like my whole system has been degraded because of this," said John Connor, owner of a North Avenue liquor and grocery store. Prafullachandra Kuppalli, owner of an East Baltimore Street gift shop, said his wife was terrified by Henson's suggestion that they may have violated the tax code.
Marvin Johnson, a gas station owner, then stood to say everyone should be thankful that nobody was hurt. "The only thing he took was money," Mr. Johnson said. "Me, personally, I'm satisfied."
Then Henson turned to his victims and rolled up his sleeve as if to display needle marks.
"Your money didn't go to a rich man, it went to cocaine," he said. Apparently warmed by the station owner's comments and appearing as if he might cry, Henson said: "And, Mr. Johnson, you touched me."