Former builder arrested by FBI on fraud charges

March 12, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Christopher H. Hill lost his license to practice law after admitting defrauding a former Navy basketball coach in a home-sale scam. Later he lost a civil court case that left him facing an $8 million judgment.

Now the erstwhile builder of luxury homes in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Prince George's counties could lose his freedom for six years if he is convicted of charges he faces in a $3 million construction fraud scheme.

Federal prosecutors unsealed a 13-count indictment charging Mr. Hill, 40, with mail and wire fraud. He was arrested at 6:15 a.m. yesterday at his Severna Park home by FBI agents.

"We don't routinely pick up white-collar [crime suspects] early in the morning," said U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett, explaining that officials were concerned that Mr. Hill might flee.

Magistrate Judge Daniel E. Klein Jr. ordered Mr. Hill detained without bail yesterday pending a detention hearing Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Prosecutors plan to ask the magistrate judge to deny bail for the defendant.

"The federal guidelines sentencing range could give him 57 to 71 months [in prison]," said Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Warren Hamel. "That's a lot of time for a white-collar criminal. Given that he has no ties here, I think he really and truly is a flight risk."

Mr. Hamel said that Mr. Hill once fled from Pennsylvania after being charged with writing bad checks. Authorities found him in Tacoma, Wash., that time.

In 1989, Mr. Hill failed to appear for a hearing in Anne Arundel Circuit Court. The court entered an $8 million judgment against him for defrauding Stewart Title Guaranty, a Texas company that backed Mr. Hill's former title company. Prosecutors said that the judgment was not paid.

Mr. Hill agreed to be disbarred in 1987 to avoid a $24 million lawsuit by basketball coach Paul Evans, who had bought a home represented as free of liens. Mr. Hill had taken out two loans against it.

After his disbarment, Mr. Hill began a fast-paced career in luxury-home construction, leaving a trail of frustration among 25 customers in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Mr. Hamel said the FBI has been investigating Mr. Hill since 1989.

Court papers say Mr. Hill's Arnold-based American Homes Corp., obtained financing from area banks to build homes. He sent customers to a title company he owned, North American Title Corp. of Glen Burnie, although they were unaware of Mr. Hill's stake in the company, court papers say.

Mr. Hill told customers that their construction loans would be paid off within 48 hours of settlement. But, at times, he instructed his employees to withhold repayment, leaving customers without clear titles.

He kept the money in the title company's escrow account and used it for personal benefit and to pay business expenses, court papers say.

Stewart Title Guaranty paid the $3 million in construction loans that Mr. Hill left unpaid.

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