Man pleads guilty to theft charge

December 10, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Romie Ogbolu would have you believe he is an investor, a smart guy with the know-how and the contacts to help you make money. Police say the 50-year-old Montgomery County resident is actually a con man who uses techniques perfected by other fraud operations from Nigeria, and they believe he has bilked tens of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting investors in the Baltimore area.

Ogbolu, who in April began serving a one-year sentence for working a "pyramid" scheme out of his $600,000 home, faces up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty yesterday to stealing more than $20,000 from a retired Baltimore City school system employee.

Others who claim to be victims of his schemes include members of the Living Word Christian Center, a nondenominational church in Northwest Baltimore where a man at a real estate seminar this year referred prospective homebuyers to Ogbolu.

Romie Ogbogu Ogbolu, who was in Montgomery County Circuit Court yesterday to plead guilty to one count of felony theft, looked more like a foreign diplomat than a thief. The former IBM employee wore a suit and tie, and he admitted his guilt in a soft but steady voice that carried only a hint of a Nigerian accent. His lawyer said he is a U.S. citizen.

After the hearing, Janet Williams, who retired two years ago as an assistant principal after 35 years with the city schools, said, "I want him to get time. I want him exposed under the name Romie Ogbolu. I want to make sure he doesn't do this to anyone else."

Prosecutor George E. Simms III said Ms. Williams and her son-in-law, Ernest Stevens, called police last June to say Ogbolu had defrauded them. He said Mr. Stevens had given Ogbolu money for a variety of business ventures, none of which panned out. Through Mr. Stevens, Ogbolu also offered to invest Ms. Williams' retirement fund in a pool to purchase an annuity from State Farm Insurance that would pay a high return, the prosecutor said.

Ogbolu somehow acquired an application and other documents from the insurance company, but when Ms. Williams gave him a check he simply placed it in his business' account, Mr. Simms said.

Under the plea agreement, Ogbolu would repay Ms. Williams $20,494.91; she said she does not expect to see any of the money.

Ogbolu is to be sentenced Feb. 9 by Judge DeLawrence Beard.

In return for the guilty plea, the state dropped felony theft charges involving the business plans between Ogbolu and Mr. Stevens, who said he paid Ogbolu to help him purchase a printing company in Washington, D.C. Mr. Stevens, who also put up money for an ill-fated real estate deal in Baltimore, says he is out about $13,000.

Under Ogbolu's plea bargain, Mr. Stevens would receive $3,700 in restitution.

Mr. Stevens, a 48-year-old marketing consultant from South Baltimore, said Ogbolu did not win his confidence easily.

"I investigated this guy. I went to the level I could, given the information I had," he said. "I don't have access to FBI computers."

If Mr. Stevens had gotten a look at Ogbolu's record, he would have learned that his potential business associate had by then served an 18-month sentence for embezzlement and a 30-day sentence for theft and was awaiting trial in the pyramid scheme that would eventually land him a one-year sentence.

Also, court files show that Ogbolu, his investing and consulting company and his wife have been sued more than 20 times in Montgomery County, and that he had filed for bankruptcy in 1987.

Mr. Stevens said he was referred to Ogbolu last year by Norman A. Berry Jr. In January, Mr. Berry, 49, appeared at a real estate seminar at the Living Word Christian Center to offer advice for people who had credit problems who wanted to buy a home, according to those present at the seminar. Mr. Berry's advice: Let Romie Ogbolu finance your home purchase.

Mr. Berry has not been charged in connection with Ogbolu. Repeated attempts to reach him at his address in Millersville were unsuccessful.

Church members Stephen and Karen Williams -- no relation to Janet Williams -- say they took Mr. Berry's advice and entered into a deal to purchase a house in Northeast Baltimore. The deal called for Ogbolu to put up the money to buy the house for $61,000, but the house would initially be owned by his second cousin, 28-year-old Geoffrey Olisa, of Gaithersburg. Under the deal, the Williamses would make the initial mortgage payment and then assume ownership, Mr. Williams said, but no title was ever turned over.

He says he and his wife have lost nearly $8,000 to Ogbolu in the deal.

Two other church members, Martin and Iris Freeman of Ellicott City, tried to enter a similar deal on a townhouse in Columbia, but they never made it to settlement, Mrs. Freeman said. She says she and her husband lost about $5,000.

Efforts to reach David Brown, pastor of Living Word, were unsuccessful.

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