A fugitive faces his screen counterpart


December 18, 1993|By Gary Cohn | Gary Cohn,Staff Writer

Guess what movie Tom J. Billman and his federal escorts watched as the long-on-the-lam savings-and-loan executive flew in from Paris to stand trial on charges of looting his Bethesda thrift? "The Fugitive."

The irony was obvious to Mr. Billman and his two escorts from the U.S. Marshal's Service, Kenneth A. Plumley and Steven D. Akers, as they flew to the United States from Paris on Tuesday. Mr. Billman wore handcuffs as he watched the film.

"He spent 4 1/2 years on the run as a fugitive," Mr. Plumley said, "and when we went to get him on the flight home, they showed the movie 'The Fugitive.' "

Mr. Billman "watched it the whole time and chuckled," Mr. Plumley said. "When the character playing the fugitive shaved off his beard, I nudged him and pointed to the screen, and he started laughing and nodding his head."

"Wanted" posters placed in yachting magazines and the International Herald Tribune showed Mr. Billman's bearded face, but, like the character in "The Fugitive," Mr. Billman had shaved off his beard while in hiding. He was clean-shaven when authorities captured him in March at his Paris apartment, where he was posing as a champagne entrepreneur named John Rink.

The hunt for Mr. Billman, who faces federal charges of stealing $28 million from his Community Savings & Loan Association, involved numerous police agencies. Four officials from the U.S. Marshal's Service office in Baltimore -- Mr. Plumley, Mr. Akers, Pat J. Monardo and Rodney Johnson -- played key roles.

Mr. Plumley and Mr. Akers flew to Paris last weekend to bring Mr. Billman home. The longtime fugitive was handed off to them on Tuesday by French authorities at Charles DeGaulle Airport. Shortly before noon, Mr. Billman and his two federal escorts boarded TWA Flight 803 bound for New York City. They sat in coach, three rows from the back of the plane.

Sitting in the window seat, Mr. Billman drank cup after cup of coffee and ate a meal of turkey cordon bleu. He complained about conditions in the French jail where he was housed, saying he had been limited at first to one shower a week. He was, however, able to buy beer from the jail commissary. "He said it was cheap," Mr. Akers noted.

Mr. Billman, 53, was able to remain at large for so long, Mr. Akers said, because he had two things going for him -- a lot of cash and experience as a world traveler.

"He tried to be personable," Mr. Akers said of the man he escorted back to America. "He had an air about him. I thought he was a little bit arrogant. He seemed confident he's not going to be convicted."

Charter insurance policy on ex-chief is for sale

For sale: A $3.9 million insurance policy on the life of Hamilton A. Schmidt, the former chief executive of Charter Group Inc. who disappeared in September.

Towson-based Charter, which filed for bankruptcy in October, is the beneficiary on the policy. It wants to sell it to pay creditors.

"I haven't encountered a situation quite like this one, where you are trying to solicit a buyer to purchase a policy where the policyholder is presumed alive but is not around to answer the bell," said Ralph Moore, a consultant who is seeking bids on the policy.

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