Imprisoned scam artist repays $20 to a victim

April 19, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Legally speaking, Kevin Steven Plopi didn't owe Donald Allen Newcomer a cent, even though he admits he bilked the retired Maryland state trooper out of $20 last year.

But nearly eight months after a Carroll Circuit judge acquitted him of a misdemeanor theft charge filed by Mr. Newcomer in March 1993, Mr. Plopi has repaid the trooper.

"This is the last person you probably ever expected to hear from, but here I am!" Plopi said in a letter to Mr. Newcomer written in March from his Hagerstown prison cell.

"I'm writing to you to let you know how sorry I am for all the trouble I caused . . . I know I owe you a big apology and would like to give it to you man to man, face to face."

"I was shocked," Mr. Newcomer said yesterday of the letter and the 20-dollar bill Plopi enclosed. "You know, after I realized he wasn't going to pay me back, I just wanted to beat . . . him, but that's the old-fashioned way."

Plopi, according to his lawyer, Richard W. Winelander, "came up with the letter idea on his own. I wish I could've taken credit for it, but I can't. He told me, 'I promised to pay it back. I'll pay it back.' "

Plopi was in Carroll Circuit Court again yesterday, this time to plead guilty to bilking two other people out of more than $260 last year. Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. sentenced the 34-year-old Randallstown man to a year in the county detention center.

The defendant will begin serving that sentence after he completes the 18-month term he's serving in Hagerstown for misdemeanor theft, drug and forgery convictions in Baltimore and Howard counties.

Plopi fooled Mr. Newcomer in what authorities called a classic scam. In March 1993, Plopi approached Mr. Newcomer at his Marriottsville farm and said his wife had run the couple's car into a creek and he needed $20 to get a tow truck.

Mr. Newcomer gave him the money and Plopi agreed to repay the former trooper the next day.

He never returned.

"I've got a soft heart for people in need," Mr. Newcomer said yesterday. "I thought [he] probably needed the $20, so I gave it to him. I was going to forget it, until I found out he had been doing this scheme all over the place."

According to Mr. Winelander, Plopi had been conducting the scheme to the tune of $200 to $300 a day. His victims included a gas station attendant, a Howard County public defender and a minister. In some cases, he pretended to be a trooper helping bbTC relative. In others, he pulled the same scam he pulled on Mr. Newcomer. He stole checks from a roommate and forged them for cash.

"He was going downhill real fast," Mr. Winelander said.

Ever since Plopi, who worked as a mechanic at Al Packer Ford in Baltimore, injured his back moving an engine block in 1989, he has been hooked on cocaine, his lawyer said. He underwent three back operations and was given "many drugs" that made him groggy and sleepy, Mr. Winelander said.

"He didn't want to be sleepy, so he resorted to snorting and smoking cocaine," he said.

The attorney said that when Plopi won a $25,000 worker's compensation settlement, he "smoked it up in a month."

Plopi says he's clean now.

"I haven't been in my right mind for some time," the father of two wrote in his letter to Mr. Newcomer. "The best thing that ever happened to me was going to jail. It saved my life!

"Now that my mind and body are cleaned out, I look back and can't believe that I hurt all the people the way I did, especially my wife and kids. I have been a fighter all my life and I'm not going to quit now."

For Mr. Newcomer, who says he's seen convicts "spin around before," the only lesson he's taking from his experience with Plopi is that he's never going to lend him $20 again.

"I watched my dad silently reach into his wallet and give money to people who needed it," Mr. Newcomer said. "It's a legacy he passed down to me, and I hope that my sons have learned it from me.

"I often think, 'There but for the grace of God go I.' I hope that if I ever have to resort to begging, someone will find it in their heart to give me a hand."

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