Businessman freed after guilty plea

June 28, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

Robert Franklin Miller, a flamboyant businessman, walked out of the Anne Arundel Circuit courthouse a free man yesterday, having pleaded guilty to theft for breaking into a restaurant -- while police looked on -- and taking almost everything that wasn't nailed down.

"I'm back in business," he said, smiling as he walked out of the courthouse.

Mr. Miller, who declined further comment, was sentenced to time already served under the deal cut by prosecutors and his lawyer, Anne Arundel County Public Defender Alan R. Friedman.

Mr. Friedman told Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. that the 209 days Mr. Miller spent in jail awaiting trial amounted to more than the six-month maximum sentence for misdemeanor theft.

Mr. Miller entered an Alford plea, which means he did not admit guilt, but acknowledged that the state had enough evidence to convict him.

According to police and witnesses, Mr. Miller hired work crews, rented two trucks and broke into the Bridgeview Restaurant on Sixth Street early May 24, 1993. His crews took all the food, furnishings and liquor.

Mr. Miller, who had run the restaurant for about two months, had his own table and often sang karaoke. He called Annapolis police beforehand and asked for protection in case a "former partner" showed up and tried to stop his crews.

Police later learned he had divested himself of his interest in the restaurant -- sometimes called "Dr. Bob's 911 Club" -- and that Charles Ellenberger bought the club from James C. Foote a few days before the break-in.

Mr. Friedman yesterday repeated his client's claim that the charges stemmed from a civil dispute between Mr. Miller, Mr. Foote and Mr. Ellenberger.

As a result of the plea, Mr. Miller, who told friends he was a chiropractor and was commonly known in the Annapolis area as "Dr. Bob," will not have to pay any restitution.

Robert J. Bittman, the prosecutor, said he agreed to the plea because the victims, Mr. Foote and Mr. Ellenberger, didn't want the case to be tried and were convinced they wouldn't get any restitution, even if it were ordered.

"There was no doubt in my mind that even if he was found guilty, he wouldn't have served another day in jail," said Mr. Ellenberger. "I just wanted it over with."

Mr. Ellenberger, a retired Howard County police officer who runs his own Ellicott City detective agency, said he lost at least $65,000 in his dealings with Mr. Miller.

Most of the restaurant's furnishings were recovered, he said. The food spoiled and much of the liquor was destroyed. After the break-in, business fell off to the point where the restaurant was no longer profitable. He closed it Aug. 2, 1993.

Mr. Ellenberger also said two food distributors sued him and won judgments totaling about $11,000 because of overdue bills accumulated under Mr. Miller's management.

"If I knew then what I know now, it wouldn't have happened," he said. "It was just downright stupidity, I was just dumb, I let it happen.".

Mr. Miller also had been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud for allegedly running a diploma mill scam for would-be chiropractors. The charge was dismissed.

Mr. Ellenberger said that that ruling, along with Mr. Miller's winning release on a $20,000 bond several months ago, were why he decided prosecutors should accept the guilty plea.

"It was like everything was going in Bob's favor, he could do no wrong," Mr. Ellenberger said. "This way, at least he's found guilty of something."

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