Mood medication altered judgment of thief, court told

March 04, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

Robert P. Schmitt Jr. pulled off the largest theft from the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing -- $1.6 million -- after having a toxic reaction to Prozac and another anti-depressant, two doctors said in his defense yesterday.

Schmitt, 31, who was a promising engineer at the money-printing agency at the time, walked out of the bureau headquarters in Washington with nearly 17,000 crisp new $100 bills in his briefcase.

The Edgewater resident has since resigned from the bureau and pleaded guilty to stealing the bills on two separate occasions last spring.

During a sentencing hearing yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Schmitt's attorneys attempted to portray him as a stalwart, highly intelligent man of good moral judgment whose life became crazed because of prescribed medication.

"Given the pattern of Mr. Schmitt's life before taking the medication, the common-sense explanation is that the depression and the medication had something to do with this bizarre behavior," said David S. Blatt of the Washington law firm of Williams and Connolly.

A psychiatrist who treated Schmitt since 1987, Dr. Alec J. Whyte, described Schmitt as being of "clear and superior intelligence." But Schmitt frequently had serious bouts of depression, Dr. Whyte said.

At the time he stole the money from a bureau vault, Schmitt was taking Prozac and Tranxene, both tranquilizers commonly prescribed for depression, Dr. Whyte said.

In retrospect, Dr. Whyte said, it would appear that the drugs changed his usually shy and cautious personality and caused him to steal the cash.

"He had a strange and unusual overreaction to the medication," Dr. Whyte said, noting that Schmitt behaved extremely irrationally with the money he stole by attracting attention to himself. Schmitt bought three waterfront properties and deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars in area banks, sometimes at drive-through machines.

"Spending sprees are often associated with mood disorders. . . . He had a profoundly toxic reaction" to the drugs, Dr. Whyte said.

Dr. David M. Goldstein, a psychiatrist and director of the Mood Disorder Program at Georgetown University who also was hired by defense lawyers to evaluate Schmitt, said the drugs caused Schmitt's usually good judgment to deteriorate.

"He was in the midst of a hypomanic episode," Dr. Goldstein said.

Prosecutors -- who argued Schmitt's mood changes were simply a result of anxiety over having stolen $1.6 million -- are seeking a three-year sentence. Defense attorneys said they are asking for a sentence of home detention with community service.

Judge Marvin J. Garbis said he will set a date for sentencing next week.

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