Con artist, back in shackles, suddenly at loss for words

This Just In...

September 08, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

GIVEN his long history as a confidence man, Salvatore Spinnato might have ended up playing the part of a Galveston shrimp farmer, or a Dallas doctor, or maybe a Fort Worth physical therapist. Had things gone his way, he might have been chowing down enchiladas and knocking back tequila cocktails somewhere in Mexico by now. Or maybe he would have gone even farther south and ended up, like some character in a novel of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, running a steamboat in a river in Central America. Perhaps he would have opened an acupuncture clinic in Paraguay.

One can only speculate on what this slithery man's plans were at the time of his recent apprehension in Texas. He's not giving interviews. On his way to the Baltimore County Detention Center on Saturday afternoon, Spinnato only had two words for me, and the most colorful one is unprintable.

So we'll just have to wonder what Spinnato was doing in Lewisville, Texas, a couple of weeks ago when local police discovered his eight-month fugitive status and arrested him.

Tell you one thing: I don't think Spinnato's visions included a return trip to Baltimore any time soon.

But that's what he got over the weekend - a publicly subsidized flight from Dallas to BWI, in handcuffs and ankle chains, accompanied by two Baltimore County police detectives.

The admitted con man appeared briefly before Bill Cogan, District Court commissioner, Saturday afternoon, having been escorted there by Bob Castignetti and John Macleod, fugitive apprehension specialists with the county police. They went down to Texas on Friday to get Spinnato and bring him back. It was an uneventful trip, Castignetti said. The in-flight movie was "Liar, Liar," which is about a man forced by a spell to tell the truth about everything for 24 hours.

Maybe the irony is what prompted Spinnato to reject the headphones during the flight.

He has spent a good part of his life telling tall tales, cloaked in an array of aliases.He's posed as a doctor, a therapist, a shrimp farmer, a priest. He was accused of running scams - a line of shampoo, a cologne, a shrimp farm in Central America - and of bilking people out of considerable amounts of money. That was back in the 1970s, when Spinnato was in his mid-30s.

At some point, the FBI took an interest and, instead of putting him in jail, used Spinnato to help establish a sting-style undercover probe of suspected corruption in the Baltimore Department of Public Works. The yearlong investigation was successful and resulted in the conviction of an assortment of municipal crooks. Spinnato, claiming his life was in danger, disappeared into the federal witness protection program.

But he emerged a few years later on the wrong side of the law again, posing as doctors and writing bad checks in Kentucky and Alabama. He did time in federal prison.

"He would go to a bank with a stethoscope around his neck, calling himself a noted brain surgeon from Johns Hopkins Hospital, and ask them to cash a $10,000 check," said Dudley F. B. "Butch" Hodgson, the veteran FBI agent who worked closely with Spinnato during the public works sting. "He was the best con in the world."

In recent years, Spinnato has continued to break the law and swindle people out of thousands of dollars.

Then, last year, he was accused of turning to violence.

He faces charges in Baltimore County of kidnapping and assault with an electric shock device of a man who was dating his former wife. An accomplice is charged with kidnapping and is scheduled to stand trial tomorrow in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Spinnato had a court date in January. That's when he disappeared from Baltimore County.

Saturday, he was dressed in jeans, a denim shirt, black tassel loafers, white socks, handcuffs and ankle chains. He'd grown a mustache during his time away.

The last time I saw Spinnato, his hair was still dark brown, almost black. Saturday, as he signed away his right to a bail hearing, his hair was salt-and-pepper, heavy on the salt. Was the gray natural, or part of a disguise?

Spinnato wasn't talking.

East side experience

Joey Amalfitano, TJI's official food taster and chief cultural correspondent, reports:

"Once again, Maxine got this gleam in her eye for a nice meal. So we sauntered over to Santi's on Eastern Boulevard in Middle River. It's not far from the area's many marinas, and we'd heard Santi's was the latest move in the slow gentrification of Baltimore County's east side. It's owned by the Santi family - Pauli, of Champagne Tony's in Baltimore - and Telly Stroumbis, formerly of Little Italy. The two later worked at the Belvedere Hotel but recently have brought their Mediterranean flair, plus fundamental dining, to a location closer to where Telly likes to fish and hunt.

"Our waiter told us the owners see hope for the east side's rebound. So, Maxine got a veal dish, me the imperial crab between grilled eggplant. Great sauces. Plus, I can't say enough about the cream of artichoke and tomato soup. On our way home, Maxine got another gleam in her eye. It was a lovely evening."

This Just In appears each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact columnist Dan Rodricks with items of interest at 410-332-6166, or write to The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Dan receives electronic mail at TJIDAN

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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