Scam victim won't recoup lost opportunity, dreams Couple plead guilty, but one woman lost more than money

December 19, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Susan Stephens, 18, has learned a bitter lesson in the 18 months since she graduated from Walkersville High School.

Stephens, of Union Bridge, was one of at least 23 people bilked by William Virgillio III of Baltimore County, who pleaded guilty yesterday in Carroll County Circuit Court to an employment swindle. Prosecutors said he stole more than $11,000 from victims lured to his Westminster office with promises of jobs paying $13 an hour and more.

Virgillio, 29, and Darcelle C. Callow, 25, were indicted by a Carroll County grand jury in February. The couple, now married, live in the 8100 block of Stratman Road in Dundalk.

Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold accepted Virgillio's guilty plea to conducting a theft scheme between August and December 1996 and, according to the plea agreement, imposed suspended eight-year prison sentences for the scheme and each of two counts of theft over $300.

Arnold placed Virgillio on five years probation, imposed 200 hours of community service and ordered him and his wife to pay restitution of $11,185.

All remaining counts were dropped. Charges against his wife were placed on the court's inactive docket, with the understanding that she must complete 200 hours of community service and share in making restitution.

Neither can be prosecuted again in Carroll County on criminal charges stemming from the same theft scheme, Arnold said.

"A plea agreement was the best chance to see that all of the victims would get their money back," said prosecutor Jerry Joyce, who began investigating complaints in December 1996 about International Safety Management Inc., a business owned and operated by Virgillio from an East Main Street storefront in Westminster and from a Deerco Road suite in Timonium.

In a statement of facts, Joyce said people responding to a classified advertisement promising $13 an hour were asked to register and pay $75 for a background check, which was nonrefundable.

Joyce said the background checks were never made, but applicants were told they would be hired and were asked to attend a training session and to spend a refundable $95 for a sales kit.

"The kit consisted of a tin pie plate, a small glass, lighter fluid, some pamphlets, matches and a small fire extinguisher," Joyce said.

The applicants were enticed to sell products -- fire extinguishers and related items -- with a promise that they could earn $4,000 a month as an office manager after brief training.

Joyce said checks for orders on the merchandise were cashed by Virgillio, but the products were not delivered in most instances.

By Dec. 14, 1996, job applicants discovered that ISM's telephones and pagers had been disconnected and that the Westminster office was vacant.

Stephens never got beyond paying $75 to ISM, but she had quit her salesclerk position at Sears Roebuck, counting on ISM paying her $4,000 a month to be an office manager after training.

"I went to the bank and got a $5,000 loan for college -- I want to major in business management -- and I bought a year-old Volkswagen Jetta for $16,000, knowing I could work, pay off the debts and start college," she said.

The man from whom she bought the car called ISM to verify her employment, Stephens said.

When Stephens heard nothing further from Callow, whom she believed to be the office manager, she discovered the company was gone, and so were her dreams.

"I wanted to move out on my own, be a teen-ager, go to college and have a good job," she said. "I'm too young to be in this kind of debt."

Stephens was unable to get her job back and didn't find another one until April.

"I had to use money from the college loan to live and sold my car in February for $10,000 -- $6,000 less than I paid for it -- because I couldn't make the payments," she said.

She borrowed the $6,000 difference from her parents to pay off the car loan and said it hurts not being able to repay them soon.

"I'm out $11,075 and can't go to college for maybe five years," she said.

Only $75 of Stephens' loss is included in the restitution.

The worst part has been the "how-could-you-be-so-dumb" reactions Stephens heard from friends.

"I felt so stupid, until I learned how many other victims there were," she said.

Joyce said similar charges against Virgillio are pending in Fredericksburg, Va. He said many calls about the scam were from alleged victims in Baltimore County. However, Joyce said he was not aware of any charges against Virgillio in Baltimore County.

Stephens said she hoped everyone would read about her experience and learn an important lesson: "If it's too good to be true, don't do it," she said.

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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