Attorney is acquitted of arson in his home But he could lose license, job for not paying taxes

July 03, 1998|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Attorney Anthony K. Waters may not have set fire to his North Baltimore home to collect insurance payments, but he could still lose his state job and his law license for failing to pay state income taxes.

Waters, 45, was acquitted of arson yesterday by Baltimore Circuit Judge Paul A. Smith, who ruled that while there was sufficient evidence that someone in the home set the fire, he was not convinced it was Waters. Waters' wife, Leila, and son also were in the home at the time.

"I think it's true beyond a reasonable doubt that somebody in that house set the fire. The issue here is who set the fire " Smith said.

In dismissing the arson charge, Smith said police never checked Mrs. Waters' clothes for gasoline or asked if she had set the fire. "I'm not accusing the mother of setting the fire, but that possibility has to be negated," Smith said.

Evidence during the three-day trial showed that Waters, hired in September as an assistant attorney general for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, also failed to file state income tax returns for the six-year period from 1990 through 1995.

Waters and his wife declined to comment, but their lawyer said that for Waters to be disbarred, the tax issue would have to be addressed at a later hearing.

Maryland Bar Counsel Melvin Hirshman said yesterday that a lawyer's failure to pay income taxes would likely prompt a review by the state Attorney Grievance Commission. The review could lead to disbarment.

Carmen Shepard, a deputy state attorney general, said Waters remains employed by the office, but that his status will be reviewed next week. Not filing a state income tax return is a criminal offense, she said, adding, "This is as serious as it can be for us."

Waters was charged with arson and burning with intent to defraud after investigators determined gasoline was used to set a fire July 29, 1996, in the basement of his semidetached home on Dunroming Road.

Assistant state's attorney April Gluckstern said she believes that Waters never intended to hurt his wife and son, but was driven by debt to set the fire.

She said Waters had been a partner in a private law firm that had dissolved in 1994, more than $100,000 in debt.

He also owed more than $80,000 in federal tax liens and had

thousands of dollars in unpaid bills in the months before the fire, Gluckstern said.

"The financial problems went on and on and were compounded," Gluckstern said.

After the fire, Waters filed claims with Nationwide Insurance Co. for $62,000. Nationwide denied the claim for fire damages but provided some living expenses.

Police charged Waters after determining that the house was not broken into and they learned about his debts.

But Warren A. Brown, Waters' lawyer, said that the prosecution was based on his client's financial problems. "The man pays his bills late. That's the gist of the state's case," Brown told Smith.

Smith agreed, saying police never tested the clothes Waters was wearing for gasoline. They also never talked to neighbors and never interviewed the couple's then-4-year-old son, Smith said.

"The detective made a decision that he [Waters] did it, and he did nothing else to augment that no one else did it," Smith said.

Pub Date: 7/03/98

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