Howard Bedford is a 73-year-old blind man on a fixed income. Eunice Douglas is a single mother of two living on her handicapped daughter's disability allowance. Sharon Epps is a nurse's aide supporting three children on $8 an hour.
They don't know each other, but federal documents allege that they're linked in a most unfortunate way. Court papers say they and others were fleeced of part of their life savings by Deborah Kolodner, one of Maryland's most notorious and relentless swindlers, whose reputed appetite for wealth has again put federal agents on her trail.
This time, Kolodner is accused of beguiling numerous accomplished lawyers and businessmen -- described in federal affidavits as "paramours" whom the attractive redhead married or became romantically involved with -- to act as pawns in a real-estate fraud scheme.
The band's members worked closely together while targeting banks and low-income people, some of whom ended up penniless and living in homeless shelters.
"She's an expensive-looking, very well-dressed monster," said Douglas, 37, who lives in a poor East Baltimore neighborhood and from whom prosecutors say Kolodner collected $1,375 as a down payment for a house. "That was all the money I had. When I called her after she took the money, the number had been disconnected. I got sick."
Since completing a prison sentence for fraud in October 1999, prosecutors say, Kolodner has been reaping the benefits of a mortgage-flipping scheme that has helped her build a hoard of riches. Items she has recently amassed include jewels, expensive clothes, a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley, two Mercedes-Benzes, a Jaguar and a $765,000 Eastern Shore waterfront house with a giant leafy bow painted on the garage.
It was from that house last year that Kolodner collected thousands of dollars for a charity called the "Invisible No More For Children Foundation," which never existed, federal documents allege.
"The path of destruction she has carved has been broad," a federal probation officer, Renata Ramsburg, recently wrote to a federal judge overseeing Kolodner's probation from her last prison sentence.
"Many victims have lost money. These have been the poorest and most vulnerable of society, and in many cases their lives were permanently altered. Most of her cohorts had no criminal records and led respectable lives. Most of them now face financial ruin and possible indictment."
Those words, as well as more than 100 pages spelling out more than two years of investigations by federal agents, persuaded a federal judge last month to have Kolodner jailed. She faces a May 6 hearing that could send her back to prison for three years for violating the terms of her prison release in 1999.
She and others are also facing indictment for the latest suspected fraud scheme, prosecutors said. Government agents are wrapping up the investigation and haven't charged anyone yet.
Kolodner is currently jailed in the Wicomico County Detention Center. Her attorney, Michael S. Blumenthal, refused to comment.
A criminal history
Because of Kolodner's nefarious past, federal authorities have spent countless hours documenting her criminal history, and the volumes of court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore often read like a novel about traveling grifters. The tales include her two former husbands and her father, all convicted in swindles. At times, Kolodner even used her mentally impaired mother as a front for phony businesses, court papers said.
Kolodner, in a court motion she filed in December, said her life has been one constant federal investigation. She accused prosecutors of being maniacally obsessed with her.
"There will most likely be an ongoing criminal investigation until I die and then they will dig my body up to make sure it is me," the 47-year-old Kolodner wrote to a judge. "I can only assume this since a federal agent has been following me to my late husband's grave site."
Court papers say Kolodner is under investigation by federal authorities for wire fraud, bank fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and making false financial statements stemming from an alleged flipping scheme she concocted with one of her more recent husbands, noted Maryland con man Robert Franklin Miller.
Miller, whose past convictions stem from a used-car swindle in Baltimore County, a medical-clinic scam in Baltimore City and a restaurant rip-off in Anne Arundel County, married Kolodner shortly after her release from prison in 1999. Court papers say the two met after Kolodner contacted one of Miller's businesses, the U.S. Criminal Justice Bureau, to inquire about getting her 73-year-old father released early from prison on fraud charges.
That business, like many others Miller has run, was a scam -- but Kolodner didn't seem to mind that she'd contacted a con man for help, court papers said. The two continued to date, despite the warnings of federal probation officials.