Baltimore businessman pleads guilty to felony theft charge

He defrauded 9 companies of $335,000, authorities say

July 12, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Baltimore prosecutors say Michael Murray ordered merchandise from companies like Coca-Cola Co. and Gillette Co., paid for it with bad checks and immediately ordered more products for nearly two years.

In the end, authorities say, the Baltimore man defrauded nine companies of more than $335,000 in merchandise. Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge and could be sentenced to as much as 18 months in prison and five years of supervised probation. He also could be ordered to pay up to $112,822 in restitution.

Murray, 55, will be sentenced Aug. 15 by Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas.

Prosecutors say Murray defrauded victims from August 1999 to July of last year. The companies also included Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., SC Johnson & Son, American Food Co. Inc., Hewitt Soap Co., Merisant Co., which makes the sweetener Equal, and Pavalor Merchandising Co., which sells candies and fragrances, said Assistant State's Attorney Isabel M. Cumming.

According to Cumming, Murray was president of Easy Access and Char Enterprises, both at 101 N. Haven St. His first alleged victim was Crystal Springs, a company that sells water and installs water coolers. He sent seven checks totaling $31,177 to Crystal Springs, five of which were returned for insufficient funds and two were returned for being written from closed accounts, Cumming said. Murray received 25 water coolers, worth less than $9,000, but when Crystal Springs managers went to retrieve them, the coolers were gone, she said.

Gillette, which lost $128,411, Novartis, which lost $53,186, and Coca-Cola, which lost $43,805, were hit hardest in the scheme.

"Once they realized he had bad checks, they stopped dealing with him," Cumming said. "But he always was smart enough to give them a bad check and immediately put in a new order. It takes a while for the checks to go through the system."

Murray got caught, Cumming said, after several of the companies reported him to the Baltimore Police Department's check and fraud unit, which notified the state's attorney's office.

His attorney, Stephen Kleeman, said Murray apparently bought the merchandise then sold it at flea markets.

"I think the best thing he did is step up to the plate and acknowledge his responsibility and agree to make a substantial amount of restitution," Kleeman said in an interview. "Hopefully he's going to be working and running his business and pay these people off. Even if he gets some time, the idea would be that, subsequent to his release, he would honor that commitment."

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