City man pleads guilty in scam

Buyers on eBay were left without items he offered for sale and their money

Holiday disappointment

Prosecutors say he got $29,000 fraudulently

August 14, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore man pleaded guilty yesterday to cheating 66 holiday shoppers out of $29,000 when the PlayStations, Disney World tickets and other goods they supposedly bought in an online auction never arrived.

Christopher Lemar Scott, 20, pleaded guilty before Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul D. Hackner to running a felony theft scheme last fall and winter. An additional 66 theft charges will be dropped as part of the plea bargain.

Police and prosecutors said Scott set up several accounts on the online auction site eBay - including one using the stolen identity of an Arizona man and others using stolen credit card numbers - to sell merchandise that he did not have during the frenzied bidding of the last holiday shopping season.

"Not one thing - he didn't have anything," said Clifford C. Stoddard Jr., the assistant state's attorney who prosecuted the case, said after the pleading.

Buyers hailed from around the country, and one was a worker at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania. The thefts infuriated many victims, who told officials the scam cast a cloud over their holidays.

"That was a week's pay there that just got thrown out the window," Stephen Moniz, a New London, Conn., window and rug cleaner, said in a telephone interview yesterday. "When you are stealing from kids around the holidays, that is really bad."

Moniz sent Scott a cashier's check for $551 for a Microsoft X-box in mid-November, figuring he would get a jump on a sought-after Christmas present for his 14-year-old son. His nearly 100 e-mails to Scott went unanswered, and he complained to eBay and police. It was January before he received $175 from an eBay insurance program.

Though he explained to the teen-ager at Christmas what had happened and was able to buy the gift a few weeks after the holiday, it wasn't the same, he said.

Stoddard, who specializes in white-collar crime, said the case illustrates the growing problem of online auction schemes, the most common of which is nondelivery of paid-for goods.

The National Consumer League's Internet Fraud Watch reported that 87 percent of the $7.2 million in consumer fraud for the first six months of this year were from online auctions, up from 70 percent last year.

Most of Scott's buyers forwarded cashier's checks or money orders to a Glen Burnie post office box, where Scott was arrested in January when he went to the box.

Complaints had been coming to the Postal Service since shortly before Christmas from disgruntled buyers who were hounding eBay. And Thomas Goodman, a Phoenix man, complained to Arizona's attorney general about identity theft.

Investigators using information provided by eBay about everyone who did business with Scott moved to track down victims.

So that Scott can begin to repay victims, prosecutors will release his frozen savings account, which contains about $8,000, and return the 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse he told police he bought with his online proceeds.

Sentencing guidelines call for a jail term of up to six months, but Stoddard said he will ask for a three-year suspended sentence and five years of probation at the Oct. 24 sentencing. Stoddard he will not object to probation before judgment if Scott fully repays his victims.

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