Howard art dealer charged with fraud

May 17, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

A Howard County art dealer persuaded investors to give him at least $1.3 million in a Ponzi-style scheme that enabled him to keep his gallery afloat and buy himself expensive cars, according to court papers filed by federal prosecutors.

Thomas H. Akins is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Baltimore today on an initial arraignment on the charges. Papers filed in the case show that he is likely to plead guilty to a single count of wire fraud.

A resident of Rockville, Akins, 52, was indicted in March. More recently, prosecutors filed a document against him known as a criminal information, which serves as a likely indicator that a plea deal has been reached.

The wire fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Reached on his cell phone yesterday afternoon, Akins declined to comment.

He owned and operated Thomas H. Akins Co. Inc. from 2001 to 2006. The company's charter was forfeited by the state of Maryland on Oct. 8, 2004, according to federal prosecutors.

Akins also operated Galerie Elan, an art sales gallery at 8090 Main St. in Ellicott City. A message left with the gallery yesterday was not returned.

From 2002 to 2006, prosecutors say, Akins attracted a group of investors to the "Art Investment Program."

"Thomas Hugh Akins marketed this program to acquaintances as an investment opportunity providing a highly profitable rate of return," usually 24 percent a year, prosecutors wrote in court documents. "`Investors' loaned money to Akins for the purchase of `fine grade investment art,' in exchange for monthly interest-only payments."

Prosecutors said Akins used those funds, totaling $1.3 million, to make interest payments to earlier investors and to support his art gallery business and luxurious lifestyle.

Two of the victims, prosecutors wrote, are from Washington. Neither could be reached yesterday.

Federal agents started their investigation in April 2006, when they obtained search warrants for Akins' home and business, court papers show.

The search warrant documents remained under court-ordered seal.

The day after the search, Akins wrote to a federal judge that he could not afford a lawyer.

Though he owned a gallery art collection worth as much as $1 million and a home valued at $700,000, Akins wrote in April 2006, he owed $600,000 and expected his gallery to fold.

The magistrate judge appointed a public defender.

Reached yesterday, Joseph Evans, the assistant public defender assigned to the case, said he had no comment.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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