Millionaire entrepreneur Alan Fabian strode from the main house on his North Carolina beach property last August to deliver the bad news to a colleague vacationing in a guest cottage.
In a brief conversation, Fabian told employee Greg Barr that he was leaving for a few days to face an indictment for fraud in a Baltimore federal court. But he assured Barr that things would be OK.
"He was supremely confident and saying that it was basically a misunderstanding," said Barr, who worked for Fabian at a Maryland nonprofit.
And Barr believed him.
Such bravado was typical for Fabian, a smooth-talking businessman who built a leading government consulting firm, sold it for $1.8 million and then launched several other ventures from an office overlooking the Inner Harbor. Meanwhile, Fabian's lifestyle grew to include a Hunt Valley mansion on 3.5 acres, the North Carolina vacation properties, a 39-foot Silverton yacht and trips on private jets.
His success also gave him freedom to form the nonprofit. Fabian was sure he could make it a success, too, raising money to help those in need.
That fundraising prowess earned him top posts in Maryland Republican campaigns, where he served as finance committee chairman for Michael S. Steele's 2006 U.S. Senate bid. It also afforded him a ticket to one of President Bush's 2005 inaugural balls after Fabian donated $100,000 for the festivities.
But along the way, according to federal prosecutors, Fabian stole up to $40 million, in part through a complex computer lease-back scheme that entangled his own companies, those that he worked for and even his nonprofit, the Centre for Management and Technology, also known as CMAT.
Fabian pleaded guilty last month in Baltimore federal court to one count of mail fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. The plea was part of a deal made with the U.S. attorney's office. He had been charged with 26 counts. He will learn at his September sentencing whether decades in prison await him.
Those who knew Fabian were stunned by the indictment and his guilty plea, saying that isn't the man they know.
Interviews with two dozen people - colleagues, acquaintances, law enforcement officials and political organizers - show that Fabian had many sides. There was the driven businessman, the attentive father, the friendly neighbor.
But one trait stands out: Fabian, it seemed, could sell anyone on anything, including his credibility.
"This is a person who was thought of as a successful businessman. ... And I think his ability to talk the talk with investors really gave people a degree of confidence that was not warranted," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. "He was counting on people trusting in his reputation."
Alan Brian Fabian was born in Reading, Pa.. He grew up tall and slim with sandy blond hair. He earned a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance and economics from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania in 1986.
He moved and worked for the now-defunct Arthur Andersen accounting firm. He developed a name for himself as an accounting expert who helped businesses build better budgets. And he had a knack for surrounding himself with talented people, colleagues said, and the big ideas to inspire them.
Fabian created the accounting consulting company Strategic Partners International LLC during the mid '90s, landing contracts with several government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the city of Philadelphia.
Fabian is "very entrepreneurial. He's the kind of person that if you wanted to close the deal, you could always rely on him," said Eric Dixon, who met Fabian when he was still at Arthur Andersen and later worked for him, most recently at CMAT.
In July 2000, Maximus Inc., a Virginia-based public government services company, paid $1.8 million to acquire Fabian's SPI. Maximus took on the company's nine employees, including Fabian, who became vice president of a new division. They were now part of a team of 4,000 workers in 130 offices across the U.S.
Colleagues said Fabian's division didn't mesh well with Maximus' corporate culture. Fabian and some of his employees grew disenchanted. Maximus representatives either declined to comment or did not return calls.
Fabian started the nonprofit center in early 2003, telling others he wanted to help other nonprofits improve their technology. The Baltimore Business Journal characterized the center as a way to "marry his religious faith to his work."
"Now I worry about the problems I'm going to fix, not the hours I'm going to bill," Fabian told the publication. He eventually left Maximus to concentrate on the center.
After leaving Maximus in 2004, Fabian incorporated a for-profit version of the center, called CMAT International, which sold technology consulting services. Over four years, the company received $986,160 in state contracts, including partial payment on a multiyear pact worth $2.2 million for providing software and "strategic budgeting activities."