A new self in Baltimore

Fugitive father used several names, tried to create identity

August 05, 2008|By Annie Linskey and Gus G. Sentementes | Annie Linskey and Gus G. Sentementes,Sun Reporters

The suspected con man known to law enforcement as Clark Rockefeller started looking for a new house in Baltimore late last year but only enjoyed his new home in historic Mount Vernon for a few weeks before authorities picked him up.

Rockefeller - who called himself Chip Smith and Chip MacLaughlin here - e-mailed a city real estate firm in December requesting assistance with the purchase of a two or three-bedroom home for himself and his 7-year-old daughter, the managing partner of the brokerage said. He pretended he was moving to the city from Chile, she said.

It appears Rockefeller sought to reinvent himself in Baltimore. He created an international sensation when he disappeared from Boston on July 27 with his daughter Reigh and was charged by police with kidnapping her and assaulting a relative.

FOR THE RECORD - Articles published in yesterday's and Monday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported the name of the owner of Obsidian Realty Co., a Baltimore real estate brokerage whose employees tipped off the FBI to a wanted fugitive suspected of abducting his daughter from Boston. The owner is Henry J. MacLaughlin Jr.

Authorities tracked leads to New York, South America and the Caribbean, but in the story focused here on Saturday when federal agents grabbed him from his newly-purchased house on Ploy Street where he'd made elaborate arrangements for himself and his daughter. Authorities are still trying to figure out his real name.

"He was painting a picture that he was a real urbanite," said Bruce Boswell, the Baltimore man who sold a modest catamaran to Rockefeller. "He was saying that he knew a lot about Baltimore."

He recently divorced Sandra Boss, who is a partner with the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. And he'd lived for several years in Boston telling people he was related to the monied Rockefellers, which the family has denied. Yesterday, he appeared in handcuffs and leg irons in an East Baltimore District Court on North Avenue.

Correctional officers ushered Rockefeller the courtroom about 9:30 a.m. He wore preppy attire: a blue polo shirt, tan slacks, brown loafers and glasses with thick black rims. A beard covered the lower half of his face and his reddish-orange hair was tussled.

Rockefeller waived his right to an extradition hearing and a detective with the city's fugitive warrant unit said the suspect "wishes to leave" the city. Rockefeller did not have his own attorney present for the hearing, which lasted about 2 minutes.

Satellite trucks from the television networks lined North Avenue and the courtroom was crowded with out-of-town reporters, including those from New York tabs, whose reporters have swarmed Fells Point and Mount Vernon fighting for scoops. A headline in yesterday's New York Post called a Baltimore marina manager a "hero" because of his role helping the FBI lure the suspect out of his apartment. "Hero tells how he outfoxed con artists," the Post said on its front-page.

City authorities are apparently not familiar with the Newport set - the police spelled Rockefeller's name wrong, calling him "Rockfeller" - under his police mug shot.

Later in the day more details emerged about the suspect's apparent plans while in Baltimore when Julie Gochar, a managing partner at Obsidian Realty, read a statement to reporters about how he used her brokerage to search for and eventually buy the Mount Vernon house.

She declined to take any questions - even refusing to spell her name for reporters. Seated alone at the end of a conference table at the downtown law offices of Womble Carlyle, Sandridge and Rice, Gochar said Rockefeller contacted her firm in late 2007 asking for help relocating with his daughter to Baltimore from Chile. He called himself Charles "Chip" Smith.

Agents with Obsidian helped him "on and off" for several months, arranged temporary rentals and gave him access to their offices so he could use the Internet. He arrived in the city in mid-July. The boat owner said he believed Rockefeller's story because he knew the security and keys to the real estate office.

On Thursday employees at the firm saw TV reports detailing the alleged kidnapping, recognized the photos and called police. "On a personal level I can only describe this development as surreal and emotional," Gochar said.

Ultimately, Obsidian brokered a deal in which Rockefeller purchased the Mount Vernon carriage house using cashier's checks.

Records show that a limited liability corporation called E P 10 Y Street Parking took ownership of the property on July 29. The transaction is so new that the deed is not yet publicly available. The house sold for around $450,000 according to The Boston Globe.

Boswell, who sold him the boat, recalled meeting Rockefeller in Obsidian's Fell's Point offices over the summer as they negotiated transferring the vessel. To Boswell, the man said his name was Chip MacLaughlin and claimed to own the Obsidian Real Estate firm.

In her statement, Gochar said that he "is not an owner, investor or employee of Obsidian Realty. She also said he is not related to anyone at the firm. Records show it was owned by Harry MacLaughlin.

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