When investigators searched his home three years ago, they found a poster in his library that said: "Someday I hope to buy the government, trade it for a dog, and shoot the dog."
Anderson is gray-haired and balding and wears thick, round glasses. In a jailhouse interview a few days after his arrest last month, he talked almost nonstop. He talked like a man accustomed to pliant listeners. Sometimes he veered toward double talk: He bought but did not own things. He was raised a liberal but disliked giving "to fuzzy liberal causes, where the money gets flushed down the toilet." He was for birth control and arms control, and he was nonviolent but not anti-military.
A federal judge declined to release Walter C. Anderson, saying he might flee the country.
In three recent court hearings, clad in baggy blue or orange prison garb, he has been the picture of suppressed irritation: Though he had expected his arrest after years of government scrutiny, he said, he was "amazed, appalled, angry," when he was picked up Feb. 26 at Dulles International Airport.
The only child of middle-class parents, Anderson grew up in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington in the 1960s and '70s. His parents separated when he was 12 and divorced in 1968. He attended local colleges but never graduated.
In the 1980s, he lived in a group house in Oakton where, former roommates recalled, he was a Star Trek fan and an amiable, offbeat and slightly awkward companion.
He came up with the gag name Robert Zzylch, they remembered, because he wanted the last name in the phone book. "He was proud of it. We were kids," said one, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he said he did not want his name associated with a person accused of criminal activity.
In the recent interview, Anderson said that the Zzylch was so catchy that a community newspaper wrote an article about him, dubbing him, the "mysterious Mr. Zzylch."
Once, when he was invited to the wedding of a former Oakton roommate, he showed up without a tie, bearing an unwrapped cardboard box with a green-and-beige, teardrop-shaped ceramic abstract sculpture.
"I would picture him as . . . no matter what milieu he's in, just not quite fitting in," said the roommate's wife, who also knew Anderson. She spoke on condition she not be named because she is a federal employee.
Anderson entered the telecommunications business on the ground floor, as one of the first few hundred employees of MCI Corp., he said. He then shrewdly rode the tech boom to riches -- forming and then building and selling telecom businesses through the 1980s and the 1990s.
Eventually, he had the condominium in Washington and a mansion in Madrid, the government says. He has never married, but he has had girlfriends in Spain, France, Indonesia and Brazil, investigators say.
In fall 1998, the government says, Anderson paid $2.3 million for two paintings by Magritte and one by Delvaux at Christie's Auction House in New York. Two years later, Anderson bought another Delvaux from a gallery in New York for about $1 million, the government says.
The government alleges that Anderson failed to pay tax on the art and on other purchases, including a $54,633 set of bronze panthers he bought in London in 1998 and $47,101 worth of fine wine he bought at auction in 2000.
In the interview, Anderson was vague about whether he or one of his foundations owned some of the paintings.