Jeffrey Levitt Stole $15 Million

By Tony Kornheiser
Sunday, October 26, 1986

THEY BROUGHT JEFFREY LEVITT to the sentencing in leg irons, which are more dehumanizing than handcuffs. A pair of handcuffs can make you seem more powerful and frightening than you actually are because shackling the arms and upper body is seen as a concession to great strength. Leg irons, however, minimize you because they restrict the piece of body language that illustrates the spirit of freedom -- your natural stride.

Early on the morning of July 2, 1986, gray gloom pressed on Baltimore like a steam iron, promising terrible heat and humidity. At 9:30, the appointed time for Jeffrey to appear, there were only 15 people in the public viewing stands in the back of Judge Edward J. Angeletti's small, dingy courtroom. To no one's surprise Jeffrey's wife, Karol, was not one of them. She hadn't gone to the pleading either. It's one thing to stand by your man when he's wrongly accused, or when you look like Maureen Dean. It's another when the locals hoot at you as if you were a sideshow freak.

Gradually the courtroom filled, like a theater does before a performance of a hit show, until every seat was taken and all that remained was the appearance of the star onstage. The people who came, who were they? How many of them lost money? How many came to gloat? How many to judge the quality of justice itself? How many to see the last act and get on with their lives? Whatever, they were a quiet, patient group, not unlike librarians, who know that if your answer's not in one book, it's in another. When Jeffrey finally did come in, at 10:07, hardly a word was said. Nor were there cheers or boos when he was sentenced. In a strange way it seemed to satisfy them just to see him led in and out like a chimpanzee.

It wasn't a good setting for Jeffrey -- leg irons on his feet and not a drop of crystal anywhere. He stood at the defendant's table flanked by his criminal attorney, William Hundley, on the left, and his civil attorney, Paul Mark Sandler -- a dead ringer for Pee-wee Herman -- on the right. Jeffrey had already been in jail for six months, serving the contempt sentence Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan threw at him for overspending his $ 1,000-a-week allowance, and the time showed. Although he was no longer fat -- indeed he had shrunk to no more than 200 pounds -- the new weight did not fit him well. Loose flesh hung about him like taffy. Jeffrey's gaudy spirit was gone. He looked dusty and slow. His eyes were as vacant as Miami in August. How shall we describe him? "Doofus" comes to mind. Forgive me, but he just didn't seem smart enough to cause all this. His high school classmates say the same thing. His Baltimore City College High School class of 1960 had its 25th reunion in the summer of 1985. They had deposited the reunion money in Old Court before it fell -- though they'd somehow gotten it out -- so Jeffrey was very much on their minds. They had kibitzed about him all night long. "It seemed everybody had the same opinion about Jeffrey," said a class member who'd known Jeffrey well. "The surprise wasn't that he tumbled, but that he got so high to begin with."

The prosecution asked for 35 years. The defense, undoubtedly, wanted time already served, thank you very much, but suggested 12-to-20. Angeletti would later say Jeffrey greatly helped himself by signing over, at the last possible moment, irrevocable power of attorney to Maryland, transferring all his equity (but not Karol's or the children's funds) other than his house. If he hadn't made that restitution, who knows how high the number would have gone?

All the major players got a chance to speak. Attorney General Stephen Sachs, running for governor at the time, called Jeffrey "a white-collar outlaw." Defender Hundley, arguing for leniency, pointed out Jeffrey was "a first offender," whereupon Angeletti interrupted and righteously declared him "the biggest first offender the state has ever seen." Your Honor should bear in mind, Hundley said, trying to shave anything at all -- a year, a month, a minute -- off the time, that Jeffrey "saved the state the expense of a long trial." Defender Sandler, who said he'd only just thought of this on his way to the courtroom, gave a speech about the nature of justice that seemed so well rehearsed he might have written it with a quill pen.

Then came Jeffrey's turn. He took the stand to speak in his own behalf and answer Angeletti's questions. Essentially what he said was: It's not my fault. He said he didn't know what he was doing was wrong at the time he was doing it. "I was surrounded by attorneys and regulators. Nobody questioned it."

Now he accepted responsibility. Now he saw it was wrong. "I got carried away," he concluded. He talked about his obsessive gambling. He said he caused a lot of people grief, ruined a lot of lives, particularly his family's and his own. He may have said he was sorry. I don't think so, but I could be wrong.

Angeletti called Jeffrey a lot of things; "disgrace" was as representative as any. Then he sentenced him to 30 years on 12 counts of grand theft and 13 counts of breach of fiduciary trust.

Jeffrey sat there thickly, his arms folded, like a sack of dirty laundry.

JEFFREY LEVITT STOLE AND MISAPPROPRIATED A GRAND total of fourteen million, six hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred forty-seven dollars and fifty-eight cents. He stole all that. It was the largest single white-collar crime in Maryland history, almost bringing down the state's entire savings and loan industry. About 35,000 depositors in Levitt's own Old Court Savings and Loan had their accounts frozen. And the cost to Maryland taxpayers to clean up the mess would run into millions of dollars.

During the period when they were ordered to spend no more than $ 1,000 per week, Jeffrey and Karol continually overspent their limit. Indeed, they casually wrote checks to cover their country club dues, to feed their racehorses, to buy jewelry ($ 7,857) and bathroom fixtures ($ 4,781). Once, before the troubles began and after a full dinner, in front of witnesses at the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore, they each ate six desserts.

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© 1986 The Washington Post Company