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.
The Couple That Ate Baltimore.
The Levitt jokes have been base and cruel, but part of the social price for such massive theft and gluttonous indulgence. What do you call their waterbed? Bay of Pigs. How did they get her into her jail cell? Greased the bars and threw in a Twinkie. What do they sing when she walks down the street? There she is, North America.
If ever a couple made themselves into a cartoon, the Levitts did. They were fat cats, symbolically and literally. The richer they got, the fatter they got. At this rate, by Thanksgiving 1995 they'd have been floats in the parade. Perhaps had they been more sympathetic, people might not have fixated on their size. But what is it that defines them if not their size? Their size, their appetite, their apparent insatiable piggishness: 17 cars, not counting the ones they actually drove. The Rolls-Royce golf cart with the TV and the stereo tape deck in the dashboard. From the Lutherville, Md., house alone, the IRS confiscated silverware including 15 sterling creamers and 33 sterling trays. Who did they think would come over for dinner, the Sixth Fleet? Theirs was a nearly incomprehensible gluttony, hyperphagic shoppers poised to devour us all. Isn't that why we hate them so much? Isn't that why we made up those jokes? The thievery was regrettable, but you can shake a high-rise office building and 100 embezzlers will fall out. Wasn't it the Levitts' vulgarity that really got to us? My God, they didn't even have taste. Consider the cars. "He bought for the name, not the condition," says car fancier Bob McMahan. "Half his cars were butchered in some way. He didn't appreciate cars -- he just collected them." They bought in such mass quantities that they not only trivialized the pieces, they couldn't even find room for them. A reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times recalled going into their house and getting the grand tour from Karol, and then when Karol opened a dining room cabinet, fine sterling silver samovars and trays and candelabras tumbled out and clanged to the floor like hubcaps at a swap shop. Too much was never enough for these people. Isn't that why we tied the cans to their tails, because they were so nouveau?
They are a classic example of the unconscious run wild. They stuffed themselves with food, their closets with clothes and their garages with cars and still they craved more. (In Jeffrey's new offices the rugs alone cost $ 50,000.) Maybe everything they bought pleased them, but obviously nothing satisfied them. Heaped atop one another, their purchases came to represent what winnings are to a gambler -- simply a way to keep score.
According to Bob Coursey, a clinical psychologist, "There's an excess after which people think decadence, and they don't like it. These people were totally undisciplined. It struck the public like Imelda Marcos and the shoes. It's fine to buy a beautiful, expensive car. But 17? The image the middle class runs away from is the Fall of Rome. The Levitts misread the culture and violated the standards. Consumerism speaks to American society, eloquently to the yuppies. But not this kind of unbridled, bloated consumerism."
But what if the Levitts didn't misread the culture? What if they were just a step or so in front of it? Historically, when societies crumble, you see hedonism emerge. People who are pessimistic about their futures do not save for them. Tomorrow being too horrible to contemplate, they live solely and wholly for today. The question isn't whether the Levitts' behavior was repulsive. It was. The question is whether they were on to a trend.
Our post-World War II society has been characterized by economic democracy and a general disapprobation of great selfishness. Consider Medicare, Vista and the Peace Corps. Here was America at its egalitarian best, reaching out to the underclass and helping it up the ladder toward a great society. America concerned itself with inequality, and committed itself to erasing it, to making the American Dream -- the belief that hard work and long hours guaranteed inevitable success -- a reality for everyone. (Jeffrey must have been uncomfortable with this sharing attitude since his hero was "Honolulu" Harry Weinberg, a Baltimore financial octopus who made zillions, mostly by scarfing up transit properties. Jeffrey once told a high school classmate he wanted to be just like Weinberg, whom he admiringly called "a guy who screwed everybody and got away with it.")
Now we seem unwilling to wait, unwilling to work long and hard, unwilling to see our success come gradually. People want to make it big, make it young, and make it quick. I, me, mine. Social work is out. Entrepreneurs are in. What's the big growth profession? Investment banking. What's the favored course of study? The MBA. People do not get MBAs and go into investment banking because they are motivated to help their fellow man. The only way they can keep in touch with what's happening with the working class is to ask their gardeners. We have invented the phrase "situational ethics" to absolve all sorts of social and financial sins. We accept cheating through all levels of the culture, from adultery to income taxes to bank fraud. One hero in "The Big Chill" saw insider trading as proof of friendship. Is there anything more oxymoronic in the language than "business ethics"? Today's businessmen seem to have hung a sign that says: We Will Lie, Cheat and Steal Unless You Stop Us. They renounce their responsibility to behave ethically, and dare the government regulators to seal off the border.
The sin isn't cheating, but getting caught. If Jeffrey hadn't been caught, he and Karol might still be the toasts of Baltimore. They wouldn't be seen as gluttons, but as eccentrics and damned entitled to be so.
A few years ago Jeffrey hired a public relations firm to retool his image. The trick, and Jeffrey understood it, was philanthropy. Rockefeller, Ford, du Pont, Morgan -- they all gave some away. That's how they bought respectability. Now their great-grandsons are running for president. Instead of being known as a slumlord, which he was before he got into banking, Jeffrey would be known as a philanthropist. Through Jeffrey's and Karol's good charitable deeds, the Levitt name would stand for kindness and compassion. What Jeffrey neglected to tell the public relations firm was that it wasn't his own money he was giving away.
WHY WOULD HE DO THIS? WHY WOULD HE STEAL ALMOST $ 15 million?
There are many who think he's insane. A former high school classmate of Jeffrey's remembers running into Jeffrey at a property auction a couple of years ago. Jeffrey was regularly overbidding on properties, buying them for unrealistically inflated prices. "I bid $ 250,000 on a building that was barely worth that, and Jeffrey bought it for $ 450,000," the classmate recalled. "He owned the bank, so he'd give himself a mortgage for money well in excess of the $ 450,000. He'd bought the property and he'd made a pile of money for himself on the side. Everybody knew what he was doing. I went over to him and said, 'You're bidding this stuff up much higher than it's worth, and you're hurting everyone.' "
Jeffrey giggled and said, "I'm good for the economy."
Some think it's a prima facie thing: Anyone who'd steal that much money has to be insane. No sane person could steal like that, steal so much from so many, and live with the guilt. Others believe Jeffrey demonstrated his insanity by steadfastly insisting -- even in the face of irrefutable proof -- that he'd done nothing wrong. "He actually believes that," a former employee says. "He's crazy."
Had that been so, Jeffrey's criminal attorney, William Hundley, would have been a happy man. "We were interested in legal insanity. We sent him to a top psychiatrist. Had there been any issue, we'd have definitely raised it," said Hundley, his shrug indicating there wasn't.
Some people think Jeffrey did it to prove to the world -- and to his wife -- that he wasn't a kept man. They say he resented the common gossip that he'd married Karol for her money, and this was his way of showing he could make money on his own. Money was the critical mass in his life. In one of his offices he hung a poster of a downtown skyline full of high-rises. From atop the tallest building a man is shouting: "I'm gonna own this town someday." Jeffrey worshipped money. After he married into it, he began to learn about the class distinctions in money: how old money connoted stability and taste, while new money was viewed as garish. "He wanted his offices to look like old money," said a former employee. "He thought the 'old money' look would make people respect him." (Jeffrey and Karol made no such decorating statement in their clunky home. There, artwork by Picasso and de Kooning shared space with a mirror-covered player piano. Then there were the gargantuan candelabra, the Steuben glass collection and things that the IRS confiscators labeled simply "five naked-women wineglasses." The house must have looked like the stockroom of an upscale K mart.)
Some think he did it to please his mother Nettie. Nettie, it is said, wanted more for Jeffrey than what her husband Al would accomplish. Baltimore Magazine flirted with this theory. It gets tricky, though, because of our old friend Oedipus. Let's say Nettie saw Al as a failure and somehow communicated this to Jeffrey. That sets Jeffrey up as Al's rival for Nettie's approval. As we remember from the play, this doesn't end well.
I personally like Charles Monk's theory. Monk was one of the prosecutors in the Levitt case. He told me you can learn more by looking at a man's checkbook than by talking to 50 of his friends. "Pure greed" is the centerpiece of Monk's theory. "Jeffrey was motivated by pure greed."
It has to be greed. Anybody's Mom would be satisfied with $ 2 million.
How did he steal so much money?
This one is easier. "He stole in every way possible," Monk says. (Former employees talk of Jeffrey simply writing checks to himself for huge sums like $ 50,000. If they asked, for what? Jeffrey said, "Call it consulting.")
Of course, Jeffrey did not do this alone. Deals are not made by ones, but by twos and threes and fours and mores. Jeffrey didn't hold the patent on greed.
When Judge Kaplan first became involved with the Levitt case the phones in his office rang incessantly. His staff spent three hours a day answering calls from Old Court depositors. John Hathaway, Kaplan's clerk, was intrigued by the fact that "initially people felt guilty for banking at Old Court and going for the higher points." (Of course, they soon got over this. As Judge Kaplan later put it: "If I did what the public wanted, the Levitts would be hanging from the rafters in front of the courthouse.")
People went to Jeffrey to make deals because he was renowned as a guy who would cut a high-numbered deal on the spur of the moment. He was an action guy. Old Court was an action place. According to the books, Jeffrey was getting rich quick. That's why he had customers.
Nonetheless, "he was no fun doing business with," says someone who did. "He'd show up at the settlement table with a whole new set of rules, different from what you had agreed to. Typically he'd want a higher percentage on the loan; if you'd agreed on 12, he'd demand 14. He'd act as the settlement lawyer, charge an outrageous fee and put it in his pocket. Or he'd try to buy in as a partner. People went along with him because they had other deals in the pipeline that they liked in spite of Jeffrey's behavior . . . You'd look at a deal and see that 10 percent was a mess. But you let the 10 percent go because the other 90 percent was good, and you figured that down the line Jeffrey would catch up to himself -- or someone would catch up to Jeffrey. The 10 percent was more than offset by the 90 percent. It's an economic decision."
Now people say they suspected all along that Jeffrey was skimming and scamming. One former employee marveled, "He stole $ 15 million and they all sat there and watched."
THIS ALL DIDN'T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT. Jeffrey Levitt has a history. You could look it up.
Two high school classmates remember his being thrown off the high school golf team for cheating. He still loves golf -- besides that outrageous golf cart, he had an $ 18,000 putting green at his Florida house -- and he still loves cheating. People who played with him said he moved the ball. Appropriately enough, this is called improving your "lie." You're not supposed to do that.
He was an audacious slumlord. He was regularly hauled into housing court by tenants complaining of housing code violations. So regularly that Fridays in Baltimore housing court were known as "Levitt Days." Baltimore Magazine reported that on one Levitt day in 1975 he was found guilty of 172 violations ($ 12,895 in fines were suspended). He disdained the court. He paid his fines; he figured that was the cost of doing business. But he showed his clear contempt for the law by not fixing properties. "He appeared before me for failing to correct problems in a number of his houses," said a former Baltimore housing official. "I gave him a schedule of accomplishment. His demeanor was that of an abashed individual, a schoolboy caught with his fingers in the cash register. He gave all sorts of protestations of good faith and what have you. I must say he copped a pretty good plea. But he never corrected the problems."
Here are some highlights from Jeffrey's career as a slumlord: A tenant once shot at him. And the Maryland Court of Appeals once suspended him from practicing law, because he'd lied about his knowledge of an injury to a young girl in one of his buildings. The vote on the suspension was 5 to 2. The two dissenters wanted him disbarred.
He came from some money, but not enough. Karol came from real money. Jeffrey liked that. With enough money he could invent himself on the fly and get away with it, because if money buys nothing else it always buys people who will agree with you. He could tell people that he'd been a child prodigy at the piano, even though his wife had never heard him play. He could tell people that his father had owned the dress company on Eutaw Street, even though he actually worked there as a designer. He could submit a list of extracurricular activities to his high school yearbook that was twice as long as anyone else's in the class, even though classmates don't remember his doing all of those things. He could tell those same classmates he was accepted at Dartmouth, even though he was enrolling in night classes locally at Loyola. He was inventing himself before he had much money.
Al Levitt was a dress designer, a dreamy man who liked to paint. His ambitious wife Nettie, who divides her time between Maryland and Florida, was in her day a buyer for Bonwit Teller. They did not concern themselves with what you put in your body -- that was your business. Their business was what you put on your body. The outside. The front. The facade. Al Levitt, now deceased, created costumes for people to wear. Nettie Levitt bought them, stocked them, then pushed like crazy to sell them off the floor. Costumes: the public mirror of our private dreams.
Jeffrey Levitt preoccupied himself with the outsides of things, which would explain why he had a Rolls Royce that couldn't move because its engine had been disconnected and loaded into the trunk. Someone who worked for him said Jeffrey didn't have bad taste or good taste -- Jeffrey had no taste whatsoever. "If it had an expensive price tag, that was good enough for him." Jeffrey confused reputation and character, as he confused taste and affectation. He is a man of appearance, not depth. Inside he's hollow.
We like to live our lives believing we are artichokes, and if people would simply be patient and pull away our leaves, eventually they'd find a heart. But the truth is that some of us are Swiss cheese, and all you have to do is poke slightly to reach a hole. IN OCTOBER OF 1984, WHEN THEY were up so high even the birds couldn't reach them, Jeffrey and Karol gave a Halloween costume bash, inviting hundreds of friends and business associates to come sip champagne and eat raw oysters in Baltimore's Westminster Hall. Almost two years later, on July 2, 1986, after the fall, Jeffrey went before a sentencing judge to hear how many years he'd drawn, what the magic number was for crimes of unprecedented fraud and thievery, at least by Maryland standards.
These were the bookends of Jeffrey's professional life as a fiduciary comet. A man grounded as he was in the lore of costumes wouldn't toss these off like just another day at the office. On Halloween, the one night of the year when everyone is permitted to literalize his fantasy, Jeffrey wore tights and carried a sceptre and presented himself as the living King of Old Court -- the bank he himself named. On that much less fanciful day, the day of his sentencing, when, as a lawyer himself he knew that even a minor gesture of disrespect or contrition might result in years being added to or taken off his jail term, Jeffrey chose to wear a ratty madras shirt, pale yellow garage-sale pants, no socks and Docksiders. Like he was going to a barbecue, which, as it turned out, he was.
After the run on the bank, when the sand forts Jeffrey built had dissolved down to small mounds a man couldn't hide behind, Judge Kaplan ruled that the Levitts had to limit their personal spending to $ 1,000 a week, rather generous considering that the depositors had no access to their money at all. Moreover there was the question in the judge's mind, not to mention the minds of the depositors, whether any of this money the Levitts were spending was theirs to begin with, or whether, as the prosecutors claimed, it had all been stolen. Jeffrey's response to this sedition was to stand on the corner of Redwood and Calvert, bellowing like the east wind, "They can't tell me what to do with my money. Nobody tells me what to do with my [bleeping] money."
As an only son, Jeffrey was born and raised a prince, so it may have seemed natural to him to grow into a king. A king stands above and beyond the reach of the law. He is not bound by it, or subject to it. It is his privilege to respond with contempt to any popular notion of justice. Certainly in his business dealings, Jeffrey was imperious and capricious. Certainly he held himself above the law. Someone who worked for him said he had delusions of infallibility.
"Jeffrey felt Jeffrey was special, that he had a sixth sense about people and deals," the employee said. "He'd buy property sight unseen. He wouldn't go look at it. If you showed him pretty pictures, he'd do the deal. He'd sit at his desk and call for the pictures: 'Show me the pictures!' The grander, the better."
He didn't screen the applicants? "No."
He didn't do any homework? "No."
He did it on a whim? "It sure seemed so."
What did he base this on? "Right time, right place."
How did he define right time, right place? "In his head. He'd bang his right hand down on the table, open palm, and say, 'Trust me. I know what I'm doing. That's it.' "
His staff once gave Jeffrey a T-shirt with his favorite sayings printed on it. On the front: "No Problem." On the back: "I'll Take Care of It." But the truth was that Jeffrey didn't take care of it. "Details weren't his concern," a former employee said. "His job was to do deals. The clean-up was someone else's problem."
There was a sloppiness to the way Jeffrey did business, a sloppiness not unlike Jeffrey himself. He had a perpetually rumpled look. "You could always tell when he'd just finished shaving; he'd have some blood on his shirt collar," one employee said. "He was never shiny, if you know what I mean." The sloppiness may have scared some respectable people off because, according to the prosecutors, towards the end the only kinds of people who were doing deals with Jeffrey were people who couldn't do deals anywhere else and didn't mind waiting in Jeffrey's outer office for hours at his whim. They suffered Jeffrey's bizarre behavior because they, like his employees, had to.
Jeffrey was more like a buyer than a banker, more like Nettie than suited his occupation. Buyers work on intuition. If your intuition is bad, you lose the season. Having a buyer's mentality in banking can be devastating. If your intuition is bad, you can lose much more than a season: You're dealing with 30-year notes. But Jeffrey didn't see things that way. He saw himself as a cross between Henry VIII and Monty Hall. He thought he couldn't make a bad deal.
Even after they caught him.
The Maryland people offered him 12-to-20. He turned them down. The Feds offered him better than that. He turned them down. "We had a lot of deals I wanted him to make," sighed attorney Hundley. "He wouldn't."
The prosecutors think Jeffrey got tangled in his delusions. Who dares put a king in jail? They theorize that he looked back at housing court and all the judges he'd bamboozled and all the times he'd skated, and convinced himself he wouldn't go to jail for an extended period no matter what the sentence was. "In Jeffrey's mind, the deal is only going to get better the longer he waits," said prosecutor Monk.
"Don't feel bad, Bill, because I turned this deal down," Jeffrey would tell Hundley. "Something will come up. We'll do better."
But in the middle of negotiations he broke down. To Hundley's consternation and amazement, Jeffrey pleaded guilty to the whole schmear. No bargain. No nothing. And now there was no need for the prosecutors to make any deal.
"Jeffrey," an exasperated Hundley told him, "you're absolutely naked. This is insanity."
The reason Jeffrey turned down all the deals was money. All the deals that were offered insisted that Jeffrey give back all the money, including money -- as much as $ 2 or $ 3 million -- that the state claimed was an ill-gotten gain and which Jeffrey claimed belonged to his wife and children and was independent of any money he'd stolen from Old Court. Jeffrey refused to make a deal with that money. To give him the benefit of the doubt, you could say he was selfless because he chose go to jail to ensure financial security for his family. To cast a cynic's eye, you could say he was determined to Honolulu them, to screw the public and get away with it by salting away a pile of the booty until his return. Either way the bottom line is that Jeffrey Levitt chose money over freedom -- 30 years instead of 12-to-20.
Jeffrey, your money or your life.
Take my life. Please. JEFFREY IS IN JAIL IN JESSUP WHERE, according to attorney Hundley, "he is doing considerably better than most white-collar guys do." He is said to be teaching math to the other inmates. The new math, undoubtedly.
Karol has her freedom, but does she enjoy it? She has been hounded by the press and public. When Judge Kaplan found her in contempt of court for joining Jeffrey in "flagrant, intentional and willful" overspending of their $ 1,000-a-week allowance and sentenced her to 15 weekends in jail, she was taunted by the other prisoners who chanted, "We Want Karol! We Want Karol!" as she entered the jail. Hundley's description is acutely depressing: "She would walk in that cell, sit on a chair and shut her eyes for the whole weekend." She is described as a devoted wife and mother (even Jeffrey's detractors concede he is a devoted husband and father). From all accounts, she is a kind, generous woman who was sincere about doing good and charitable works. But her notoriety has driven her to resign her offices. "I think it's so unfair what's happened to her," Hundley says. "The time in jail, the tasteless jokes, the public ridicule. She's a very nice woman. I feel very strongly she got screwed." How much, if any, Karol knew of Jeffrey's dealings, and when she knew it are questions only she can answer. People who have known her for a long time say she came from sufficient money to suit her and didn't covet more. "He wanted all that stuff," Hundley says. "Not her."
Karol was charged with no crime. Like so many others, she appears to be an innocent victim of Jeffrey's crime.
Who says you can't have it all? But what if the Levitts are what happens when you do? YOU CAN'T SEE THE HOUSE FROM the street. You could drive by and never know you missed it. It stands back in the woods, in the deep shade. You walk down the driveway, a lazy ribbon of black asphalt, to the mouth of the house and the huge, ornately carved, wooden double doors, as wide and as tall as Gulliver's closet. In the brickwork to your left a hand-painted ceramic sign bids you: Welcome To The Levitts. But the size of the doors is forbidding, and anyway they're locked.
You knock. The stern sound quickly rumbles through the humid late-afternoon r. The younger of his two college-age sons reluctantly opens the doors, stares at the ground and weakly whispers, "No comment," then continues to stand there, immobile, like a toy-store inflatable punching bag. You turn to go when you see her driving toward you in a dirty blue sedan, some sort of lesser Buick, an unexpectedly minor car. There are two bags on the front seat; she has been shopping. Climbing out of the car, she clutches the small one in her right hand like a torch.
From behind her sunglasses Karol Levitt eyes you warily. She is a splash, a decidedly big splash, of color: coral skirt and tomato-red short-sleeve sweater top. Such blindingly bright colors screech for attention, something fat people normally seek to avoid. Curiously she is neither so large nor so severe looking as she appeared in the newspaper photos. Here, in her exile, she seems softer, younger, not unlike somebody's mother. They're never the same as in the pictures. It's never as simple after you meet in real life.
You tell her your name and why you've come: to talk, of course, to give her the chance to tell her side of the story, a sincere but self-serving offer. You both know there's nothing in it for her. There is enough pity in her smile that two can share. "I'd like to help you," she says, "but I can save you some time. I'm under instructions from my lawyers not to comment."
We all have our sentences to serve. Jeffrey Levitt's is 30 years in prison. Karol Levitt's is to have strangers come to her home and ask to draw her blood. She never gives you her number, she only gives you her situation: "There isn't anything new here. People have been writing about us for a long time now. It's an old story." She moves toward the only sanctuary she has, those huge wooden doors where her younger son still stands, numbly watching.
She is already on the steps when you ask her to please wait just a second. You say you're not like all the others, you're not from Baltimore, you're not predisposed against her and her husband. You might even be sympathetic. If she wants a sympathetic ear to talk to, you've got one.
She shakes her head from side to side. Where do these people come from? Her laugh is as bitter as last week's coffee. "Sympathetic? If I only had a nickel for every time I've heard that one . . . ." She turns away without another word, closing the great doors behind her.