Judge Jails Participant In Scandal After Plea

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 17, 2008

A former hair salon owner and close friend of the woman at the center of the D.C. tax scandal admitted in federal court yesterday that he collected almost $1.6 million for his role in the largest embezzlement scheme uncovered in District government history.

Samuel E. Pope, 61, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money-laundering conspiracy charges in a corruption case that a U.S. District judge yesterday called "the most serious criminal offense before this court in years."

Pope is the seventh person to plead guilty in the scam, which authorities allege siphoned as much as $50 million from the D.C. government over almost 20 years. Five others, including the alleged ring leader, have been charged.

After accepting Pope's plea, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan took the unusual step of ordering the Southeast Washington resident jailed pending a hearing in September. No sentencing date was set, and Pope has agreed to cooperate with authorities. Sentencing guidelines indicate that Pope could get a prison term of 51 to 63 months.

Pope, who had been free on personal recognizance after he was charged July 7, "is a danger" to D.C. residents, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he thought it would send the wrong message if he allowed Pope to go home after the hearing. He also said that Pope had two misdemeanor gun convictions on his record.

"Someone who stole $1.5 million from the citizens of the District of Columbia should be incarcerated," Sullivan said. "He shouldn't be walking the streets after stealing a million-and-a-half dollars from the people of the District of Columbia. . . . The coffers of the District of Columbia have been drained."

Prosecutors had agreed not to contest Pope's release, and his attorney, Barry M. Tapp, said Sullivan's decision "surprised everyone" in the courtroom. Tapp said he would file a motion asking the judge to reconsider jailing his client.

Pope admitted yesterday to being one of the first participants in the scheme and to playing a critical role in propelling a relatively modest swindle into a massive public corruption scandal. He joined the scam in 1991, two years after it allegedly began, and received 21 fraudulent refund checks issued by Harriette Walters, a mid-level tax manager at the focus of the investigation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy G. Lynch said.

Walters has been jailed since she was arrested in November on conspiracy, mail fraud and money-laundering charges, and she is reported to be cooperating with authorities. She is accused of using her position at the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue to generate fraudulent tax refund checks for friends and businesses.

Pope and Walters became friends in the late 1980s when she began having her hair done at his now-closed Head to Toe Salon in Southwest, prosecutors said.

In the two years before Pope joined the conspiracy, refund checks were issued to individuals, and none exceeded $10,000, prosecutors have said. Pope made Walters become "more comfortable" about issuing larger checks, Lynch said yesterday.

The money kept coming, and the biggest check received by Pope totaled $92,779. He has agreed to repay the D.C. government about $1.6 million.

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