By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
A former hair salon owner was sentenced yesterday to more than four years in prison for collecting about $1.2 million in fraudulent checks while playing a key role in the D.C. tax scandal.
Samuel Earl Pope, 62, helped propel a relatively modest swindle into a massive embezzlement that siphoned nearly $50 million from the D.C. government over two decades, authorities have said. In all, Pope received about $1.6 million in proceeds tied to the scam.
Eleven people have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme, and three await sentencing. The ringleader, Harriette Walters, a former mid-level manager in the D.C. tax office, is scheduled to be sentenced next month. Another participant, Alethia Grooms, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan sentenced Pope to four years and three months in prison, as prosecutors had requested. He also ordered him to pay $1,586,406 in restitution and to serve three years of supervised release. "It is going to take decades for the city to recover from having its treasury looted," Sullivan said.
Pope pleaded guilty in July to mail fraud and money laundering. He apologized to Sullivan for his conduct but pleaded for a lighter sentence. "I'm not a bad guy," he said. He said Walters "took advantage" of him when he was facing tough times.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy G. Lynch said Pope "led a life of greed" and called the thefts some of the most "shameful events in the District's history."
"He and Harriette Walters had a key to the city's treasury," Lynch said, adding that Pope "stole a king's ransom."
Pope and Walters became friends in the late 1980s when she started having her hair done at his now-closed Head to Toe Salon in Southwest Washington. Pope also ran a car service that Walters used for trips to Atlantic City and elsewhere, prosecutors have said.
By 1991, Walters invited Pope to participate in a budding scheme in which she prepared fraudulent applications for property tax refunds that resulted in D.C. government checks being issued to others involved in the scam.
In the two previous years, none of the refund checks exceeded $10,000. But Walters realized that she could authorize sham refund checks for much higher sums if they were issued to businesses instead of individuals.
In May 1991, she manipulated the refund process and had her office issue Pope's business a fraudulent property tax refund for $37,639, more than four times the size of the largest check in the scam to that date, prosecutors wrote.
In all, Pope received 21 fraudulent refund checks worth about $1.2 million. He received an additional $412,000 over the years that authorities have tied to the conspiracy.
Walters and her co-conspirators stole $48.1 million from the D.C. government from 1989 until the scheme was uncovered in late 2007.