THE DISTRICT

Investment Club Founder Indicted

The founder of the Better Life Club of America, a now-defunct enterprise that promised big returns to its investors, was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday on mail fraud, money-laundering and other charges.

Robert N. Taylor, 49, is accused of using his "self-help organization" to cheat more than 5,000 investors of more than $48 million. Prosecutors said the D.C.-based club, which wooed black people and other minorities, was in reality a Ponzi scheme. Such schemes rely upon money from new investors to pay off earlier investors; the money inevitably stops flowing, authorities said.

Taylor has been battling the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other authorities for several years. The club's assets were frozen in 1995 after the SEC filed a civil suit. Last year, a federal judge ordered Taylor to pay back about $25.8 million to investors. Taylor recently got out of prison after serving a 41-month term for wire fraud and criminal contempt. If convicted, the new charges could return him to prison for 20 or more years.

The 18-count indictment was returned in U.S. District Court in Washington after an investigation by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. attorney's office. Prosecutors said Taylor used more than $1 million of the investors' money for himself, buying a house, expensive cars and other luxuries.

VIRGINIA

Day-Care Provider Misses Court Date

An arrest warrant has been issued for an Arlington home day-care provider after she failed to appear in court for a hearing on charges that she abused three children in her care, officials said yesterday.

Teresa Villareal, 42, who is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 5 on three counts of felony child abuse, did not appear for an Aug. 19 arraignment on four additional misdemeanor assault charges, the prosecutor said.

"She failed to appear, and we're actively looking for her," said Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Theo Stamos.

According to court testimony, Villareal and her daughter-in-law Heidy Terceros, 23, who also has been charged with abusing children in Villareal's home in 1998, routinely force-fed one of the children, a baby girl, and hit her with fingertips, shoes and rubber bands when she wouldn't eat.

Terceros had planned to enter a guilty plea in the case last month but changed her mind, and the judge denied a prosecution request to revoke her bond until her trial.

"I expect her to be there, and we're prepared to defend the cases," said Terceros's attorney, Sean O'Malie.

MARYLAND

Man Pleads Guilty in Series of Burglaries

A 33-year-old District man was sentenced in Montgomery County Circuit Court yesterday to 15 years in jail after pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree burglary.

Joseph Darnell Bennett admitted that he pushed in an exterior air-conditioning unit on March 8 and entered a home on Jackson Avenue in Takoma Park through a side window. He tried to steal two VCRs, a cordless phone, a compact disc player, a fax machine and jewelry. Bennett was caught while still in the home by Takoma Park police, who had been summoned by a neighbor.

After his arrest, Bennett admitted to nine other residential burglaries in Takoma Park, police said. Those burglaries occurred from November 1998 to March 1999.

Bennett faces an additional nine years in prison for violating probation on two 1996 convictions for first-degree burglary in Prince George's County.