A St. Louis area man was convicted tonight of fraud by telephone in an unusual scheme to obtain at least $25,000 by fabricating a story that he was preparing to steal a U.S. nuclear attack submarine.

A U.S. District Court jury deliberated 17 minutes before returning the guilty verdict against Edward J. Mendenhall, 24, of Spanish Lake, Mo.

Mendenhall faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $1,000 fine. Chief U.S. District Court Judge Jamess H. Meredith scheduled sentencing for Monday.

Until last week, Mendenhall and James W. Cosgrove, 26, of Geneva, N.Y., had been charged with conspiring to steal the Trepang and sell the sub to an unknown buyer somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Prosecutors said the pair had hoped to sell the submarine for as much as $300 million.

But shortly before the case was called for trial on Dec. 4, prosecutors unexpectedly asked for a delay. They then obtained a new indictment charging Mendenhall and Cosgrove only with fraud by telephone. Cosgrove's trial is schedule to start Monday.

Mendenhall did not offer a defense to the charge. He attorney argued that prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

In his closing argument to the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Wilson admitted that prosecutors made a mistake when they initially charged Mendenhall with conspiracy to steal the submarine.

"We saw the errors of our ways with further investigation," he said. "We now have a case based on common sense."

Wilson compared Mendenhall's actions with those of actors Robert Redford and Paul Newman in "The Sting." "Mendenhall wanted to make a fast illegal buck and split to Toronto," Wilson said. "He didn't really want to take on the U.S. Navy."