Jeffrey A. Levitt's guilty plea yesterday to a gargantuan theft -- $14.7 million -- was consistent with his style.
Levitt seldom did anything halfway.
His tastes, literally and figuratively, have been outrageous, from a legendary sweet tooth to -- before the fall -- building an obscure savings and loan association into one of the largest on the East Coast.
"Jeffrey never passed up a deal," one of his country club golf partners said after learning of Levitt's impending fall last summer. "If I ever met a guy who wanted to be the richest guy in the country, it was him."
Instead, with yesterday's guilty plea, Levitt faces the prospect of at least a half-dozen years in prison, from which he should emerge, at age 50, broke.
Not that he hasn't been there before. Jeffrey Levitt learned to love the good life -- fine foods, fast cars, jet planes, casino gambling -- by working hard and marrying well, but he grew up the son of a garment industry worker who moved his family from Brooklyn to Baltimore when Jeffrey was 9.
Levitt lavished money -- his and others -- on acquired tastes, but he does not look the part of a high liver. Even a recently acquired taste for Gucci clothes (favored because of his partial ownership of two Gucci shops) could not disguise a rotund physique.
(One dinner companion recalled watching in amazement as Levitt and his wife each downed six desserts during one sitting at the posh Belvedere Hotel dining room in Baltimore.)
Nor does he fit the conventional mold of a playboy. He neither drinks nor smokes, and by all accounts is a devoted father to his two sons and a loyal husband to his wife Karol, who has been his constant companion in the trip to the top.
Levitt bestowed his wife's name on ambitious joint ventures all along the Atlantic seaboard -- Karoland, Karolett, Karosel, Karol's Landing -- and christened their $200,000 beach house in Ocean City the Karol 1.
He married Karol Lapides, a member of a wealthy and prominent Baltimore family, when he was a struggling young lawyer.
Karol Levitt's family connections opened doors in the charitable and cultural community of Baltimore that no amount of wheeling and dealing by her outsider husband could accomplish on his own, especially when his initial forays were less than auspicious.
In the early 1970s, Levitt developed a reputation as one of Baltimore's more audacious landlords. His buildings in the poor black neighborhoods of the city collected so many housing violations that parts of each Friday afternoon were set aside as "Levitt days" in housing court.
Levitt invariably represented himself at those hearings, often arguing with his tenants over their complaints.
During an appeal of one complaint, lodged by the family of a 14-year-old girl who fell at one of his properties, Levitt was found to have lied to a judge. As a result, the Maryland Court of Appeals suspended his license to practice law for one year.
But over the years, under his wife's tutelage, Levitt earned a place in the community -- membership in a proper country club, friends at the synagogue, season tickets at the opera, and his name on everybody's list for a charitable donation.
Their sprawling house in suburban Baltimore illustrated their eclectic tastes. Overflowing from the three-car garage was part of Levitt's collection of a dozen or so automobiles, including a Rolls-Royce, two original 1955 Thunderbirds, a rare four-seater MG, an exotic German sedan and assorted Mercedes-Benzes.
A swimming pool with a retractable roof connected the back patio and the dining room.
Inside, a floor-to-ceiling cabinet was filled with Steuben glass; a glass and mirrored piano was topped with huge candelabra, and a cabinet in the dining room was so jammed that when it was opened for a guest, sterling samovars, plates and candelabra tumbled across the floor.
Last May, Levitt's entire empire began tumbling out of the closet.
And when he made his first appearance in court later that summer, Levitt must have experienced a sense of deja vu, for presiding was Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, the same judge to whom Levitt had lied half a dozen years earlier.
Levitt eventually went to prison in January for again lying to Kaplan, this time by promising to do something that wasn't in keeping with his style: Living within a $1,000-a-week spending limit imposed on him by Kaplan.