Former Accountant of Dundalk Law Firm Sentenced to More than 11 Years in Prison for Stealing over $1 Million and Arson
Defendant Disappeared for Almost a Year After Failing to Appear in Court
Baltimore, Maryland - U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles, Jr. sentenced George Michael Perez, age 34, of Dundalk, Maryland, today to 135 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release for wire fraud and arson in connection with a scheme to defraud the law firm where he was employed, and for failure to appear at a federal hearing, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. Judge Quarles also entered an order of forfeiture against Perez in the amount of $1,035,000.
“Arson is a crime of violence that we take very seriously,” says ATF Special Agent in Charge Theresa R. Stoop. “Mr. Perez's actions caused a firefighter to be injured, and could have placed the public, and additional first responders or emergency personnel in peril. We are pleased that he was finally brought to justice, for he deserves the significant sentence he received.”
According to his guilty plea, in January 2004 a law firm located in Dundalk hired Perez to work in its accounting department. The law firm concentrated its practice in real estate law, and received and disbursed substantial sums of money while handling the sales of foreclosed properties. Perez was responsible for keeping track of the flow of money in the firm’s escrow account. Over time, the firm became dissatisfied with Perez’s work performance and terminated his employment on April 16, 2007.
On April 23, 2007 the Baltimore County Fire Department responded to a fire in the building occupied by the law firm. The fire was concentrated on the fourth floor which housed the firm’s offices, and a room in the basement which the firm leased for document storage. Further investigation revealed that the fire was intentionally set by igniting piles of paper. The fire alarm system had been disabled by entering a code on a pad located near the firm’s entrance. Law firm employees, including Perez, knew the code numbers. The door to the room in the basement was locked, requiring forced entry to suppress the flames. The key to the door, which was kept on a hook by a secretary’s desk on the fourth floor, could not be found at the time of the fire. The key was subsequently seized from Perez’s home.
Investigators also found that a safe in an attorney’s office had been opened with the key that was still in the door to the safe. The contents of the safe were missing. The attorney kept the key hidden in an ornament on a credenza. Investigators also found eight of the firm’s computers in an alley alongside the building, along with some of the contents of the safe.
The fire caused substantial damage not only to the law firm’s offices, but also to other businesses that occupied the building, including offices of a dentist, an accounting firm and a pharmacy. Damage caused by the arson is estimated to be $800,000. A firefighter who responded to the fire was injured and taken to the hospital to be treated for burns he suffered. He was released after treatment.
Two weeks later, an audit revealed that from December 2005 to April 12, 2007, Perez had made 114 fraudulent wire transfers totaling $1,044,309 from the firm’s escrow account into Perez’s personal account. Perez used the money stolen from the firm’s escrow account to pay off gambling debts and to invest in the purchase of real estate.
Perez was indicted on March 27, 2008 on charges arising from the theft and arson. He was released under the supervision of Pretrial Services on a number of conditions, including that he not violate any law and that he immediately notify Pretrial Services should he be arrested. Perez was arrested for assault in April, 2008 by Baltimore County Police. He failed to advise the Pretrial Services of this arrest. The government requested a review of Perez’s release and a court hearing was scheduled for May 8, 2008. Perez failed to appear at the hearing and efforts to locate him were unsuccessful. Perez was subsequently arrested in April 2009.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein thanked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Baltimore County Police Department and Baltimore County Fire Department for their investigative work. Mr. Rosenstein also expressed appreciation to Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger and his office and commended Assistant United States Attorney Stephen M. Schenning, and Special Assistant United States Attorney Adam Lippe, who prosecuted the case.