A man who claimed to be a real estate investor used religion and faith to lure three local men into deals that cost them nearly $300,000, according to the victims’ testimony at a hearing in Washington County Criminal Court Monday.
Branden Michael Toth, 34, of Stevensville, Md., is charged in three cases with theft over $10,000, criminal simulation, worthless check over $10,000, two counts of theft over $10,000 and two counts of theft over $60,000.
Most of the charges stem from an alleged small-scale Ponzi scheme involving real estate deals Toth — pronounced like the word both — assured victims were a sure thing and quick turnaround on their investment.
Toth was apparently so good at it that he duped a local financial services professional out of 170,000 on two different deals. Through that victim, Hanes Torbett, Toth met two other men, Chip Bacus and Joe Reid, and took $125,000 from them in other real estate deals.
According to testimony from the three victims at a hearing Monday,
Toth won their confidence through conversations about their faith in God and conversations that formed a camaraderie.
They said Toth presented himself as a Christian and even prayed with Torbett on numerous occasions in the two months prior to the bogus deals.
The hearing Monday was on a defense motion to sever some of the charges in a four-count indictment that involved Torbett, Reid and Bacus as victims.
One of Toth’s attorneys, Stacy Street, asked the victims if their investments were because of their supposed shared spiritual faith or because they wanted to make money.
The men answered similarly, saying they did want to make money on the deals, but they trusted Toth because he had presented himself as a man of God with a good sense for business.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ruled that three of the charges — a theft over $10,000 involving Reid, another theft over $10,000 involving Torbett and theft over $60,000 involving Torbett — can be tried together.
The fourth charge, theft over $60,000 involving Bacus, must be tried separately, Blackwood said.
“Under the circumstances I think counts one, two and three can be tried together, but count four should be severed,” he said. “I think there will be evidence in count four that would not be admissible in count one, two and three.”
In all, Toth is accused of bilking $275,000 from the three men. Torbett lost $170,000, Reid lost $10,000 and Bacus lost $115,000. Part of the loss Bacus had came from a $25,000 investment to establish an LLC with Toth so Toth could teach him the ins and outs of real estate investments.
The worthless check charge stems from Toth writing a $32,500 check to purchase Keva Juice in 2010. Authorities said the check bounced and the owners lost the business anyway.
Toth’s next court appearance is set for Oct. 29.