False Pugh donor was busted for theft

False Pugh donor was busted for theft, skipped grand jury

A man who says he gave—then rescinded—a $6,000 check to Mayor Catherine Pugh's election campaign last year later pleaded guilty to stealing someone else's bank card to purchase $16,000 worth of designer accessories, yet he has not appeared before the grand jury investigating the mayor's campaign.

David Novicki, a hairstylist, used a customer's debit card to buy a $1,040 pair of Louis Vuitton Sword Ankle boots, a $1,960 Metis Monogram shoulder bag, a $330 iPhone case, and other items online, and had them delivered to his home, according to court records. Marci Schentzel noticed the unauthorized use of her card when she returned from a vacation, and then went to get her hair done and saw Novicki wearing some of the items.

"I just basically stopped going to him because he's basically a thief," Schentzel says in a phone interview.

Last March, Novicki told City Paper that he had written a $6,000 check to Pugh's campaign, but then put a stop payment on it after changing his mind about Pugh's politics. In an official filing, Pugh's campaign reported that the check, along with 10 other $6,000 checks, all had been returned for insufficient funds. Many of the allegedly bounced checks were attributed to corporations that were not registered to do business in Maryland, but which were associated with addresses owned or controlled by long-time Little Italy fixture and political fund-raiser Gia Blatterman and her family. It is a crime to give to a political campaign under a false name.

The state prosecutor empaneled a grand jury to investigate the matter, and last month announced an indictment of Gary Brown Jr., one of Pugh's aides, charging him with donating to the campaign under false names. Brown was arraigned last week; his trial was set for May 31.

But as of last week, Novicki, who worked at Blatterman's salon on Falls Road, had not testified before the grand jury, despite that his unrelated legal trouble may have given state prosecutors leverage.

"That's because it's the first we're hearing about it," says James Cabezas, chief investigator for the State Prosecutor's Office, when told by City Paper of Novicki's legal jam.

Two sources confirmed to City Paper that Novicki had been subpoenaed by the grand jury, but did not appear before it. Grand juries can compel testimony, but may opt not to do so at the prosecutor's direction, which seems to be what happened in this case.

Novicki, 43, was facing an unrelated civil suit seeking payment of about $16,000 in unsecured credit card debt when he allegedly gave the $6,000 check to Pugh's campaign on Jan. 19, 2016. When City Paper asked him about it two months later, he said he put a stop-payment order on the check. "I decided I didn't like what she stood for," he said, declining to say what changed his mind. He also falsely denied he was being sued.

The civil suit ended with a judgment on June 21, with a request for wage garnishment made on Nov. 28. With interest and fees the debt has topped $18,000.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 25, 2016, Schentzel walked into Precinct 4 of the Baltimore County Police Department and reported the bank card fraud.

Schentzel told the police officer that when she opened her Wells Fargo debit card statement she noticed 12 transactions she had not made, according to the police report. She called Wells Fargo, which advised her to file the police report. All but one of the purchases were made on Louis Vuitton's web store. Among them: a $2,358.50 purchase made on Jan. 4, and a $3,227.70 purchase made on Jan. 13—the same day Novicki was, according to Pugh's campaign report, giving Pugh $6,000 to run for mayor.

The fraudulent purchases totaled $16,637. Wells Fargo credited back $14,000 to Schentzel's account, the police report says.

The bank would not tell Schentzel the name of the suspect, according to the police report, but said they would verify the name if she said it. So, the report says, Schentzel told the bank that she had recently gotten her hair done "and noticed that her hair dresser, subject David W. Novicki, had a lot of new items from Louis Vuitton and suspected it could be him."

The bank confirmed with Schentzel it was Novicki.

Police issued Novicki a summons to appear in District Court. He was charged with five criminal counts, including theft of more than $10,000. He faced a possible 15-year sentence.

Novicki hired attorney Adam Ruther, who developed a theory that Louis Vuitton somehow made a mistake.

"There was a defense…that somehow the credit card got assigned to the wrong account," says Katherine Rosenblatt, the prosecutor who handled the case. She says it's far-fetched.

Ruther said he would tell his client that City Paper wanted to speak to him, and City Paper left multiple phone messages directly with Novicki, which were not returned.

On Oct. 18, Novicki pleaded guilty to a single count of theft under $1,000 under the Alford Doctrine, meaning he pleaded guilty but also claims he is innocent. He was sentenced to 90 days unsupervised probation before judgment and ordered to make restitution of $2,637—the balance of the debit card charges that Wells Fargo did not cover.

He cut that check (a Smurfette-themed one) on Nov. 21. It did not bounce, Schentzel confirms. Ruther then asked the court to terminate Novicki's probation early, and the judge agreed, ending the sentence on Dec. 29, 2016.

The police did not take back the designer stuff.

"He was smart," Schentzel says. "He got the merchandise and walked away with it . . . and it's all he wears. When he works or goes out he's wearing the designer stuff."

She says Novicki still works at Blatterman's salon: "I think they're friends. I think they're all good." City Paper could not confirm this. The woman who answered the phone at the salon, which has changed its name to Salon Tech, said neither Novicki nor Blatterman works there.

"We've been under new management for like a year," she said.

Blatterman did not return a voicemail left at her cell number.

The case is curious: A 43-year-old man with no criminal record just decides to commit fraud and has $16,000 worth of stuff delivered to his house? And makes his first-ever political donation at the same time, in an amount he can't afford?

"It's very atypical," says Rosenblatt, "for somebody that age getting involved in the criminal justice system."

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