End Of The Reign Of A Flimflam Man -- King Of Con: Smart, Charming And Behind Bars

KENT - The inmate pointed to his black eye and grinned as he entered the visitors' booth.

"I got into a fight with a guy who rented from me," Albert Kevin Smith joked as he took a seat behind the glass partition at the county jail in the Regional Justice Center here.

Though the people he admits swindling out of money in recent apartment-rental scams may want to take a poke at him, this black eye came during a scuffle with another inmate. Yet Smith wears it like a badge of pride, as an occupational hazard for a man police call the King of Con.

A familiar face with jail staffers, the 36-year-old Idaho native has been arrested so many times since moving to King County nine years ago that it's difficult to tell where one case stops and the next one starts.

To his victims, some who've ended up homeless after Smith relieved them of their rent money, he's caused them to lose their faith in humanity.

To the legal community, he's a sponge, someone who's cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in public-defense attorneys, court costs and jail time.

To police, the tall, husky and engaging Smith is typical of those who make a living scamming other people: He's smart. He appears to be trustworthy. And above all else, he's charming. A visit with Smith in jail is like spending time with an errant little brother. When he flashes that dimpled grin, you want to forgive him everything.

Smith insists he has friends who genuinely like him and even trust him. "But not with their bank accounts," he adds with a sheepish smile.

In this latest go-around, he's been in jail since September, when Tukwila police arrested him on an outstanding warrant. He since has been charged in King County Superior Court with theft for renting the same apartment to numerous tenants at the same time, pocketing their first and sometimes last month's rent money, then disappearing.

He has entered not-guilty pleas, but says he expects to change his plea to guilty at a hearing next Monday.

Though he boldly rationalizes much of what he's done - even going so far as to blame his own victims for their plight - he also professes to be sorry, saying his conscience has caught up with him and his swindling days are over.

"This is the end of my reign of being a flimflam man," he vows. "What I did was bad."

Schmoozy personality

In April, according to the most recent charges against him, Smith moved his girlfriend out of an apartment her parents owned in Des Moines, then placed an ad soliciting renters. He then rented the apartment to seven people at the same time, none of them knowing about the others until they all showed up to move in. By then, Smith and the rent money were long gone.

In August, according to the charges, he pulled a similar con, calling landlord Dave Elmore and claiming to be a fish broker looking for a place to stay. After Elmore rented Smith an apartment in a house Elmore owned in Kent, Smith moved in, placed an ad and re-rented the apartment to 12 people, all expecting to move in about Sept. 1. By then, Smith was gone again.

"He took money from people who could least afford it," Elmore said.

Among them: Linda Schweikl, who was pregnant at the time and became homeless after giving Smith her last $200. So traumatized was she by her sudden homelessness, she said, that she had a miscarriage, which she blames on Smith.

"I lost a baby over this," Schweikl said. "She was God's gift to me. I lost my hope, my faith over it."

Another victim was Carla Rhoten, who was living in Maryland when she sent Smith $575 for the apartment in the Kent house, believing Smith owned the building. She had sold her furniture and was driving across the country when she got the bad news: Smith had vanished and had taken her money.

"It was my welcome to Seattle," Rhoten said, adding: "He's that good. He could get into . . . any type of business where you have to have that outgoing yet schmoozy personality."

Though he's expressed remorse about the scams, Smith also admonishes his victims, saying, "People need to be careful who they rent from.

"Some of them I'll try to pay back. . . . About four or five of the people were really decent people."

But others deserved what they got, Smith says, describing welfare recipients he said tried to get him to alter lease agreements so they could collect more state aid. Besides, he adds, the money they gave him for first and last months' rent and damage deposits "wasn't their money in the first place."

One victim was a single mother with children she had to send to relatives when she found herself homeless.

"Why doesn't she just get a job and quit . . . having so many kids?" he asks.

Run-ins since '91

Court records indicate Smith began his run-ins with the law in King County in 1991. Since then, he has pleaded guilty to and been jailed for malicious mischief, harassment, breaking a no-contact order, assault, writing bad checks and a 1993 rental scam in Des Moines.

That one also involved a girlfriend, who was living in a furnished condominium at the time. Smith rented it to six different people - even agreeing to pay for new carpet and wallpaper - all of which came as a shock to the girlfriend, who was still living there and had no intention of moving out.

Since 1991, Smith has been ordered to pay $17,500 in restitution and contributions to a fund for crime victims. But he acknowledges he has paid little, saying it's hard to do when he's in jail.

It's not his only financial problem.

Smith has three children by three different women - two in Washington and one in Alaska - and he owes tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid child support.

According to state records, he owes a former King County girlfriend $32,000 in back child support for an 8-year-old son. Alaska officials say he owes a woman there $50,900 ($18,000 in interest) for the support of a 15-year-old daughter.

"Where am I going to get that kind of money?" he asked. "I don't make that much. Out of the Kent deal I only made a couple of thousand."

A new woman in his life

Sometime in the mid-1990s, Smith brought a new woman into his life - Sharyl McKean, the 28-year-old daughter of Terry and Sharon McKean who worked in the family's Zenith Grocery in Des Moines. Smith, the family said, was a customer, and, before they knew it, his easy smile had charmed Sharyl, and they became a twosome. Not long after, a son, now 2, was born.

By all accounts, Smith adores the child. In his jail cell he keeps a photo of himself, Sharyl and the boy, surrounded by a heart of flowers and inscribed with "I love you."

Smith is wonderful with the child, Sharon McKean, said. "He has the sweetest way about him. He's a fabulous father. He'll take (the boy) for walks every day."

But the family's enchantment with Smith ended last year. After the elder McKeans left Sharyl in charge of renting out another apartment in a building they own in Des Moines, Smith, according to court documents, acted as landlord and rented it to a woman who later filed a lawsuit against Smith and all three McKeans.

In it, the woman alleges that after she paid Smith a full month's rent and moved in, she came home to find that he had changed the locks on the apartment and was holding her belongings hostage, demanding $330 to get them back.

The McKeans hope their daughter will leave Smith and start a new life. Her sister, Theresa McKean, doesn't think that's likely.

"She has this bond with him now that she has his son."

Smith says that he's had jobs in the past - "legal ones" - and insists he can get another one and start a new life with Sharyl and their son.

"We can move somewhere else . . . there's a lot of work out there," he said.

"I'm an educated man," he adds. "I graduated from Boise State University with a degree in business. . . . I've just used my intelligence for the wrong thing."

The registrar's office at Boise State said Smith did attend classes there, but just for one semester, in the spring of 1988.

Adversarial dance

To Des Moines Detective Jim Gallagher, Smith remains a "big-mouth con artist" whose frequent stays in jail are merely a respite from having to support himself.

Gallagher and Smith have engaged in an adversarial dance that goes all the way back to Sandpoint, Idaho, where Gallagher, then on the local police force, arrested Smith for property crimes in the latter's younger days. Coincidentally, Gallagher and Smith both eventually moved to Des Moines.

"When I saw him, I about died," Smith said. "I thought, `I'm going to prison now for sure.' "

Gallagher wasn't pleased either, especially when he saw people who could least afford it get scammed.

"If you take a poke in the nose, you get over it," Gallagher said. "But how long does it take you to get over having your bank account cleaned out?"

Counters Smith from behind the glass partition: "I'm not a bad guy." Then, turning around, he points to a room of prisoners behind him. "There are murderers in here . . . people who rape kids."

In the stark, white jail light, you can see into the day room. Someone is getting a haircut, others are playing cards. All wear the red jail uniforms of accused felons - uniforms just like Smith's.

"This is white-collar crime," Smith insists. "Sure it was stupid. But I'm retiring. This is the end of my reign."

But as he turned to join the other inmates, he couldn't resist a parting line.

"Say," he said. "Do you need an apartment?"

Nancy Bartley's phone message number is 206-515-5039. Her e-mail address is: nbar-new@seatimes.com