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March 4, 1995
Author: Paul W. Valentine, Washington Post Staff Writer
A former U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing engineer stole $1.6 million in $100 test bills from its vaults last year because the drugs he was taking for depression reduced his mental capacity, two psychiatrists testified today. But a third psychiatrist countered that Robert P. Schmitt Jr., 32, of Edgewater, Md., “meticulously planned” the biggest theft in the bureau’s 132-year history. John R. Lion, who testified for the prosecution, said Schmitt showed none of the usual symptoms of “toxic reaction” to Prozac and Tranxene, such as impulsiveness and irritability, that could have contributed to the crime.
The testimony came in federal court, where Schmitt, who pleaded guilty to the thefts late last year, is fighting to stay out of prison. Prosecutors are asking that he serve up to three years.
Defense attorneys, citing the “diminished mental capacity” evidence as a mitigating factor, want U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis to waive prison and put Schmitt on some form of electronically monitored home detention.
After today’s lengthy session, Garbis said he would confer with the attorneys early next week to set a date for finishing the proceedings and imposing sentence.
Schmitt, once a promising $66,000-a-year technical engineer for the bureau in Washington, admitted stealing test currency last spring from a vault to which he had special access. He deposited some of the bills in banks in Washington and Annapolis but had $650,000 secreted in his Nissan 300ZX sports car when federal agents arrested him last June 16.
Investigators said Schmitt, who lived with his widowed mother and supported a girlfriend and two children, purchased three properties in Maryland and Virginia and was negotiating for a $250,000 house in the District when he was arrested.
The thefts, which occurred when Schmitt left the headquarters building with bills in his briefcase, triggered an internal investigation of possible security lapses. It brought tightened measures for checking employees entering and leaving the building.
Today, defense psychiatrist Alec J. Whyte, who has treated Schmitt periodically since 1987 for a range of family-related problems, said he put Schmitt on the antidepressant Prozac along with the anti-anxiety drug Tranxene during and before the spring of 1994, when the thefts occurred.
After learning of Schmitt’s arrest, Whyte said he concluded that Schmitt suffered a mood disorder caused by overreaction to the drugs that in turn “substantially reduced his mental capacity” to curb his criminal actions.
The overreaction, Whyte said, triggered poor judgment, impulsiveness and a “grandiose style” that controlled much of Schmitt’s behavior.
David M. Goldstein, another defense psychiatrist, testified that many of Schmitt’s friends and fellow employees noticed he had changed and was “erratic” and “defiant,” both characteristics of a toxic reaction to the drugs.
Lion, the prosecution’s psychiatrist, countered that Schmitt’s mood appeared “quite stable” and the thefts appeared to have been done methodically and not impulsively.
Lion also contended that impulsiveness and bad judgment are rarely caused by Prozac or Tranxene, with few instances cited in psychiatric literature
Record Number: 634669
Copyright 1995 The Washington Post