They have a date. He was supposed to pick her up and take her to his
townhouse in Ramsey where he said she could stay to defray living costs
as her fledgling furniture importing business goes under. Then they'll
go for pizza.
His idea is to save her from financial hardship by finding her a job in the Sonoma Wine company. He claims to be an heir to the company. This has been the plan since their first date in July 2007 after meeting on singlesnet.com.
"I looked right into his eyes and saw a man that truly cared," she said in an e-mail.
But Ed Walsh is late. He already called her once at her Marlboro home to reschedule from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Now, it seems, he is standing her up.
The truth: Walsh, or Edward J. Devine, has been at the Ocean County Superior Courthouse in Toms River waiting since 9 a.m. to be sentenced to five years in state prison for bouncing checks and deceiving several nonprofit and educational institutions.
About the time Helaine agrees to wait a couple of more hours, Devine is led away in handcuffs to begin his sentence.
In December 1984, Devine, then a trucker, was convicted of stealing from his employer. By May 2007, he was a self-described trucking mogul who had built a reputation out of promises to share his wealth with people in need.
But the promises were empty. The half-dozen organizations expecting some $4 million in donations wasted time and money. And Devine, not the tycoon he claimed to be, was convicted on three counts of theft by deception and two counts of passing bad checks.
Devine's antics over two decades were fine-tuned from a financially troubled everyman willing to bilk for personal profit to a pseudo-philanthropist set on painting a public image of Rockefelleresque wealth.
They also have earned the 51-year-old a catalog of enemies. Nonprofits have scorned him. Creditors have sued him. Prosecutors have pursued him.
And then there were the women in his life. The three who were once wed to Devine, a Bergenfield native, describe relationships that began with romance and ended with drained bank accounts and suspicions of bigamy. But at least one, the 46-year-old Helaine, whose last name is being withheld to protect her identity, still professes her affection to the man she called "Pumpkin."
Together, these women provide perhaps the steadiest account of the evolution of Devine's motives.
As Carole Ceralli, his first wife, explained: "At first he lied to avoid punishment, then he lied to fit into other people's lives."
Teacher left in debt
Donna Devine sat at her kitchen table one sunny afternoon last spring in a sweatshirt and sweatpants. The
38-year-old teacher should have been with her students at a Berkeley
elementary school, but that day her nerves were shot, she said.
It had been three months since her husband was exposed as a bogus donor who had no intention of paying millions of dollars that he had promised to several charities and fundraisers. "What? That's what I said to everyone for that first month of everything happening: "What?' " she said.
In time, her shock turned sour. Her accusations include Devine leaving her and her mother with more than $400,000 in debt from equity loans on her house. A recent statement shows $305,392 remaining to be paid on the mortgage of the two-story home in Bayville, about as much as it was worth when purchased in 2004.
"Emotionally, he really tore us apart. Financially, I'm in bad shape," said Donna's mother, Lynn Hogan, 59, whose name the house is in. Donna also recently learned Devine could still be married to his first wife, Carol Ceralli. If so, she could be the second wife he committed bigamy with while married to Ceralli.
Donna met Devine in November 2001 after divorcing her first husband. One of his sisters set the couple up by inviting Donna to her house for pizza. That led to a second date at a TGI Friday's in Eatontown. "He seemed very intelligent, very charming," Donna said.
They were married in September 2002 at the Brielle River House. Together they formed the trucking company East Coast Carrier. At one point, Hogan said, she gave her daughter's husband a check for $50,000 to buy a new company truck. He paid her $5,000 as a down payment. She never saw the rest.
In 2005, Donna went back to teaching full-time, leaving Devine in charge of their company, which at that point was down to two haulers. It was about that time his tales of riches began to circulate. Devine would claim to operate a massive trucking enterprise stretching as far as Texas and worth millions. He claimed to own five houses, including one in Teterboro next to former New York Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn and another in Nantucket, Mass., that he reached by private jet. Eventually, as his stories of inflated fortune began to unravel, so did his marriage.
"Things he was saying weren't making sense to me anymore," Donna said. "He used to have a logical explanation for everything."
On Feb. 8, 2007, she was granted a restraining order, which cited "good cause to believe that plaintiff's life, health and well-being have been and are endangered by defendant's act(s) of violence." Devine was arrested twice for violating the order. One occurred after he hired a private detective Feb. 17 to follow his wife, writing on the retainer that he had no restraining order against him.
Wife No. 2
Devine's second wife did see justice, however. The same
Bergen County judge who dropped charges on Devine for bilking the
Tomorrows Children's Fund sentenced him to four years probation in 1999
for exhausting the bank account of Deborah Weiss.
Weiss, a wealthy socialite from Englewood, and Devine were married in 1994 overlooking the Hudson River. Though they met at a car dealership in Westwood where Devine was a mechanic and she was a customer, he told her he was actually heir to a department store fortune and only worked on cars as a hobby, said Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Ike Gavzy, who tried the case.
Soon the spending began: $77,000 on the wedding, $27,000 on diamond earrings, $10,000 on a honeymoon and $7,000 on a Jet Ski, according to newspaper reports.
Lynn Hoffman, director of the Children's Fund, who knew Weiss, said the woman would stop by the hospital all the time to donate items such as clothing or a piano, but believes Weiss was in the dark when it came to her husband's outlandish pledges.
"He is clever, tells a good story and doesn't ask you to put money in, so your natural inclination is, if this guy is out to help people, he's a good guy," said attorney Harvey York, who was never paid his legal fees.
Louis Schlesinger, a professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, compared such behavior to the condition pseudologia fantastica, or a tendency toward grandiose lying; the reward being not monetary but the elation felt from impressing other people.
"It's not uncommon to want to present yourself in this way to overcompensate for some inadequacies," he said. "You approach people as this huge force in the world when it can't be further from the truth."
By the time Devine was arrested in Utah in 1996, he had left Weiss with a second mortgage on her house and bounced checks. "Her life was ruined after that. He took her whole inheritance," Hoffman said. After 25 months of marriage, Weiss learned Devine had never divorced his first wife.
He leaves first wife
Carol Ceralli married Devine following an introduction by his
sister. After the wedding in Paterson in 1983, they eventually moved to
Mahwah, where Ceralli had met Devine while working with his sister at
Minolta. There, Devine commuted to his job as a mechanic for a car
dealership in Westwood.
Devine kept a relatively low profile during this time. He appeared not to embellish his financial status or live a way he couldn't afford. Ceralli described him as an "honest" mechanic, smart and a "phenomenal reader" whom all the neighborhood children, including her son Billy, loved. He did bounce checks, lie about paying the bills and use Ceralli's bank account too freely.
"When I met him, I had five-star gold credit. After our first year, I was in bankruptcy," Ceralli said. She had to sell her car in 1996 to post his $8,000 bail. He also was convicted of mail fraud in 1984.
But Devine's motives then were to evade the spotlight, not seek it, Ceralli said. He even went to her psychologist for a short time to to and curb his habits. But in 1994, he told Ceralli he didn't want to be married anymore and left.
"All of a sudden, he wanted to be a playboy," said Ceralli, now 59 and living in Ramsey. "He saw a better way of living with Deborah. He figured he'd live the high life off her money."
Eight years later, he filed for bankruptcy. Ceralli said she came to one conclusion: Devine's upbringing was partly to blame.
Father was a cop
Raised in Bergenfield with three brothers and a sister,
Devine learned at a young age to avoid getting into trouble at all
costs, according to Ceralli. His father was an Irish police officer who
worked in Manhattan, she said.
"I can see where he went wrong because his father was very "you walk a straight line or else you're not my son,' " Ceralli said.
Records show Devine's past steadily has caught up with him. Court documents reveal at least four civil suits brought against him from 1994 to 2001 by various creditors. According to a past-due notice from Essex County Probation, as of March 25, 2007, he was still on probation for an unknown violation in 2004.
"This inflating of the ego — one thing about that is it's like a balloon: as it expands the walls get thin, so one little pin prick can deflate the whole thing," said Schlesinger, who does not know Devine.
Devine did not responded to several requests for comment before his sentencing. Once last year he answered a reporter's call to his cell phone but said he could not talk without a lawyer present.
On May 7, 2007, Devine began working as a driver for Forte Builders in Berkeley. Ocean County prosecutors have charged Devine with bouncing a $10,000 check while trying to buy a million-dollar home in Lacey. They believe he was house-hunting with a woman. A bounced $3,850 check from Susan Haskell of Forked River was made out to Devine on April 25, 2007. On the bottom left line of the check was written, "House."
Haskell, when reached by phone, declined to comment.
At his trial, Devine said he was working for the international shipping company Yellow Transportation — a job that authorities can't confirm.
Will prison help him?
Devine was transferred from Ocean County Jail in Toms River
to state prison in Trenton on Wednesday. He likely will get out within
a year. When he does, prosecutors hold little hope for a changed man.
"I don't know if any prison sentence, even one for a lifetime, is going to get through to him," Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Martin Anton said. "The best thing is that now at least people are aware."
The morning after Devine stood up Helaine, she saw his photo in the newspaper along with his real last name and the list of crimes he'd committed. When she realized there was no Devine wine fortune or townhouse in Ramsey, she called a reporter in his defense.
Since then, Helaine has visited Devine, and sent him letters in jail.
"I did tell him that I loved him and wished he would be totally honest with me now that he was caught," she said in an e-mail. ". . . (I) explained that I would only be there for him unconditionally if he was completely honest going forward."