The former president of a Chicago title insurance company pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to steal more than $70 million from his customers, other companies and a group of trusts.

Officials described the case as one of the biggest scams ever in Illinois, media accounts said.

Laurence W. Capriotti, 60, of Frankfort, Ill., appeared before U.S. District Judge James B. Moran and admitted that he took part in a looting operation that caused the Independent Trust Corp., known as Intrust, to collapse in 2000, accounts said.

Stolen money was used to pay credit card debts, put friends and relatives on company payrolls and even develop a suburban golf course, according to charges filed in the case.

Capriotti became the third defendant in the collapse of Intrust and the scandal surrounding the Chicago-based Intercounty Title Co. of Illinois to plead guilty, accounts said.

Two other defendants are scheduled to go on trial Aug. 8, according to news sources. They are Intercounty-Illinois Chairman Jack L. Hargrove, 64, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the company’s chief financial officer, Michel D. Thyfault, 58, of LaGrange, according to media accounts. The two have pleaded not guilty, accounts said.

Capriotti could be sentenced to a maximum of 14 years in prison and fined at least $550,000. But federal prosecutors told the Associated Press he is cooperating and as a result could earn a break at sentencing. On Thursday, the case was referred to a probation officer and sentencing was postponed until further order of court, a court official said.

Intercounty-Illinois was an agency headed by Capriotti and Hargrove that sold title insurance, according to legal documents in the case. The company also provided a variety of escrow services for its customers, keeping their money in accounts at two large downtown banks, the documents said.

According to Capriotti’s signed 28-page plea agreement, Intercounty-Illinois became insolvent in 1987 as a result of a price war in the title insurance industry and investment losses, including a slump in junk bond prices, accounts said. By 1990, the company was $20 million in the red, according to accounts.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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