Ex-Md. official pleads guilty to extortion She accepted bribes to help businesses

September 06, 1997|By Alec Klein | Alec Klein,SUN STAFF

The former director of a state loan program pleaded guilty to extortion in federal court yesterday for taking $60,000 in bribes to help two Maryland businesses obtain financing.

Marie V. Torres, 48, who was director of the Export Finance Program of the Maryland Industrial Development Financing Authority, could get up to 20 years in prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 3.

Torres was employed by the authority from 1988 until she resigned in March.

Prosecutors said Torres was in a position to help businesses get financial assistance. Her office acted as an guarantor of bank loans for Maryland businesses seeking to ship goods abroad.

Torres, who authorities said acted on her own, obtained about $60,000 from Howard Schapiro, owner of Chesapeake Industries Inc., a South Carolina textile company doing business in Chile and Nicaragua, and Lesslabel LLC, a related clothing store in Reisterstown that is now out of business.

Prosecutors said Schapiro believed the payments -- made from July 1995 to January 1997 -- were necessary to win favor in obtaining financing that ultimately amounted to more than $1 million; later, Torres extracted a $4,000 monthly "consulting fee" that Schapiro paid from Chesapeake Industries funds by writing checks to Torres or her husband, Al.

The scheme came to light in December when Schapiro !c approached authorities and agreed to go undercover.

In a recorded telephone call on Dec. 31, 1996, Torres told Schapiro, "A couple hundred on Thursday morning will be very helpful. Anything before the bank closes."

In a meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in Towson on Jan. 17, Torres said to Schapiro, "My only fear is that if someone goes through your records and they see that I'm getting money from you."

On Feb. 11, the FBI searched the Torres home and found records showing they were behind on their mortgage and other payments. Torres had planned to leave her state job, complaining of no raises in four years, indicating that was why she was "forced" to take money from Schapiro.

Torres denied any wrongdoing until authorities confronted her with the monitored phone calls and Schapiro's checks.

"This is not a person who regularly did this," said Harvey Greenberg, Torres' court-appointed attorney. "This is just something that happened."

Torres faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, five years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. But as part of her plea agreement, prosecutors intend to recommend a sentence at the low end of the guidelines, which would permit a prison term of about 15 months in prison. A native of the Philippines who is not a U.S. citizen, she could also be deported.

Schapiro is expected to plead guilty to a separate offense, Greenberg said.

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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