Former state official sentenced to 15 months in prison for extortion Torres accepted $60,000 to ensure loan approvals

January 07, 1998|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

After tearfully apologizing to a federal judge, the former director of Maryland's export finance program was sentenced to 15 months in prison yesterday for extorting $60,000 from a businessman who paid her to ensure loan approvals.

Marie V. Torres, 48, once a respected official in the Maryland Industrial Development Financing Authority, said she never meant to hurt anyone when she abused public trust by accepting the payoffs.

Prosecutors say the scheme helped the businessman, Howard Schapiro, secure more than $1 million in loans he later defaulted on.

"I'm sorry," Torres told Judge Frederic N. Smalkin in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Moments earlier, her attorney, Harvey Greenberg, told the judge that Torres has led "an exemplary life" and that her crime was a rare error in judgment.

But Smalkin refused Torres' request for a lesser sentence to be served in a halfway house, saying that federal sentencing

guidelines called for him to sentence her to prison.

Smalkin said the case had an ironic twist because federal sentencing guidelines were written with tough penalties in mind vTC for white males with high socioeconomic status who commit white-collar crimes.

Such criminals, the judge said, have been perceived as getting lenient treatment by the courts.

But in Torres' case, the guidelines are being used to sentence "a Hispanic female," Smalkin said.

"However, whether they are white males or Hispanic females, if they have gotten to a position of public confidence, they will go to jail" if they commit a crime, he said.

The state financing authority where Torres worked seeks to provide financial assistance to businesses looking to move to or start up in Maryland. It also assists Maryland businesses that wish to export goods.

Schapiro, who paid Torres the $60,000 between July 1995 and January 1997, was the 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, court papers said.

Prosecutors said that Schapiro, who has pleaded guilty to bank fraud and will be sentenced next month, made at least 18 payments to Torres to ensure her cooperation in the loan process.

"He made the payments because he was afraid that she had the ability to influence his loans," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman, who prosecuted the case. "It was his fear that if he didn't make the payments, something would happen to the loans."

Prosecutors said that at the time Torres was accepting payments from Schapiro, she was in arrears on her mortgage and heavily in debt to several credit card companies.

Schapiro went to federal authorities to confess to the scheme and helped them trap Torres in several covertly taped telephone conversations.

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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