Owner of beauty school pleads guilty to bribery $3,000 paid to U.S. agent who was posing as auditor

July 21, 1998|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

The owner of a Northwest Baltimore beauty school has pleaded guilty to bribing an undercover federal agent he believed came to audit the school, federal prosecutors said.

Robert Prell, 61, was running Northwest Beauty School in the 6800 block of Reisterstown Road when he paid $3,000 in return for what he hoped would be favorable treatment in a recent Department of Education inspection, a federal indictment said.

Prell, who lives in Sykesville, said last night that he doesn't think he did anything wrong.

He said that he pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore because "I don't have the money to fight this kind of thing. How are you going to fight it?"

The auditor he bribed in February 1997 was actually an agent in the Department of Education's Inspector General's office, which conducted the investigation with the FBI, prosecutors said.

The school, which offers training in cosmetology and barbering, was being audited in July 1996 by a reviewer who found that the business failed to meet several federal regulations, according to a statement of facts presented in Prell's guilty plea.

At one point, Prell approached the reviewer and asked her, "Can I get you anything? Coffee, doughnuts, bag of money?" or words to that effect, prosecutors said.

Seven months later, an undercover investigator returned to the business posing as an auditor looking to verify information. Prell paid her the $3,000 to change the previous auditor's findings, prosecutors said.

Prell said he is planning to sell the school, which he has run for about 20 years.

"In the long run, the school is going to be really hurt by this. These are single mothers trying to get ahead, and the school does a lot of good for them," Prell said. "I'm an honest man. I really committed no crime per se. I was coerced."

Prell will be sentenced Oct. 1. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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