Prosecution witness sentenced to prison for flipping scheme

Lawyer helped close scores of illegal deals

January 26, 2002|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

A settlement attorney who helped Baltimore property flippers close scores of illegal deals, then provided what a prosecutor called "unparalleled" assistance in convicting eight people, was sentenced yesterday to a year and a day in federal prison.

Robert L. Friedman of Pikesville, also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release after completing his sentence and to pay $22,500 each to the Patterson Park Community Development Corporation and to the Community Law Center, organizations that work to overcome the effects of property flipping.

Joseph L. Evans, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case developed by postal inspectors, described Friedman as an "enabler" whose legal work allowed flippers to sell dozens of houses at inflated prices and to trick lenders into providing mortgages that they would not have otherwise.

"For God's sake, it wouldn't have worked without the lawyer - and the lawyer had an obligation to stop it," said U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz moments before sentencing Friedman. "It is absolutely outrageous."

While criticizing Friedman for his "involvement in the scandal that has plagued Baltimore for three or four years," Evans urged Motz to give him a substantial break in sentencing. Under federal guidelines, Friedman could have received 30 months in jail.

Evans said Friedman's "truthfulness and candor have been unparalleled" and helped convict four property flippers, who together did hundreds of deals; two mortgage brokers and a settlement attorney who pleaded guilty; and an appraiser who was convicted by a jury. Evans says Friedman is helping with other cases where charges have not been brought.

"His presence has had, I think, an extraordinary effect on a number of prominent property flippers in Baltimore City," Evans said.

Motz accepted Evans' recommendation while rejecting Friedman's plea for probation or home detention or detention in a Baltimore halfway house, which would have enabled him to hold a job while he served the sentence.

Friedman, 35, pleaded guilty in August 2000 to a single count of wire fraud. Evans said Friedman's illegal activities had cost lenders between $500,000 to $800,000.

Friedman, who was disbarred last week, is an admitted drug addict who, according to witnesses who testified yesterday, is in recovery.

He told Motz that he accepted full responsibility for his actions.

Friedman said he was "motivated by greed, immaturity and a sense of self-entitlement. ... I lied and I cheated so I could have more."

He added, "I did like the money and I did like the coke at the time. It made me feel like someone I wasn't."

Since August 2000, more than two dozen people have been convicted or have agreed to plead guilty in the federal investigation of property flipping in Baltimore. Prosecutors say mortgage companies lost millions in fraudulent schemes.

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