Jail term halved

state asks why

Man stole millions from city schools, does time at home

October 15, 2005|By LYNN ANDERSON | LYNN ANDERSON,SUN REPORTER

The state prosecutor is investigating how Gilbert Sapperstein, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in a scheme to steal $3.3 million from the city schools, managed to have nine months shaved off his sentence while serving the remainder on home detention in the suburban comforts of his Green Spring Valley home.

"We're concerned about this," said State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh, "but until we have all of the facts we don't have any further comment." Rohrbaugh's staff spent months building a case against Sapperstein and those who helped him.

Officials with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said Sapperstein qualified for home detention because of his low risk for flight and relatively short sentence. Although the agency approved the reduction in his sentence, officials could not say exactly why it was cut in half.

Department spokesman George Gregory said that in general inmates lose 10 days for every month of their sentence due to a policy that rewards them for good behavior at the start of their prison stay. If they misbehave later, time is tacked on, he said. Using that formula, Sapperstein's sentence should have been reduced 180 days or 6 months - not 9 months.

Sapperstein's attorney, Gregg Bernstein, said that his client did not receive preferential treatment. He said that during the month Sapperstein spent in prison, he sought home detention three times before it was approved. Each time, Sapperstein was transferred to a new prison facility before his case could be fully reviewed, Bernstein said.

"Everything was done by the book," the attorney said. "It would be irresponsible to suggest otherwise."

Reached by telephone at his ranch-style home not far from the Jones Falls, Sapperstein confirmed that he was on home detention. Asked how it was, he said, "Not bad."

Sapperstein, who owns All-State Boiler Service Inc., pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy, bribery and theft in connection with a scheme to defraud the city school system. He admitted to paying bribes to a city schools employee in exchange for fraudulent work orders that netted his boiler business millions of dollars in extra revenue.

At his sentencing in city circuit court in August, he repaid the $3.3 million he stole from the school system plus $200,000 in interest, and paid $508,084 in other fees and fines, including $138,084 he stole from the city Department of Public Works under a similar scheme.

According to the terms of his home detention, Sapperstein cannot engage in business and cannot leave his house for any purpose other than to visit his caseworker. He is monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by an electronic device and visited by law enforcement officers at least twice a month. He is not allowed to drink alcohol and must submit regular urine samples to test for drug use.

He can, however, entertain any number of guests at his home, including business associates, said Diane Scurry, acting executive director of the Central Home Detention Unit. Asked whether it was possible for Sapperstein to discuss business with his associates, Scurry said, "We have no way of knowing what his visitors say to him."

In addition to his boiler business, Sapperstein is also entrenched in the city bar scene as the owner of Star Coin Machine Co. He leases video poker games to dozens of bars and is a well-known liquor license broker. When people buy liquor licenses from him, he often requires that they also lease his video poker games. Bar owners sometimes use money they earn from the poker games to help cover expenses, including money owed to brokers.

The Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners, which oversees roughly 1,400 liquor licenses in the city, has cracked down on brokers recently. Some brokers sit on licenses for months at a time to get the best price possible. State law mandates that dormant licenses expire after 180 days or 360 with an extension, but past liquor boards allowed some brokers, including Sapperstein, to hold on to licenses as long as they paid annual renewal fees or initiated the transfer process.

Rohrbaugh's office has subpoenaed thousands of documents from the liquor board as part of an investigation into the state agency's policies and procedures. Last week, the office sent out hundreds of letters to liquor licensees soliciting information about liquor inspectors and inspections.

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

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