Couple sentenced for theft from Hope House


As angry officials of a Crownsville drug and alcohol treatment center for poor people looked on, their once-trusted ex-bookkeeper and her husband were ordered yesterday to spend a weekend in jail and to repay the nearly $60,000 they stole.

County Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck also sentenced Sherry Ann and Charles Trabing of Arnold to six months of house arrest and five years of probation in lieu of 18 months in jail for their theft from Hope House.

The couple used Hope House credit cards to make thousands of dollars in personal purchases from Home Depot, Staples and Texaco.

They also created a duplicate set of Hope House checks, writing them to themselves, in what prosecutors alleged was a carefully planned scheme.

Then they covered their theft by writing bogus checks for nonexistent Hope House expenditures, making it appear that those cleared the bank, prosecutors said.

The theft, which began in January 2000 and lasted nearly a year and a half, devastated the small nonprofit on the grounds of Crownsville Hospital Center.

The crime hurt the staff's morale and caused Hope House to drop some employee training so patient services would not take a hit, said Ruth A. Hudicek, the center's executive director.

The scheme was so clever, Hudicek said, that the agency's accountant didn't realize what was taking place. The nonprofit is negotiating with insurers and has to finish reimbursing its chief backer, the state.

The center operates on a $2 million annual budget funded by local and state governments and private donations. Last year, it treated 516 people.

The Trabings both apologized. Through tears, Sherry Trabing, 42, said their financial woes, which started when her husband lost his job in 1997, were compounded in 1999 by her treatment for back pain with large amounts of morphine.

She has been drug-free since surgery in January, she said.

"The morphine clouded my judgment," Sherry Trabing said, saying she was ashamed of her actions.

Hope House board member Eileen K. Cochran was not convinced.

"Their judgment was so cloudy that they were able to do a second set of checks?" Cochran said. She said the sentence was "a little better than we expected, not much."

Board president Jerome Stanbury was disappointed with the sentence. But Hudicek said she was "OK" with it, though the couple's apologies didn't make her feel any better about the turmoil the agency went through because of the thefts.

Defense lawyers asked for leniency so that the couple could be at home to care for their three children, ages 15, 20 and 22, two of whom are ill. Guidelines called for probation to two years in jail.

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