Woman gets probation in property flipping


A Baltimore woman who had a minor role in a major property flipping case was sentenced to five years' probation in federal court yesterday.

Sharon Sirbaugh, 42, was also ordered to pay the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development restitution of $131,478, the amount the agency lost on a fraudulent mortgage, at a rate of $50 a month for the five years. When her probation expires, Sirbaugh's payments will end at a total of $3,000.

Sirbaugh pleaded guilty in June 2001 to a single count of making a false statement in applying for a HUD-backed mortgage. She admitted that she had used false information supplied by William Otto Schmidbauer, a former Perry Hall real estate agent, to obtain two mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration, a HUD agency.

The loans financed house sales made through Schmidbauer and his real estate firm. Schmidbauer is accused of being the mastermind in a property-flipping scheme that prosecutors say brought him gross profits of $1.4 million. Sirbaugh is one of 18 defendants in the case, including Schmidbauer, who have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty, according to court documents. Schmidbauer has not entered a guilty plea but is expected to do so.

U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson gave Sirbaugh probation instead of home detention after her lawyer, Michael J. McCarthy, argued that she would lose her job as a critical care nursing technician if her employer learned she was on home detention for a conviction.

McCarthy said Sirbaugh had signed the documents at the behest of another defendant in the case, Robert Eshelman, who is now her husband. The lawyer likened her role to that of a woman who signs a tax return prepared by her husband.

Eshelman also pleaded guilty in June 2001, admitting that he obtained two mortgages using false documents prepared by Schmidbauer, and is awaiting sentence.

"There does appear to be an element of persuasion, I suppose, from Mr. Eshelman's part," Nickerson told Sirbaugh. "But for that relationship, you may not be here."

P. Michael Cunningham, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, said Sirbaugh had cooperated with prosecutors.

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