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Closing company owner sentenced to 6 years in scam

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:34 p.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Jeffery Garbinski, 45 of Franklin (left) enters the federal courthouse August 21, 2013 downtown with his lawyer Martin Dietz (right) to be sentenced for a Ponzi-like mortgage fraud scheme.

A Butler County businessman who stole millions from his clients will spend six years and six months in prison despite his claim that he took the money to keep more than 200 people employed at his seven businesses, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

“Our economic times do not provide an excuse to make times harder for other people,” said U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon.

Jeffrey Garbinski, 45, of Franklin pleaded guilty in April to money laundering and to conspiring to commit wire, bank and mail fraud. Bissoon also sentenced him to five years of probation and ordered him to pay more than $2 million in restitution.

In a Ponzi-like mortgage fraud scheme, Garbinski stole money entrusted to him during mortgage closings and covered earlier thefts by making payments to lenders and sellers using money stolen from more recent mortgage deals, prosecutors say.

Garbinski apologized to his family and his former clients, but he also tried to shift blame to Sabrina Spetz, 36, of Wilkinsburg, the attorney who worked for his company, Closing Company of Pennsylvania.

Spetz pleaded guilty in March 2012 to the conspiracy. Bissoon sentenced her on Aug. 13 to one year of probation including six months of home confinement.

Martin Dietz, Garbinski's lawyer, argued that his client should receive a sentence comparable to Spetz's sentence because, as a lawyer, she should have been held to a higher standard in helping perpetrate the fraud.

“They did this together,” he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Conway said a key difference is that Spetz admitted her guilt early and has shown true remorse for the damage she inflicted on the victims. Garbinski has shown no remorse for his crimes — not even for persuading his parents to loan him money so he could cover his tracks, he said.

“In order to pay off his liability, he scammed his parents out of what is now $350,000,” Conway said.

Garbinski insisted that he didn't pocket any of the money and that he's lived his life trying to help people in his businesses and through volunteer work.

“Why I did this was not based on greed,” he said.

Donna McMahon of Marianna said she's spent nearly $46,000 in legal fees to keep her Washington County farm after paying Garbinski $375,000 in cash for the property. Instead of forwarding the money to the seller, he pocketed most of it, she testified.

She still lives with the possibility of the seller reversing the deed, and she had to borrow $40,000 from her sister to make improvements because no bank will lend money on the property because of its clouded title, McMahon said.

“I just feel that I have lived a nightmare for three years and three months,” she said.

In a separate case, Garbinski was sentenced in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court to 18 months of house arrest and two years of probation for stealing money from Highland Country Club in Ross when he was one of its owners.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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