Probation granted for Barborak

WARREN — A former Lisbon attorney who pleaded guilty to misusing $50,000 in client funds for other expenses and then trying to conceal her actions has avoided going to prison.

Virginia Barborak, who faced a maximum possible penalty of six years in prison, was sentenced Monday to five years probation by Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Peter Kontos. She was also fined $7,500, placed under house arrest for 90 days, ordered to perform 250 hours of community service and continue with her counseling.

Barborak, 47, pleaded guilty in January to forgery, grand theft and tampering with records related to her handling of the estate of James Patsey, a former Lisbon resident and teacher who was living in Trumbull County at the time of his death in January 2013. His attorney was Barborak.

Patsey’s will directed that $50,000 from his estate go to the Lisbon Alumni Association (LAA) to establish a scholarship fund in the name of his son. After receiving $51,000 for that purpose from Patsey’s executor, Barborak deposited it in her client trust account on March 8, 2013, raising the balance to $51,268.

Once estate funds are deposited into an attorney’s client trust account, the money can only be transferred or spent to settle that specific estate. By the end of March 2013 the balance had dropped to $4,439, and none of it had gone to the LAA. Instead, Barborak wrote checks to herself and to her sister who worked for her, and there was also a debit transaction in the amount of $10,000. She also paid other clients with Patsey’s estate funds and herself for work done on other estates.

Barborak later filed a false report in probate court stating the $50,000 had been disbursed to the LAA. Later in 2014 she paid the LAA the $50,000 only after LAA president Elizabeth Barringer began questioning her. Barringer took her concerns to the probate court judge, who launched the investigation that resulted in the criminal charges being filed against Barborak.

During the sentencing hearing Barborak expressed remorse for her actions and apologized to anyone she hurt. Barborak stated even though she is undergoing counseling that is not an excuse. “I just want this court to know I’m truly sorry for what happened … I’m embarrassed and I’m ashamed,” she said.

Defense attorney John Juhasz’s sentencing motion to Kontos included letters from 10 people in support of Barborak, including her brother and two sisters. Barborak was described as a devoted mother and as someone known for her kindness and community involvement.

“Virtually every letter says or implicitly conveys that no one who knew Virginia Barborak would have expected this of her,” Juhasz wrote.

Judge Kontos reminded Barborak of how hard she worked to earn a law degree and pass the bar exam, and now she will never work again as an attorney. “That’s a huge investment and what you did was throw that all away in one fell swoop,” he said.

Kontos opted to place Barborak on probation because she made restitution, had no prior criminal record and the chance of her engaging in this behavior again was highly unlikely. He also noted the crimes are lower-level felonies, and as such there is no statutory sentencing predisposition toward incarceration.

Brad Tammaro is a staff attorney with the Ohio attorney general’s office and he served as special prosecutor in the case. Tammaro declined to make a sentencing recommendation, but he said Barborak repeatedly lied to “the court in so many ways” by filing false documents and submitting forged bank statements to cover up her misdeeds.

“She forged bank records to show that the money was in her account and had always been there,” he said.

While being questioned by the newspaper after the hearing, Tammaro said Barborak did not make restitution in the traditional sense, where you personally repay money that was stolen. Rather, she “robbed Peter to pay Paul” and used other funds to pay the LAA.

An investigation by the Ohio Supreme Court, which resulted in Barborak being disbarred, discovered she had misappropriated money from three other estates in Columbiana County from 2009 and into 2015 to pay herself and cover business expenses and make disbursements to other clients and estates. The Supreme Court determined she misused more than $150,000 in client funds in this manner over that period, including the Patsey estate.

When asked if the attorney general’s office has been asked by local officials to investigate Barborak in regard to the Columbiana County estates, Tammaro said, “We have not been asked to look at that … We don’t have anything pending.”

Before being disbarred, Barborak served as village solicitor for Lisbon until April 2015, and she was also employed as an assistant county prosecutor from 2001 to 2013.