The two principal owners of the now defunct Boss & Phelps real estate company were each sentenced to six months in prison yesterday for directing a bank fraud scheme in which they obtained more than $900,000 from two Washington banks by writing millions of dollars in worthless checks.

U.S. District Court Judge John Garrett Penn also placed the two men, Owen N. Cummings, 50, of Vienna, and Edward B. Ballow Jr., 44, of Gaithersburg, on probation for five years after their release from prison and ordered them to pay back the banks and other creditors.

"This is not just a case of someone's attempt to save a business," Penn said. "Both of you received a direct benefit from these schemes to the extent of almost $500,000." The government said the rest of the money was used to keep afloat Boss & Phelps, a 74-year-old company that had become financially strapped when the real estate market declined.

Brian C. Shevlin, the attorney for Cummings and Ballow, asked that the two not be imprisoned and said that they intend to pay back all the money. Shevlin said they already have begun to make restitution, including turning over the ownership of their homes, cars and other possessions to the banks. "They are penniless," Shevlin said.

The National Bank of Washington lost $609,000 through the scheme and First American Bank $302,469, according to prosecutors. In addition, Banoun said, dozens of prospective homeowners and apartment renters lost thousands of dollars in security deposits.

The government charged that for nearly three years Cummings and Ballow pulled off a complex financial maneuver, known as "check-kiting," in which they overdrew Boss & Phelps accounts at three banks but hid those overdrafts with worthless checks drawn on "paper balances" at the other banks.

The two pleaded guilty last month to two counts of giving worthless checks of about $20,000 apiece and as a result the government agreed not to press further charges against them.