The state's highest court today turned down Jeffrey and Karol Levitt's appeal of their criminal contempt convictions and ordered the couple to begin their jail sentences.

The action by the Court of Appeals ended three weeks of frantic maneuverings in state courts by attorneys for the Levitts. It was unclear, however, if the issue would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unless there is another successful appeal, Jeffrey Levitt, the former president of Old Court Savings & Loan, is to report to the Department of Corrections at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow to begin an 18-month sentence; his wife is to report to the Baltimore City Jail Friday evening to serve the first of 15 consecutive weekends.

"We will continue our diligent efforts to represent our clients," Paul Mark Sandler, one of the couple's attorneys, said after today's decision was issued. He indicated that it might be possible to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but refused to comment on whether he would do so.

The Levitts were found guilty of contempt of court Jan. 8 by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, who said they had committed "flagrant, intentional and willful" violations of court orders he issued last summer limiting their spending.

Jeffrey Levitt, whose now defunct thrift sparked the state savings and loan crisis last May, is being sued in a $200 million civil suit by the state for allegedly fraudulently diverting millions of dollars from Old Court. The spending limit was imposed to ensure there would be funds left to recover and return to depositors should the state win its suit.

The Levitts, who were restricted to $1,000 a week, admitted spending hundreds of thousands of dollars last fall on items that included jewelry and country club memberships.

The issue before the Court of Appeals today, as outlined by Sandler, was whether Judge Kaplan had the authority to order a spending curb in the first place. If he did not, Sandler contended, the contempt of court convictions were invalid.

In papers filed with the Court of Appeals, Sandler argued that Kaplan did not have the authority to put controls on the Levitts' assets before a judgment against them had been reached. But attorneys for the state contended that such controls were well within the court's power to "maintain the status quo" until a judgment is reached.

Sandler appealed the $1,000-a-week spending limit when it was issued in September, but the case is not scheduled to be heard by the state Court of Special Appeals until Feb. 10. He asked the Court of Appeals to review the case on an emergency basis, and the court temporarily stayed the sentence while it considered whether to take the appeal. Today the Court of Appeals rejected the emergency review.

Shale Stiller, one of the lawyers for the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, the state agency that has been appointed as receiver for Old Court, said he was satisfied with the court's decision.

"I am pleased that the American system of appellate review is as careful and as cautious as it is in a case where passions run very high," he said, noting that a total of 10 appellate judges -- three on the state Court of Special Appeals and seven on the Court of Appeals -- reviewed the emergency petitions by the Levitts.