FORT WORTH -- The woman at the forefront of an elaborate $13 million mortgage fraud pleaded guilty Monday to engaging in organized criminal activity and is expected to be sentenced this year.
Chekeelah Phelps, 46, of Grand Prairie, a former mortgage broker whom prosecutors have described as the linchpin of the operation, entered her plea Monday and faces as much as life in prison. She also pleaded guilty to three charges of money laundering, which will be barred from prosecution, but the judge can consider them at sentencing, officials said.
State District Judge George Gallagher ordered a pre-sentence investigation report. After that is completed, a hearing will be scheduled and Gallagher will hear testimony to help him assess punishment.
Officials have said the scheme surfaced several years ago after the Tarrant County district attorney's office received an anonymous letter asking authorities to look into why so many houses in Mansfield's Twin Creek subdivision were foreclosed, vacant or for sale. An investigation revealed that false information from "straw buyers" was being used to buy homes at inflated prices and pocket the proceeds.
Twelve defendants, most of them straw buyers, have been sentenced for their roles in the fraud, Assistant District Attorney David Lobingier said.
Most reached agreements with prosecutors and received five to 10 years' probation and a $10,000 fine in exchange for guilty pleas and cooperation. The principals in the scheme received an additional 180 days in the county jail, Lobingier said.
Gallagher sentenced one defendant, former title closer Deborah Fernie, 49, of Keller, to six years in prison, which is being served concurrently with a 78-month federal sentence she received for mortgage fraud.
Lobingier said that Phelps is the only defendant whose case is pending but that others could still be indicted in connection with the fraud.
Melody McDonald, 817-390-7386