Mortgage Fraud Ringleader Waits for Word on Probation

Tarrant County's District Attorney is highly opposed to a plan to release a mortgage fraud ringleader on probation

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Two months into her 10 year sentence for one of the largest mortgage fraud schemes in Tarrant County history, Chekeelah Phelps went to court to ask for a reduced sentence. (Published Wednesday, Dec 19, 2012)

    The woman behind one of the largest mortgage fraud schemes in Tarrant County history will have to wait until Thursday to find out if she'll get out of prison and go on probation.

    As of Wednesday, Chekeelah Phelps has served just 49 days of her 10 year prison sentence, however Judge George Gallagher is considering granting her probation. It's called "shock probation" where someone serves a portion of prison time only to return to court and be moved to probation.

    Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon isn't happy about that possibility and argued against it in court on Wednesday morning.

    Shannon believes Phelps 48, deserves to serve her sentence based on how much money she helped defraud from mortgage lenders and how much time and tax payer money put into convicting her and 15 others.

    "She was the mortgage broker, she orchestrated the whole thing," Shannon said after the late morning hearing.

    Phelps' attorney, Steve Gordon, argued that Phelps's three children, two of which are in college, need her home and that she has admitted to her mistakes and deserves to come home. Gordon said she has a tight knit church support group and pointed out a large section of people attending the hearing. He also said she has thyroid tumors and may have breast cancer.

    "Ms. Phelps has taken responsibility for what she did, she has never committed a violent crime before," said Gordon. " She regrets what she did and for someone like her I think that's punishment enough."

    But prosecutors, including the DA, disagree.

    "If Mr. Gordon gets his way, it will fulfill the old English proverb, from which author i don't know," Shannon told the judge. "But basically in the old days, 'we hang our petty thieves and take off our hats in the presence of the great ones."

    Shannon said that Phelps helped swindle $13 million from various mortgage lenders, most of which no longer exist. Phelps collected about $940,000. Shannon argues that for stealing that kind of money Phelps deserves more than just 49 days.

    "If you take her 48 days (as of Tuesday) of confinement and divide it by about the million dollars she made, that's over $20,000 a day," Shannon argued. "I can get a line of folks from here to the northside to sit in that jail for $20,000 a day and maybe some folks in this room. That's not bad pay."

    The mortgage fraud scheme first came to light in 2006, when an anonymous letter was sent to prosecutors highlighting foreclosure issues in the Twin Creeks subdivision in Mansfield. After three years of investigation many of the players involved began taking plea deals.

    Phelps was identified as the mortgage broker and prosecutors say she was involved in every aspect of the scheme. The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office details her sentencing and crimes here.

    In total, 16 people, including Phelps, and one corporation have been sentenced following convictions and plea deals.

    Phelps took a plea deal herself and Judge Gallagher sentenced her to 10 years in prison in early November. At that time he also told Phelps and Gordon to file a motion to impose community supervision, which led to Wednesday's hearing.

    While Gordon argues Phelps deserves to come home, as she was the only one of the 16 people sentenced to significant prison time, District Attorney Shannon disagrees.

    "We're making an example out of her in that sense that she stole nearly a million dollars in profits for herself," Shannon said. "So, in a sense he (Gordon) is probably right, I do want to make an example so that other people don't do it."

    Shannon also pointed to the fact that mortgage fraud and the housing crisis led to the financial crisis that impacted the entire nation. He said if there's something his office can do on a local level he will.

    Gordon believes the district attorney's office should prosecute the lenders who accepted so-called "liar loans", where brokers would lie about someone's income to get more money lent to them.

    Judge Gallagher had an out of county commitment in Palo Pinto County on Wednesday afternoon. He said he will issue an written decision on the so-called "shock probation" on Thursday.

    Shannon says he'd prefer Phelps serve her term, which would make her eligible for parole after just a few years.