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By Felix Adamo/ The Californian
BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer email@example.com
The Crisp & Cole mortgage fraud case took an odd turn Tuesday when a federal judge indicated he is considering whether to annul Jennifer Crisp's guilty plea to one count each of mail and wire fraud.
It was unclear what new information prompted Fresno District Court Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill to schedule an evidentiary hearing on the matter for Thursday.
A spokeswoman for prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office said the judge scheduled the hearing after reading a letter he received last Thursday. That letter has not been filed with the court, and it was unclear Tuesday who wrote the letter or what it said.
Crisp and her lawyer did not request the hearing, the spokeswoman added.
Jennifer Crisp is scheduled to be sentenced March 31 along with her husband David and her parents, Kevin Patrick Sluga and Leslie Sluga. All have admitted to some level of involvement in the scheme. Jennifer faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Jennifer and David Crisp initially pleaded not guilty to participating in a $30 million mortgage fraud case that shook Bakersfield, causing multiple foreclosures across the city. In a deal with prosecutors, the couple changed their pleas to guilty Dec. 16.
Jennifer Crisp and her lawyer could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
If the judge vacates Crisp's guilty plea, she would face trial on five counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud, two counts of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit mail, wire and bank fraud, and one count of conspiracy of launder money.
She would also join Julie Dianne Farmer, former operations manager of the firm at the center of the case, as the only two of 15 defendants without a plea deal.
On Monday, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a eight-page response to the judge's order to show cause.
In it, prosecutors say Crisp fraudulently applied for and received loans to buy or refinance at least seven homes in Bakersfield. They say she claimed she was going to live in five of them as her primary residence.
The prosecutors' filing also states Crisp lied about her income, saying she earned $22,500 per month as the owner of Jennifer Crisp Consulting.
Any change of plea in Jennifer Crisp's case would affect Farmer's trial, set to begin April 8 in Fresno, O'Neill wrote in an order Friday.
"Defendant (Jennifer) Crisp must know her own legal status, especially as it pertains to the Fifth Amendment, before she makes a decision whether to testify at trial, and whether she testifies may affect the preparation of all counsel in the Farmer trial," the judge wrote.
Farmer does not deny participating in the mortgage scheme but says she did not know at the time her actions violated the law. She is charged with eight counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit mail, wire and bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to launder money and one count of bank fraud.
Last month, O'Neill sentenced David Crisp's former business partner, Carlyle "Carl" Lee Cole, to 17 1/2 years in prison. Cole, 66, had admitted to taking part in a conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud. Cole's son Caleb pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced to six months in prison.