LAFAYETTE — A federal judge considered sentencing a woman involved in a St. Martinville mortgage lending scheme to 33 months in prison, but he postponed the hearing Monday after a question arose as to how much money the woman made off the scheme.
Mary L. Francois, who owned America’s Best Mortgage and Creative Solutions in St. Martinville, was indicted by a federal grand jury in September on 32 counts of wire fraud.
She pleaded guilty in April to two counts of wire fraud, and faced a possible maximum 20-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.
From September 2005 through February 2008, Francois handled about $2.3 million in mortgages for people who lacked the income or credit rating necessary to obtain the loans, court records show.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Luke Walker said Francois made more than $400,000 by submitting false loan applications on behalf of clients to mortgage lenders.
Walker said Francois wrote out loans for more than the actual value of the homes and then pocketed the difference as her payment for obtaining the loan.
For example, if a house was valued at $100,000, Francois would write out the loan for $120,000, Walker said.
In 2002, Francois narrowly lost in a runoff election for the District 3 seat of the St. Martinville City Council to incumbent Pamela Champagne Thibodeaux, who later pleaded guilty to federal charges of entering false addresses on three voter registration cards.
Addressing the court Monday, Francois asked Judge Richard Haik to spare her from jail.
“I have done wrong and I’m here to apologize for what I’ve done,” Francois said.
She said she has learned a lot and hopes to share her experience while working with the disadvantaged through an unnamed nonprofit.
“Why should I do this when you put $423,000 in the bank because of this fraud?” Haik asked.
Francois said she never made the amount she is accused of making.
Instead, she said, her company fronted the buyers with money for a down payment and then received those funds back from the buyer.
She said her company only received a percentage of the loan.
Walker disputed that.
The two counts Francois pleaded guilty to involved a client who had a $13 balance in her checking account, no significant employment and erratic payments of rent, court records show.
Walker said investigators have not yet found any instances of default by Francois’ buyers, a point Haik called “the only good thing” to come out of the situation.