Cynthia Fortenberry, a former mortgage broker who was facing seven felony charges of falsifying loan documents in an Horry County real estate-related fraud case, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge Tuesday – one day before her trial was to begin in federal court in Florence.
Fortenberry pleaded guilty to giving a false statement to federal authorities investigating the fraud case, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. No sentencing date has been scheduled.
The guilty plea closes a case that started with Fortenberry’s indictment in September 2011 and was marked by numerous hearing delays. Two co-conspirators – her husband, Michael Fortenberry, and Glenn Vaught, former owner of G&E Home Center in Conway – pleaded guilty last year to loan application fraud and are serving three-year prison sentences. Michael Fortenberry and Vaught are scheduled to be released from prison in January 2015.
Cynthia Fortenberry and her co-conspirators were accused of providing banks with loan applications that included falsified appraisals, false income statements and other fraudulent documents, including photos of vacant land that had been doctored to make it appear as if homes existed on the property. Banks relied on the documents in approving loans for G&E customers, who were not aware of the scheme. Once the loans were approved, the Fortenberrys and Vaught split the proceeds and never ordered the homes for their customers.
The scheme – which left G&E customers with 30-year mortgages for homes that did not exist – cost two banks at least $1.5 million, according to documents in a related civil lawsuit.
Cynthia Fortenberry filed numerous court documents over the past year to delay her case and agreed to a plea bargain only after a last-ditch effort to derail her trial failed. Cynthia Fortenberry filed nine motions to continue her case, citing reasons such as the large number of documents that she and her lawyer had to review and her ongoing psychiatric examinations and counseling. She also filed three motions to dismiss the case, all of them denied by Judge Bryan Harwell.
When Harwell set a definite date for her jury trial, Cynthia Fortenberry tried to get another delay by arguing that prosecutors had just presented her with supplemental documents that had to be reviewed. Harwell denied that request by excluding the supplemental documents from the trial. Cynthia Fortenberry then filed another motion to dismiss her case, stating that a government witness had made misstatements and errors during grand jury testimony. Harwell denied that motion last week, saying it had no merit.
With a jury selected and Cynthia Fortenberry facing up to five years in prison for each of the seven fraud charges, she agreed on Tuesday to a plea bargain.