Shannel Gilford appealed her conviction after a jury found her guilty of residential mortgage fraud. Gilford argued that (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict against her, (2) that the trial court erred in admitting and in failing to admit certain evidence and testimony, and (3) that the trial court erred in failing to declare a mistrial after remarks made during the prosecutor’s closing argument. After reviewing Gilford‘s appeal and the court record, the appellate court concluded that there was no error and affirmed her conviction.
Shannel Gilford, Andrea Johnson, and Shirlene Smith, the three co-defendants at trial, were accused of residential mortgage fraud in connection with a mortgage application. The indictment alleged that, in filling out the loan application, Smith falsely stated that none of the $13,000 down payment was borrowed. The State contended that because Smith did not have the money for the down payment, Gilford, Johnson, and Smith devised a plan whereby Gilford would give the money to Smith prior to closing, Johnson would repay Gilford, and Smith would repay Johnson.
The evidence revealed at trial was that Johnson and Smith were friends, and Johnson had met Gilford approximately three and a half years earlier. Gilford was working as a home loan consultant for Countrywide Home Loans when Smith applied to Countrywide for a residential home loan. Countrywide turned down the loan, however, because of Smith‘s debt-to-income ratio and insufficient funds to close.
Smith submitted another residential loan application to New Century Mortgage Corporation. Although Gilford did not work for New Century Mortgage, the lawyer whose firm prepared the closing documents for the sale stated that someone from her firm talked with Gilford “in coordinating some parts of the closing.” The law firm paralegal testified that Gilford was the loan officer responsible for the sale. The sale was for $130,000 with a loan of $117,000 and a down payment of $13,000. On her application with New Century, Smith stated that she had not borrowed the money necessary for the down payment on the loan. New Century approved the loan and the house closed. Smith subsequently defaulted on the note.
One of the investigators testified that in tracing the $13,000 deposited into Smith‘s account prior to closing, he discovered that $13,000 had been withdrawn from Gilford‘s account on March 28, 2006. The next day, there were three different deposits made at three separate bank branches into Smith‘s account. The deposits totaled $13,000. Smith then issued an official check made payable to Johnson for $13,000. On the same day as the closing, Johnson issued a check to Gilford for $13,500. Gilford deposited the money into separate accounts– $11,500 in hers and $2,000 in a joint account with her husband. The investigator testified that he determined that the cashier’s check at closing was not Smith‘s money.
The State introduced evidence of a promissory note made in favor of Johnson for $10,000 with Smith as the grantor and secured by the house Smith had just bought. The promissory note was never executed. Johnson said that after closing she realized that asking to have the promissory note drawn up was a mistake. Johnson said that she and Smith had discussed a seller financed second mortgage but did not go through with it. The State then produced an e-mail from Johnson to Smith stating: “Let me know what additional information you need so that I can have Shannel explain that information to you. I can only state that as per the closing on the property you did not have the money for the down payment and [,] as it was explained to you at that point in time[,] the 10k would be worked into your refinance option.”
Johnson testified that before Smith bought the house, she agreed to give Smith a $14,500 decorator’s allowance and paid her the money after the closing. She said that Smith told her to write one check for $13,500 to Gilford and the remaining $1,000 to her.
When officers went to serve the arrest warrant for Gilford, a man answered the door and told them that Gilford was out of town. Officers entered the house to search and found Gilford upstairs hiding under a bed.
Gilford testified in her own defense and stated that after Smith‘s loan application was denied by Countrywide, Smith came to her and asked to borrow $13,000. Gilford said that Smith told her that the money was to be used as a refundable earnest money deposit for the house. Gilford introduced into evidence a promissory note from Smith dated March 15, 2006, for a period of six months at $500 interest. Gilford said that Smith paid her the $13,500 on April 25, 2006.
Gilford testified that when officers came to arrest her it was 6:00 a.m. and they pounded on the door, frightening her. She said she hid under the bed because she was afraid that someone was breaking into the house. She also stated that after her case was transferred to DeKalb County, she voluntarily turned herself in to police.