CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - With opposing attorneys sitting on either side of a glass-topped conference table in her wood-paneled office at the federal courthouse in Cincinnati, Judge Sandra Beckwith set the date for what could be one of the Tri-State's biggest trials of 2014.
Right after Presidents Day, on February 18, Judge Beckwith wants to begin picking a jury for United States vs. Brenda Ashcraft.
FOX19 was the only news organization inside the judge's chambers on Tuesday when she made the decision. Ashcraft did not show-up and was not required to.
The 44-year-old former Milford real estate agent was indicted by a federal grand jury in August on three counts of fraud. In court documents, prosecutors say Ashcraft duped victims into putting $15 million into what they thought were real estate investment trusts, investments involving the purchase and sale of properties.
However, prosecutors say Ashcraft "never registered a single REIT with the Ohio Division of Securities" and that the money actually went to support her lavish lifestyle, including $50,000 for Cincinnati Reds season tickets this year.
In a surreal scene with cameras following her for several city blocks after her first court appearance, Ashcraft declared that she'd done nothing wrong.
This morning, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Mangan --- who sat to the judge's left --- urged her to set a trial date for Ashcraft "so this doesn't drag-out too far."
But Ashcraft's attorney, Kevin Tierney --- sitting to the judge's right --- countered that he may not be ready to begin on February 18 because the government has yet to complete a forensic analysis of two computers federal agents seized from Ashcraft that could play a key role in the prosecution's case.
Mangan responded that he believes that analysis will be completed soon.
Judge Beckwith is giving the government until January 6 to hand-over copies of its evidence to Ashcraft's defense team. She then asked Tierney if he would be ready by January 21 to file any objections to certain pieces of evidence the government plans to use against Ashcraft.
"I think so, Judge," said Tierney.
A trial is not a certainty, though, as Judge Beckwith noted toward the end of the conference.
"How does the government feel about a plea deadline?" she asked Mangan.
The prosecutor said he believes Tierney will want to see the government's analysis of what was on Ashcraft's computers before deciding whether to go to trial or try to reach a plea deal.
In the end, the judge ruled that if Ashcraft is thinking about pleading guilty, she'll have until the afternoon of February 4 to make-up her mind.