FOX19 Investigates: Federal judge visibly annoyed by accused fraudster's excuses

File photo of Brenda Ashcraft
File photo of Brenda Ashcraft

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A federal judge was in no mood for excuses Wednesday morning as Brenda Ashcraft, the former Milford real estate agent accused of defrauding investors, appeared again without an attorney.

"Ms. Ashcraft, you were supposed to be here this morning with your new attorney or attorneys," Judge Sandra Beckwith said from the bench.

Ashcraft was standing at the podium in the center of the courtroom next to her former attorney, Kevin Tierney of Frost Brown Todd.

"Mr. Tierney looks very familiar," the judge quipped before demanding from Ashcraft, "Tell me what's going on."

Ashcraft, not sounding intimidated at all, replied in an even, confident voice that the attorney she's trying to hire will be out of the state through Monday and couldn't appear at Wednesday morning's hearing. She also claimed that his staff is researching whether his firm has a conflict of interest in the case before agreeing to represent her.

But a prosecutor rose to give a different version of events. He said a bankruptcy trustee who's involved in the case had gotten a call from Ashcraft's potential attorney wondering if there were still assets to cover the legal fees. The implication being that Ashcraft is out of money.

That didn't sit well with Ashcraft, who asked the judge if she could respond.

"In regard to the funding, there is no issue there," Ashcraft said. "The funds are there. They have been secured. New counsel has already determined that. That's become a non-issue now."

Ashcraft did not name her potential new attorney, telling Beckwith, "We would like to keep this person confidential as of today."

She asked the judge several times throughout this morning's hearing if she could have until Tuesday to present her new lawyer to the court.

"Here's what's going to happen," Beckwith said firmly, before telling Ashcraft she needed to appear at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday with a new attorney or she'd appoint a public defender for her.

"There are not going to be long delays in this case because you keep choosing new attorneys for one reason or another," the judge said. She also noted that Ashcraft did not "live up to the agreement" she had with Tierney, her previous lawyer, but also said that due to the potential conflict of interest it was not Ashcraft's fault that Tierney's firm had to withdraw from the case.

Beckwith asked Richard Smith-Monahan, head of the federal public defender's office in Cincinnati, if he or someone from his office could be at Tuesday's hearing. He said he would make that happen.

Beckwith told Ashcraft that if she appoints a public defender, she won't make Ashcraft fill-out an application because there could be Fifth Amendment issues, meaning Ashcraft's answers about her assets could violate her constitutional right against self-incrimination.

In addition, the judge said that if she determines after that trial that Ashcraft did have the money to hire an attorney, she will charge Ashcraft the cost of being represented by the public defender's office, meaning taxpayers potentially won't have to pick-up the tab.

Next Tuesday was to be the deadline for Ashcraft to decide whether she wants to plead guilty to the fraud charges against her or proceed with trial. Jury selection is supposed to begin in three weeks. But as of Wednesday morning, that is looking less and less likely due to the fact a new attorney will likely ask the court for more time to get up-to-speed on the case.

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