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Felix Adamo/ The Californian

David Crisp and his wife, Jennifer, arrive at the U.S. District Court in Fresno in December where they pleaded guilty to one count each of mail fraud and wire fraud in a mortgage fraud case.

A federal judge has abruptly canceled a hearing he had set for Thursday to hear arguments on whether to annul a guilty plea submitted by Jennifer Crisp, a key defendant in the Crisp & Cole mortgage fraud case.

In a ruling Wednesday morning, Fresno District Court Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill wrote that another judge's decision in an earlier, unrelated case "makes it clear that it is the (d)efendant's choice whether to stand by the plea or to withdraw it."

It remained unclear what had prompted O'Neill to schedule Thursday's evidentiary hearing in the first place, other than he received a letter Thursday that made him consider vacating Crisp's plea. The letter was not filed with the court and its contents were not known publicly.

Crisp is the wife of David Crisp, a former principal at the Bakersfield real estate firm at the center of the fraud the U.S. Attorney's Office says caused $30 million in losses to lenders between 2004 and 2007.

Jennifer Crisp is accused of providing false statements on loan applications for at least seven homes she bought as part of a vast scheme to extract equity built up on homes bought and sold among the firm's network of friends, family members and associates.

She initially pleaded not guilty to a list of crimes including mail, wire and bank fraud. But she and her husband changed their pleas to guilty Dec. 16 in deals with prosecutors. They are scheduled to be sentenced March 31 in Fresno. She faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Her attorney, Gary Huss, wrote in an email that he was unaware of any plan or effort to withdraw her guilty plea.

"Ms. Crisp has accepted full responsibility for her very limited role," he wrote. "She and I intend to proceed with sentencing on March 31st."