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Couple plead guilty to fraud

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PROVO — They forged signatures, inflated incomes and got loans for home improvements they never made.

And Thursday in 4th District Court, real-estate agents Richard and Kathleen Culbertson each pleaded guilty to four mortgage-fraud-related charges.

Richard Culbertson, who lost an election for Eagle Mountain mayor in November, had been using his daughter's name and credit score to get better loan rates on homes in Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs.

He also falsified loan applications, using other people's names and inflating their incomes. Prosecutors allege that the Culbertsons asked for home-improvement loans but never made any upgrades to the homes in question, according to charging documents filed in 4th District Court.

Although Thursday's entry of plea comes after months of negotiation, it was essentially planned out from the beginning, said defense attorney Greg Skordas.

"The plea was struck before the charges were filed," Skordas said. "That's why he pled guilty to what he was charged with. We had met with the Attorney General's Office, and they said, 'We're just going to file one for each of the alleged victims; we're not going to take this federal."'

But the deal is not a slap on the wrist. Culbertson still faces three second-degree felony charges of communications fraud and pattern of unlawful activity, which each carry a potential of one to 15 years in prison.

"(Sentencing) will almost certainly include some jail time," Skordas said. He added that there was no indication the Attorney General's Office would seek prison time, although they could.

There's also the issue of "significant" restitution, Skordas said, which will be settled at a hearing before sentencing on Aug. 14.

Kathy Culbertson, also a real-estate agent, pleaded guilty to four class A misdemeanors including communications fraud and pattern of unlawful activity, which carry a maximum potential of one year in jail each.

"They used her (real-estate and mortgage) license to do some of the things," Skordas said. "She should have known better, too, but really she just did what her husband told her to do."

Skordas compared this case to many mortgage-fraud schemes, where there's someone at the top who essentially orchestrates the fraud through smaller players, like Culbertson.

"Richard is not at the top of this one," Skordas said. "He's certainly culpable, as an attorney, real-estate agent, he knew what he was doing was wrong. And while he knew it was wrong, I think he felt that it would eventually become right, that there was a way that this was going to all work out."

The financial improprieties came to light through the Division of Real Estate, which took away Richard Culbertson's license and handed the case to the Utah Attorney General's Office.

From there, Richard Culbertson admitted everything and began working to resolve it.

Assistant Utah Attorney General Neal Gunnarson told Judge James Taylor during the sentencing that he would relay to Adult Probation and Parole that Culbertson had fully cooperated during the investigation.

"This certainly will end his legal career just as it ended his real-estate career," Skordas said. "Here's a guy who was doing pretty well in the community, church, professionally, as a father — and he's on the brink of losing all of that."

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com