Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has announced that a Pinellas County, Fla. woman has pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $8 million in a real estate fraud scheme. Cheryl Wehlau, owner of Gulf Coast Title Offices, entered her plea in a case prosecuted by the Florida Office of Statewide Prosecution. Wehlau masterminded a scheme to funnel funds held in escrow for real estate closings into a business operating account, then spent the cash on a lavish lifestyle. Gulf Coast Title was placed into receivership by their underwriter Commonwealth in January 2006. Wehlau pled guilty to 21 counts of misappropriation of $100,000 or more in funds. She will be sentenced at a future date to eight years in prison, to be followed by 15 years supervised probation. Should she violate any criminal laws or fail to show up to her sentencing at a later date, she will receive 30 years in state prison.
John Wehlau, Cheryl ’s husband, also pleaded guilty to one count of misappropriation of escrow funds, $100,000 or more and 20 counts of petty theft of $100 or more. Restitution will be ordered against both defendants in the amount of $7.9 million, payable to Fidelity National Title Group, the victim of the scheme. As a condition of her plea agreement, Cheryl Wehlau may not be employed in real estate, title or mortgage services, or be directly or indirectly involved as fiduciary handling another person’s money. The Wehlaus will also have to pay $4,000 for the cost of prosecution and court costs.
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