An Australian man who allegedly ripped off at least one Greenwich resident and countless others by claiming to be a former champion jockey and having inside information on horse races is to face trial in federal court Los Angeles on fraud charges.
Greenwich Police busted Christopher James Woods, 52, who allegedly used his elaborate story to defraud people around the world for more than 30 years, for the FBI which held an arrest warrant for him. According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Woods is charged with $2.5 million in fraud for a different, larger scheme.
Woods was reportedly arrested at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich in an undercover sting operation, Greenwich Police confirmed.
“Mr. Woods is a known con man who came to our attention after an incident at a local bar,” said Greenwich Police spokesman Lt. Kraig Gray.
Of the July 13, 2011 incident at the Delamar hotel bar, Gray said, “there were suspicious circumstances that we were unable to substantiate.”
Then on Aug. 15, 2011, Woods “became a person of interest… there was a credit card larceny perpetrated against a Greenwich resident,” Gray said.
During their investigation, Greenwich Police found that the FBI in Los Angeles held “an extradictable warrant. Working with them we set up a meeting with (someone) posing as a victim (of) his potential scam,” Gray said.
A posse of plainclothes officers, armed with a photo of Woods, reportedly descended on the agreed-upon meeting place, the Hyatt in Old Greenwich, on Aug. 23. After confirming his identity, the officers arrested Woods on the outstanding warrant, Gray said, and he “was immediately turned over to the FBI.”
Because of the nature of the federal charges, Greenwich opted not to pursue the sixth-degree larceny charge stemming from the credit card larceny, Gray added.
“There are no local charges. What the FBI had was well beyond the severity of the charges we were investigating,” he said.
While he did not have specific information to provide, Gray said Woods has an extensive criminal background.
In the court affidavit, FBI Special Agent Ty Thomas said Woods used some of the money he gained to pay $1 million off his American Express card, which he “had used to buy luxury goods, food, travel and entertainment,” according to the Sydney Herald report.
Woods would reportedly tell his victims that he had inside information on horse races and that he could guarantee the “sure thing,” bringing his investors fast guaranteed big returns on their wagers.
The Sydney Herald report includes an account from a late restaurant owner who related back in the 1980s that he had met with Woods and nearly engaged in one of his horse betting schemes. The restaurant owner, who has since passed away, reportedly pulled out of the deal at the last minute, but saw that Woods had other investors playing along, according to the report.
Currently Woods, however, is being tried for a different, larger scheme: According to the Sydney Herald report, the “affidavit states that in mid-2007, Mr. Woods' alleged co-conspirators, Henrik and Hamlet Sardariani, told the manager of a company called Bith, LLC, they were buying a hospital in Los Angeles County and needed $2.5 million to be placed into a secure account for 30 days. Then, $1.9 million was transferred to Mr. Woods' US bank account. The court heard more than $1 million was used to pay off Mr. Woods' Amex card.”
Woods is scheduled to appear in court again later this month, the report states.
Several unofficial blogs have been tracking Woods' activities for some time.
A 2009 entry on the West Coast professionals' networking site Biznik states that Woods "started racing horses at the age of 18, soon to become one of the world's most successful jockeys."
"As a jockey, he holds the record for most wins in a season in his division, and after that won his first Derby in the following year," the entry states. "Currently, the jockey has turned entrepreneur, owning and operating Carducci Interiors. The furniture and interiors firm provides world-class specialty furniture to select clients around the world."
[Greenwich Patch will have more details on the arrest of Christopher Woods in a follow-up report.]