An Australian jockey has been sentenced to four years in federal prison for concealing the proceeds of a loan fraud scheme that caused victims to lose more than $5 million in less than eight months.
Federal investigators got a much-needed break in the case when Christopher Woods was identified as a suspect in a credit card fraud case in Greenwich in 2011. Woods was arrested in August 2011 in an undercover sting operation involving both Greenwich Police and the FBI.
In addition to jail time, the 53-year-old Woods, of Sydney, was ordered to pay $3,510,000 in restitution to victims of the scheme and a $10,000 fine by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips in Los Angeles, where the larger fraud case originated, according to the FBI.
Woods came to the attention of Greenwich Police in August 2011 during a credit card larceny investigation, Greenwich Police told Greenwich Patch in October 2011. During their investigation, Greenwich Police discovered 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,” Greenwich Police spokesman Lt. Kraig Gray told Patch at the time.
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, 2011. 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.
According to a statement issued by the FBI in Los Angeles:
Woods pleaded guilty in November 2011 to conspiracy to commit money laundering and two counts of money laundering, admitting that he conspired with others to transfer stolen money in ways that would prevent victims of a fraud from finding it, including funneling the money through multiple bank accounts in Hong Kong before it was returned to Woods’ personal bank account in Los Angeles.
The underlying loan fraud scheme was perpetrated by brothers Henrik and Hamlet Sardariani, who worked with an escrow officer named Wanda Tenney. The Sardariani brothers defrauded private money lenders by falsely assuring them that the loans they were making were safe, when in fact the brothers had no intention of paying the loans back. Tenney permitted the Sardarianis to use her escrow company to lull the victims into believing their loans were secured.
In order to obtain one of the loans, Woods and the other defendants falsely claimed that Henrik Sardariani was purchasing a hospital and additional money was needed only to briefly extend a pre-existing escrow. In fact, as Woods and Henrik Sardariani both admitted, they planned to use the lender’s money to fund bets on horse races that Woods claimed he could fix. As soon as the lender wired $2.5 million to Tenney’s supposedly secure escrow account, Woods and Sardariani instructed Tenney to wire $1.9 million to an account in Hong Kong, and the remainder to a creditor of Henrik Sardariani and to a corporation controlled by the Sardariani brothers. Woods then took the $1.9 million for himself by arranging for it to be wired to a bank account in Los Angeles, which he had opened for himself just one day before the money had first been sent to Hong Kong. Once the money was in his sole control, he used it to pay for hotels, fancy restaurants, and luxury goods.
Henrik Sardariani, the organizer of the fraud scheme, was sentenced in August to 10 years in prison. Hamlet Sardariani, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion, was sentenced last month to 6½ years in federal prison. Tenney, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy, is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Phillips on May 16, 2013.