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Australian Jockey Christopher Woods Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for Laundering Proceeds of Multi-Million-Dollar Real Estate and Loan Fraud

RIVERSIDE, CA — An Australian man who once worked as a 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.

Christopher J. Woods, 53, of Sydney, was sentenced yesterday by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips. In addition to the prison term, Judge Phillips ordered Woods to pay $3,510,000 in restitution to victims of the scheme and to pay a $10,000 fine.

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 (see: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/Pressroom/2012/114.html). 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.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation.