Memphis, TN – Caesar Oruade, 38, and Ayana Saunders, 36, of Hawthorne, Calif., were convicted of conspiracy to wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money. Joseph C. Murphy, Jr., United States Attorney, announced the sentencing today.
According to information presented to the court, in May 2017, a computer intrusion into a real estate company led to the diversion of a Memphis woman’s $76,000 payment for the purchase of a house from the bank account of California resident Jeffrey. Cranford. Officers investigating the case followed the money and discovered that the $76,000 had been “cut” and sent to several other US bank account holders before eventually being transferred to an account in Nigeria. Many other people in the United States and Canada have been similarly victimized in their attempts to purchase real estate. The proceeds of the romance fraud also passed through the same accounts.
Bank accounts belonging to defendant Ayana Saunders usually served as the last domestic port of call for funds before leaving the United States; they then landed in Caesar Oruade’s Nigerian account. Saunders and Oruade, now married, claimed the money came from “investors” who funded the making of Nigerian films through their production company. Both were convicted of conspiracy to wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money.
Victims from across the US and Canada have testified that they were directed either by an online mortgage lender or an online love or friend to wire money to Saunders as insurance on their pending loan or to help their “friend” in an emergency. More than half a million dollars came into Saunders’ accounts over the course of about a year. Saunders took a cut before transferring the fraudulently obtained remaining funds to Nigeria.
Conspiracy to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering are each punishable by up to twenty years in federal prison. There is no parole in the federal system.
“Targeting domestic and foreign fraudsters who defraud innocent people of their hard-earned money is a priority for the FBI,” said Douglas M. Korneski, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Memphis Field Office. “These convictions demonstrate the effectiveness of state and federal law enforcement working together to protect the public from real estate and romance scammers and bring those responsible to justice.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – Memphis Division, investigated this matter with the assistance of the United States Secret Service (USSS), the FBI – Los Angeles Division and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
Sentencing is set for July 21, 2022, before U.S. Senior District Judge J. Daniel Breen. Jeffrey Cranford pleaded guilty to the scheme and is expected to be sentenced on May 5, 2022 before Judge J. Daniel Breen.
Assistant United States Attorneys Raney Irwin and Debra Ireland are pursuing this case on behalf of the United States.