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Memphis, TN- Caesar Oruade, 38, and Ayana Saunders, 36, of Hawthorne, California, have been convicted of wire fraud conspiracy and conspiracy to launder money. Joseph C. Murphy, Jr., United States Attorney, announced the conviction today.
According to information presented in court, in May 2017, a computer intrusion at a real estate company resulted in a Memphis woman’s $76,000 payment on a home purchase being diverted to the bank account of California resident Jeffrey Cranford. Agents investigating the case followed the money and found that the $76,000 had been "chopped" and sent to several other U.S. bank account holders before ultimately being wired to an account in Nigeria. Many others across the United States and in Canada had been similarly victimized in their attempts to purchase real estate. The proceeds of romance fraud were flowing through the same accounts as well.
Bank accounts belonging to defendant Ayana Saunders generally served as the last domestic stop for funds before leaving the United States; they then landed in the Nigerian account of Caesar Oruade. Saunders and Oruade, now married, claimed the money came from "investors" who were funding the making of Nigerian films through their production company. Both were convicted of wire fraud conspiracy and conspiracy to launder money.
Victims from around the United States and Canada testified that they had been directed by either an online real estate lender or an online love interest or friend to wire money to Saunders as insurance on their pending loan or to assist their "friend" in an emergency. More than half a million dollars moved into Saunders’ accounts over the course of approximately one year. Saunders took a cut before forwarding the remaining fraudulently obtained funds to Nigeria.
Wire fraud conspiracy and conspiracy to commit money laundering each carry sentences of up to twenty years in federal prison. There is no parole in the federal system.
"Targeting domestic and foreign fraudsters who scam innocent people out 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 case with assistance from the United States Secret Service (USSS), FBI – Los Angeles Division and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
Sentencing is set for July 21, 2022, before Senior United States District Judge J. Daniel Breen. Jeffrey Cranford pled guilty in the scheme and is set to be sentenced on May 5, 2022, before Judge J. Daniel Breen.
Assistant United States Attorneys Raney Irwin and Debra Ireland are prosecuting this case on behalf of the United States.