Brenda Ashcraft, 45, of Milford, Ohio pleaded guilty in United States District Court to defrauding investors of at least $15 million between 2009 and 2013 in a fraudulent investment scheme to purchase and sell real estate through real estate investment trusts known as REITs. Carter M Stewart, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; Angela L Byers, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Mark Porter, Special Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service; and Andre T Porter, Director of Ohio Department of Commerce, announced the plea entered into today before United States District Senior Judge Sandra S Beckwith. According to court documents, Aschraft owned and operated French Manor Properties, which she told investors was acting as the REIT Trustee that would “secure residential and commercial real estate at wholesale pricing.” Investors believed that their investments were secured by real estate and Ashcraft promised them 40% annual returns on their investments. These representations were false.
Instead, Ashcraft used new investor money to pay earlier investors and diverted investor funds to her own personal use and benefit, including a $50,000 investor payment that she used to pay for Cincinnati Reds season tickets. Ashcraft would at times send investors checks for returns on their investments but the checks often bounced. After FBI agents seized Ashcraft’s iPhone pursuant to a search warrant, she sent a remote wipe command to destroy evidence stored on her cell phone. Ashcraft pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud and one count of destruction of evidence, each punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and one count of money laundering, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Ashcraft’s case was scheduled to begin trial yesterday, but was delayed when she failed to appear in court. Ashcraft turned herself in late yesterday afternoon. Stewart commended the cooperative investigation of this case by FBI and Secret Service agents, Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Securities staff, and Assistant United States Attorneys Timothy Mangan and Emily Glatfelter, who are prosecuting the case.