"She was offering 10-12% returns in 6-8 weeks," John Gilbert said. "So annualized, a 40-50% return is much better than I anticipated getting from my car business or in the stock market." The federal indictment against Ashcraft tells a similar story. "In the Investor Agreement, Brenda Ashcraft promised returns as much as 10% over a three month term, which equates to a 40% annual return," it says.
That would be an immediate red flag for Nathan Bachrach, FOX19's financial expert, who is suspicious when someone promises to outperform the stock market by so much.
"All of a sudden, if you could really do that, why would you be messing around taking money from people here in Cincinnati?" Bachrach asked, suggesting a financial wizard with those skills would be in high demand on Wall Street.
According to the indictment, investors would at first get what looked like a profit from their investment in Ashcraft's supposed real estate deals. But prosecutors say Ashcraft was just paying those people with other investors' money. They accuse her of using what was left to support her lifestyle. Gilbert says the same thing happened to him. He got good returns. Then the checks from Ashcraft started bouncing.
"She was writing checks for $535,000 to me (after) she was adamant that she doesn't bounce checks," Gilbert said. "Well, when I brought them to Fidelity, of course, ‘insufficient funds.'"
Bachrach says he's steered some of his own clients away from investments like this after they came into his office wanting to put money into them. Bachrach's technique is to call the person in charge of the investment opportunity and ask them in-depth financial questions about how the money is used. When he doesn't get a call back or gets fishy answers, he lets his clients know it may not be safe.
"Using your guts to make a decision can be very, very expensive," Bachrach said. "Keep in mind that greed and curiosity are two things that drive most people to do silly things with their money."
However, Ashcraft denies any wrongdoing. Though she repeatedly refused to answer FOX19's questions about where her investors' money is, when she emerged from the federal courthouse in Cincinnati Friday, she did say, "I have done nothing wrong."
Prosecutors representing the United States government will use their enormous resources to try to prove she did.