United States authorities have arrested and charged at least 11 Nigerians with laundering about $9 million in proceeds derived from fraud and romance scams.
They face charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The defendants include Adedayo John, 32; Oluwadamilola Akinpelu, 26; Kazeem Raheem, 29; Morakinyo Gbeyide, 39; Warris Adenuga, aka Blue, 26.
Others are, Lateef Goloba, 27; Samsondeen Goloba, 29; Olawale Olaniyan, 41; Olawoyin Peter Olarewaju, 34 and Emmanuel Oronsaye-Ajayi, 30.
Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Patrick J. Freaney, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the U.S. Secret Service, announced the unsealing of the charges on Wednesday, October 13.
They said nine of defendants were arrested in the District of New Jersey and the Eastern District of New York on October 13, and were meant to be presented for prosecution before a U.S. magistrate, Sarah Netburn in the Southern District of New York the same day.
One of the defendants was arrested in the Southern District of Texas, and was to be presented the same day in the district’s federal court, the statement said, adding that one defendant remained at large.
The outcome of the proceedings could not be ascertained yet by our reporter.
“As alleged, the defendants were part of a criminal enterprise that not only defrauded businesses by assuming the online identities of legitimate counterparties,” Mr Williams, an Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said.
He added that the defendants “also preyed on vulnerable elderly people, deceiving victims into sending money in phony romance scams. Thanks to the Secret Service, the defendants are now facing federal felony charges.”
Mr Freaney, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the secret service, said:
“As the continued threat posed by cyber-enabled fraud remains ever-present, the U.S. Secret Service remains steadfast in its pursuit of those who threaten our collective financial security.”
He said the defendants allegedly used “a myriad of fraud schemes”, including romance scams and business email compromises to defraud over 50 victims in excess of $9 million.”
“Due to the efforts of the Secret Service and our partners at the New York City Police Department Financial Crimes Task Force, this organised group will no longer be able to operate its alleged scheme to defraud and will answer the charges brought against them in the Southern District of New York.”
Defendants’ alleged scheme
Victims were typically defrauded in one of two ways, prosecutors said.
One of the schemes, according to them, is using business email compromise fraud schemes “to trick businesses into transferring funds to bank accounts the victims believed were under the control of legitimate recipients of the funds as part of normal business operations, when in fact the bank accounts were under the control of the defendants or their co-conspirators.”
They said in other instances, “romance scams were used”.
This, they said was perpetrated “primarily through electronic messages sent via email, text messaging, social media, or online dating websites, to deceive victims into believing they were in romantic relationships with fake identities, and then using false pretenses to cause the victims to transfer funds to bank accounts controlled by the defendants or their co-conspirators.
Many of the victims were said to be vulnerable older men and women.
“As a result of these frauds, law enforcement officers have identified more than 50 victims who have transferred more than $9 million to bank accounts under the control of the defendants.”
The defendants risk as much as 30 years’ imprisonment going by the maximum sentence prescribed by the law, the Department of Justice’s statement said.