The United States government has arrested and charged a Nigerian man for allegedly operating an unlicensed money transfer business to launder the proceeds of online investment fraud schemes.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement Thursday that the 31-year-old accused, Tochukwu Edeh, was charged with one count before a federal court in Boston.

According to the DoJ’s statement, Mr Edeh, who ran used-car dealerships and currency transfer services in Texas, Florida and Nigeria, was previously charged by the U.S. criminal complaint. He has been in custody since his arrest on 2 September , 2021, the statement added.

The U.S. government alleged in the indictment that Mr Edeh, a former resident of Jacksonville, a popular city in Florida, used a network of co-conspirators in both the United States and Nigeria sometime in 2015, to launder and transmit proceeds of Ponzi-style investment fraud schemes based in Nigeria.

“Specifically, the schemes purported to offer trading and Bitcoin investing services when, in fact, investor funds were allegedly stolen and later victims’ investments were used to pay purported returns to earlier investors.

“Edeh allegedly laundered the fraud proceeds using a network of co-conspirators in the United States and using his personal and business accounts in the United States and Nigeria. Edeh, along with his alleged co-conspirators, did not hold money transmitting licenses in their respective states of residents, nor were they registered as money transmitters as required by federal law.”

Accused to face 20 years in prison

According to the statement, if found guilty of the charge, Mr Edeh could be convicted and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and face a fine of up to $500,000 or twice the amount of the ill-gotten gains involved.

“The charge of money laundering conspiracy provides for a sentence of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the laundered funds, whichever is greater.

“The charge of conspiracy to conduct an unlicensed money transmitting business provides for a sentence of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gain or loss, whichever is greater. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.”

Promoters of the Ponzi scheme usually lure culpable investors with huge returns as much as 100 per cent within a short period by paying existing investors from new users.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had announced in May this year that about three million Nigerians had lost an estimated N18 billion to Ponzi scheme operators.

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