U.S Judge Sentence 7 Nigerians to Prison For Money Laundering Scheme that Targeted American Victims

U.S Judge Sentence 7 Nigerians to Prison For Money Laundering Scheme that Targeted American Victims

A federal judge in Austin, Texas, sentenced three Nigerian men on Friday for a money laundering scheme involving millions of dollars, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
The judge sent them to federal prison for their roles in a money laundering conspiracy that collected millions of dollars from victims located across the United States, U.S Attorney John F. Bash; Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden, said.
Nathaniel Itimi, 46, was ordered to 97 months in prison and also must pay more than $1.6 million in restitution. Itimi is originally from Nigeria but is a U.S. citizen living in Houston.

Lewis Akpomofune, 41, and Michael Omoh Okiki,  37, both citizens of Nigeria but living in Houston, were also sentenced to federal prison.

Akpomofune was ordered to serve 108 months in federal prison and pay a little over $1.6 million in restitution. Okiki was ordered to serve 57 months in federal prison and must pay a little over $1.2 million in resitution.

“Today’s sentencing reflects the commitment of the Department of Justice to destroy the money-laundering networks that facilitate fraud against the most vulnerable Americans, such as the elderly,” stated United States Attorney John F. Bash.

Last year, all three defendants pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The defendants used fake passports or hired others to open bank accounts as a way to orchestrate their money laundering scheme.

Based on court documents, the investigation targeted a money laundering scheme that used proceeds from various frauds against victims in the U.S. by scammers based in Canada, Nigeria, and the United States, according to the release.

Some of the schemes included fake investment scams, business email compromise scams, “grandson-in-jail” frauds over the phone targeting elderly victims, stolen identity refund fraud, romance victim scams and tax filing scams.

The U.S. bank accounts would receive the fake funds from victims and then the defendants would withdraw the money from the bank. A portion of the fraud proceeds were kept as a fee.

The rest of the funds were sent to Canada or Nigeria, according to the release.

More than $3.5 million was taken from hundreds of victims as part of thescheme.

“Today’s actions will not only bring a sense of justice to the victims in this case, but this significant
investigation will also help increase awareness of this type of fraud,” said Shane Folden, Special Agent in Charge, HSI San Antonio.

Four other individuals received federal prison terms in connection with this investigation.  They are:

  • Ayibatonye Bienzigha, a 23-year-old citizen of Nigeria residing in New Jersey, received 37 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $51,307 restitution;
  • Eghosa Obaretin, a 30-year-old citizen of Nigeria residing in Austin, received 40 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $677,303.83 restitution and forfeit $222,000;
  • Roland Imoe, a 37-year-old native of Nigeria and current U.S. citizen residing in Austin, ten months in federal prison and ordered to pay $25,632 restitution; and,
  • Augustine Ikolo, a 41-year-old citizen of Nigeria residing in Austin, received 97 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $842,970 restitution.

Previously, Obaretin and Imoe pleaded guilty to one count of Passport Fraud; Bienzigha, to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; and, Ikolo to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

In December 2017, co-defendant Ochuko Sylvester Eruotor, a 43-year-old resident of Canada and citizen of Nigeria, was extradited from Germany to the United States after being arrested with assistance from Interpol. Yesterday in Austin, Eruotor pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.  He remains in federal custody awaiting sentencing.  No sentencing date has been scheduled.

Court documents showed that this investigation targeted a money laundering network that laundered the proceeds of various fraud schemes perpetrated against U.S. victims by scammers based in Canada, Nigeria, and the United States. The schemes included: “grandson-in-jail” frauds over the phone targeting elderly victims; fake investment scams; business email compromise scams; Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) tax filing scams; and, romance victim scams.

The money launderers opened bank accounts, sometimes using fraudulent passports in fake identities, or hired others to open bank accounts in order to facilitate their scheme. Those U.S.-based bank accounts would receive the fraudulently obtained funds from the victims. The U.S.-based conspirators quickly withdrew the money from the bank accounts with a portion of the fraud proceeds kept as a fee. Then the remainder of the funds were sent to Canada or Nigeria. To date, law enforcement has identified in excess of $3.5 million dollars of fraud proceeds from hundreds of victims laundered by the conspiracy.

“Today’s actions will not only bring a sense of justice to the victims in this case, but this significant investigation will also help increase awareness of this type of fraud,” said Shane Folden, Special Agent in Charge, HSI San Antonio.  “To potential victims, we encourage you to be vigilant and if you feel like you are being scammed, please contact law enforcement to report the suspected scam before you make a payment. There are criminals who are always seeking to exploit the vulnerable in our communities for their own personal gain.”

“The defendants who perpetrated this scheme systematically defrauded innocent American citizens,” stated Andy Tsui, IRS Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge, San Antonio Field Office.  “Protecting taxpayer money is a matter we take very seriously.  IRS-Criminal Investigation will continue to vigorously pursue those who unjustly enrich themselves by creating elaborate money laundering schemes such as this one.”

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