Another humongous internet scam in the United States of America amounting to $4.5 million, involving five Nigerian have been blown open and have been hauled up in court.
They have been arraigned in a New York court by the U.S. Justice Department following the arrest of Charles Williams Onus in San Francisco on 14 April for payroll hacking and theft of $1million.
Four other Nigerians were charged alongside two others still at large are Abuchi Shedrach Felix, Oluwatomiwa Akintola, Gregory Ochiagha, And Olanrewaju Ajibola.
The two non-Nigerians are Nadine Jazmine Wade (28) and Habiba Fagge (24), according to a four-page charge sheet obtained by Persecondnews on Thursday.
The charges border on romance scams and using shell companies to launder over $3.5 million from victims of romance fraud schemes.
On June 2, 2021, Charles Onus was arraigned in Manhattan Federal Court before Judge Sarah L. Cave while the case was assigned to a U.S. District Judge, Paul G. Gardephe.
The legion charges also include Onus running a scheme to conduct cyber intrusions of multiple user accounts maintained by a company that provides human resources and payroll services to employers across the United States, in order to steal payroll deposits.
“Charles Onus allegedly participated in a scheme that stole nearly $1 million by hacking into a payroll processing company’s system to access user accounts and divert payroll to prepaid debit cards he controlled.
“As alleged, Onus did this as effectively as someone who commits bank burglary, but with no need for a blowtorch or bolt-cutters. Thanks to the FBI and IRS-CI, Onus is in custody and facing serious federal charges,’’ Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said.
The unsealing of the indictment against the other four Nigerians was announced by Audrey Strauss, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Patrick J. Freaney, Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Secret Service (“USSS”), and Jonathan D. Larsen, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Office of the Internal Revenue Service.
All the defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with their involvement in laundering millions of dollars in proceeds derived from romance fraud schemes.
Felix (29), Akintola (27), and Ajibola (36) were picked up on June 1, 2021 at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey while Ochiagha (55) was arrested on June 2 in the Bronx, all were arraigned in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave.
Each of the offences stipulates a prison terms ranging from five to 20 years.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “As alleged, the conspirators preyed on the emotions of their numerous online romance fraud victims to fleece the victims out of millions of dollars. Thanks to the Secret Service and IRS Criminal, the defendants have dates in court to face federal charges.”
USSS Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge Patrick J. Freaney said: “Cyber enabled romance schemes continue to harm innocent and unsuspecting people, and the U.S. Secret Service remains committed to investigating those who perpetuate these acts. In this instance, the conspirators allegedly utilized online aliases and created shell companies in furtherance of their scheme to defraud.
“Through a collaborative investigative effort by the Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the New York City Police Department Financial Crimes Task Force, the accused will answer the charges brought against them in the Southern District of New York”.
IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen said: “The arrests of the alleged perpetrators of this $3.5 million scheme deal a death blow to the vast criminal activity in which the defendants were allegedly engaged.
“IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to aggressively pursue those who profit from illegal activity and ensure they are brought to justice.”
Using online aliases, the defendants’ co-conspirators contacted victims on various dating sites, and convinced those victims, under false pretenses, to transfer funds to the defendants and others.
One online alias used in the schemes frequently employed the names — “Diego Francisco,” “Richard Francisco,” or “Tom Francisco” (the “Francisco Alias”).
The defendants used online photos of a male model when providing victims with photos of the Francisco Alias. After engaging in conversation with the victims via phone, text, and email, the conspirators, posing as the Francisco Alias, would ask victims for money.
In one of the scams, the Francisco alias supposedly worked on an oil rig and needed funds to repair the rig. The Francisco Alias would then instruct the victims to transfer funds to bank accounts controlled by the defendants.
The means of transfer varied. For example, in some cases, the Francisco Alias instructed victims to obtain cashier’s checks or money orders made payable to one of the defendants’ companies and then either mail the check to the conspirators – at addresses that included one in the Bronx – or to deposit the cashier’s check directly into a bank account held in the name of one of the defendants’ companies.
According to the charge, the Francisco Alias would instruct the victims to send him photographs of any cashier’s checks and any mailing labels.
Each of the defendants created a shell company and opened bank accounts in the name of his or her respective shell company (the “Shell Company Accounts”).
The Shell Company Accounts received funds from victims of the romance fraud scheme described above and rapidly depleted those funds through cash withdrawals, cashier’s checks, and the purchase of vehicles, among other means.
The Shell Company Accounts received over $4.5 million between in or about 2018 and 2020, over $3.5 million of which came from victims of the romance fraud scheme.