Ten Nigerians have been charged with conspiring to launder illegal proceeds that were fraudulently obtained as a result of romance scams targeting multiple victims, the US Justice Department said on Wednesday night.
Charged were Paul Usoro, 25, Nigerian citizen and lawful permanent resident of the United States residing in Norman, Oklahoma; Afeez Olajide Adebara, 34, a U.S. citizen residing in Norman, Oklahoma; Oluwaseun John Ogundele, 30, U.S. citizen residing in Norman, Oklahoma, and Brooklyn, New York; Joshua Nnandom Ditep, 25, Nigerian citizen and lawful permanent resident of the United States residing in Norman, Oklahoma.
Others are Chibuzo Godwin Obiefuna Jr, 26, U.S. citizen residing in Norman, Oklahoma, and Long Beach, California; Jamiu Ibukun Adedeji, 23, citizen of Nigeria, residing in Norman, Oklahoma; and Tobiloba Kehinde, 27, citizen of Nigeria residing in Norman Oklahoma.
Three others with addresses in New York and Dallas Texas are yet to be fully identified. They are said to be at large.
The victims of the romance scams were from different areas, including Seminole, Florida; Centerville, Ohio; and Pryor, Oklahoma. They were defrauded a total of nearly $1.1 million, including one who sent cash and goods worth $546,000.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Trent Shores of the Northern District of Oklahoma and Special Agent in Charge Melissa Godbold of the FBI’s Oklahoma City Field Office made the announcement.
The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in October and unsealed Wednesday after seven suspects were apprehended in early morning operations executed by the FBI in three states.
Five Nigerians were arrested in Norman, Oklahoma, one in Brooklyn, New York, and one in Long Beach, California.
The indictment alleges that since 2017, the co-conspirators concealed the proceeds of romance scam operations by moving money between and among multiple bank accounts that were opened using fraudulent identity documents to obscure the source of the funds and the identities of the co-conspirators.
Investigators identified at least three victims of the alleged romance scams in Seminole, Florida, Centerville, Ohio, and Pryor, Oklahoma.
The indictment alleges the co-conspirators coordinated with unknown individuals overseas who had assumed false identities on online dating websites and social media platforms with the intent to defraud victims.
The individual told the victims they were U.S. residents working abroad. In fact, the investigation revealed that these individuals were located in Nigeria.
“At the early stages of the “romance,” victims would receive requests for relatively small gifts, such as iTunes gift cards and cell phones.
“As the relationships continued, the requests would develop into increasingly larger sums of money, with the claimed purpose that the funds were needed to complete overseas projects or to return to the United States. The victims were directed by the online romance scammers to send funds to the defendants’ bank accounts, among other things, assuring the victims that they would allocate the money as needed.”
The indictment alleges that, once the victims sent funds, the defendants funnelled the money to accounts that they operated. These accounts were allegedly opened under various aliases in order to obscure the source of the fraudulently obtained funds. In a further attempt to conceal the source of the money, the co-conspirators also purchased salvaged vehicles and car parts to export overseas, usually to Nigeria, the indictment alleges.
In late August, the FBI arrested 14 Nigerians across the US, with 11 of the arrests taking place in Los Angeles area.
They were arrested over a variety of fraud schemes and accused of laundering funds through a Los Angeles-based money laundering network as uncovered by the FBI.
A 252-count federal grand jury indictment charged 77 Nigerians in all, with many said to be living in Nigeria.