The United States of America (U.S) Court yesterday charged 80 defendants, most of whom Nigerians for alleged participation in a massive conspiracy to steal millions of dollars through a variety of fraud schemes.
They were accused of planning to launder the funds through a Los Angeles-based money laundering network.
The indictment followed yesterday’s arrest of 14 defendants by law enforcement authorities . The arrests were carried out across the United States, with 11 of them taking place in the Los Angeles region.
Two defendants were already in federal custody on other charges, and were said to have been arrested earlier this week. The remaining defendants are believed to be abroad, with most them located in Nigeria.
It was alleged that the 80 defendants and others used various online fraud schemes – including business email compromise (BEC) frauds, romance scams, and schemes targeting the elderly – to defraud victims out of millions of dollars.
According to a criminal complaint , co-conspirators based in Nigeria, the United States and other countries contacted the lead defendants in the indictment . Those indicted include Valentine Iro, 31, of Carson, and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 38, of Gardena, both Nigerians . They were alleged to have been operating a bank and money-service accounts that could receive funds fraudulently obtained from victims. According to the charge sheet “Once members of the conspiracy convinced victims to send money under false pretenses, Iro and Igbokwe coordinated the receipt of funds and oversaw an extensive money-laundering network, according to the 145-page indictment.”
The indictment and criminal complaint allege that Iro and Igbokwe, who were among those arrested yesterday , were involved in schemes resulting in the fraudulent transfer of at least $6 million in fraudulently-obtained funds – and the overall conspiracy was responsible for the attempted theft of at least an additional $40 million.
The fraudsters were accused of targeting victims in the United States and across the globe, including individuals, small and large businesses, and law firms. Some of the victims of the conspiracy lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraud schemes, and many were elderly.
The report said “This case is part of our ongoing efforts to protect Americans from fraudulent online schemes and to bring to justice those who prey upon American citizens and businesses,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “Today, we have taken a major step to disrupt criminal networks that use BEC schemes, romance scams and other frauds to fleece victims. This indictment sends a message that we will identify perpetrators – no matter where they reside – and we will cut off the flow of ill-gotten gains.”
“Today’s announcement highlights the extensive efforts that organized criminal groups will engage in to perpetrate BEC schemes that target American citizens and their hard-earned assets,” said Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Billions of dollars are lost annually, and we urge citizens to be aware of these sophisticated financial schemes to protect themselves or their businesses from becoming unsuspecting victims. The FBI is committed to working with our partner agencies worldwide to continue to identify these cyber criminals and to dismantle their networks.”
Iro and Igbokwe were alleged to be brokers of fraudulent bank accounts. According to the indictment, Iro and Igbokwe collected bank accounts, fielded requests for bank account information, provided that information to co-conspirators around the world, and laundered the money obtained from victims – all of this in exchange for a cut of the money stolen from victims of the various fraud schemes.