Two Plead Guilty to Mystery Shopper Fraud Scheme
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – Christie Easter, 47, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Toheeb Odoffin, 28, of Chicago, each pleaded guilty today to charges related to their respective roles in a fraud scheme involving “Mystery Shoppers.”
According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, in 2012 federal law enforcement began an investigation into an extensive scheme that operated nationally and internationally, stemming from Nigeria. The investigation determined that participants in the scheme, including Easter and Odoffin, recruited individuals throughout the United States via email to serve as “Mystery Shoppers,” in which the individuals would receive financial instruments, such as a cashier’s check or Postal money order, to evaluate the services of certain money transmission services, including Western Union and Money Gram. Once a recruited individual, or “Mystery Shopper,” responded to the email solicitation with interest, the conspirators would obtain personal identification information from the Mystery Shopper, which was then placed on the counterfeit cashier’s check or Postal money order. The conspirators, including Easter and Odoffin, would then mail the Mystery Shoppers a counterfeit cashier’s check or Postal money order for the Mystery Shopper to negotiate at their own bank, keeping a portion of the payment for their services. The Mystery Shopper would then wire the majority of the funds to conspirators or other recruited individuals who retrieved the transmitted funds and engaged in further distribution of the fraudulent proceeds.
Easter and Odoffin each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Each faces mandatory minimum of two years in prison, and a maximum penalty of 32 years in prison. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Martin Culbreth, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office; Michael K. Lamonea, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Norfolk; Robert B. Wemyss, Inspector in Charge of the Washington Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and George Purefoy, Resident Agent in Charge of the Norfolk Resident Office, U.S. Secret Service, made the announcement after the plea was accepted by U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian J. Samuels and Megan M. Cowles are prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 4:16-cr-49.