Tampa, Florida – U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday has sentenced Akohomen Ighedoise (48, Thornhill, Ontario) to 17 years and 6 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. As part of his sentence, the court also entered an order of forfeiture of $10,632,546.36, representing the proceeds of the charged criminal conduct, and ordered Ighedoise to pay $4,389,340.97 in restitution to the victims. Ighedoise had pleaded guilty on September 13, 2022, following his extradition to the United States from Canada.
According to court documents and evidence presented at the trials of his convicted coconspirators, as well as at his sentencing hearing, Ighedoise, a dual citizen of Nigeria and Canada, worked for an international criminal organization based in Nigeria that defrauded dozens of victims across the United States and then laundered the funds through a complex network of bank accounts. The organization, known as the Black Axe Group or Neo Black Movement of Africa, coordinated fraud and money laundering activity throughout the globe via cells or “zones” in Nigeria, Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. During the conspiracy, Ighedoise was the “ihaza,” or treasurer, of the Black Axe Group’s North America zone based in Ontario, Canada.
The fraud schemes took several forms. Many of the victims were widowed, single, or divorced elderly women who developed relationships with fake suitors on dating websites as part of so-called “romance scams.” The women were then convinced to wire money, which often consisted of their entire retirement savings and cash taken out from home equity to bank accounts in the United States as part of a supposed investment opportunity. The conspirators also defrauded title companies with fake cashier’s checks in phony real estate transactions, leaving the companies on the hook for the losses once the checks bounced. Other victims included businesses targeted by email spoofing and hacking schemes, as well as law firms that were solicited online to perform legal work and then provided fake cashier’s checks for deposit into the firms’ trust accounts.
Victims were instructed to wire their money into numerous funnel accounts held by conspirators in the United States, known as “money mules,” and the funds were then quickly moved to other accounts in the United States and around the world before the victims could discover the fraud. From at least 2012 to October 2015, Ighedoise worked with co-conspirator Ikechukwu Derek Amadi and others to recruit more than a dozen individuals in the United States to act as money mules. Ighedoise and Amadi then had those individuals wire most of the victims’ funds overseas, including to Hong Kong, China, Canada and Nigeria, to promote the conspiracy and conceal the source of the funds. The group moved at least $10 million in frauds proceeds during this time.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from various federal and local law enforcement partners throughout the country, as well as Canadian authorities, including the Toronto Police Service in Ontario, and the Toronto Strategic Partnership. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Patrick Scruggs.