Fugitive defendant who fled during trial convicted by federal jury for laundering millions of dollars stolen from fraud victims throughout the U.S.
ATLANTA – Federal agents have arrested twenty-four individuals for their involvement in a large-scale fraud and money laundering operation that targeted citizens, corporations, and financial institutions throughout the United States. Business email compromise schemes, romance fraud scams, and retirement account scams, among other frauds, duped numerous victims into losing more than $30 million.
“Fraud schemes, like the ones perpetrated and facilitated by these defendants, inflict considerable losses on citizens, companies, and the financial system,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Some of these schemes target the elderly and often deplete the victims’ entire life savings. These arrests affirm the Department of Justice’s commitment to prosecuting those who prey on our most vulnerable citizens.”
“The FBI would like to thank our numerous federal, state and local law enforcement partners who helped make these arrests possible,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “There is no way we can make the victims of these schemes, many who have lost their life savings, whole again. Hopefully the arrests and pending prosecutions will at least give them solace that someone is being held accountable for their losses.”
“An important mission of the Office of Inspector General is to investigate allegations of fraud relating to employee benefit plans. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate these types of allegations,” stated Rafiq Ahmad, Special Agent-in-Charge, Atlanta Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.
“This investigation and subsequent arrests is due to the level of cooperation and information sharing by all law enforcement partners involved,” said Steven R. Baisel, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service, Atlanta Field Office. “The Secret Service will continue to collaborate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our partners to safeguard the nation’s critical financial infrastructure and the people in our communities.”
“No one deserves to have their hard-earned money stolen from them, so identifying and arresting these defendants makes everyone in the community safer,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “Foreign nationals arrested in this scheme will be placed into removal proceedings upon completion of their criminal sentence.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the indictment, and other information presented in court: The defendants served as money launderers for other individuals throughout the world who conducted cyber-enabled fraud, including business email compromise schemes, romance scams, and retirement account scams, targeted at companies and individuals across the United States.
A “business email compromise” (BEC) is a type of computer intrusion that occurs when an employee of a company is tricked into interacting with an email message that appears to be, but is not, legitimate. The fraudulent email instructs the victim to wire money to a bank account controlled by conspirators.
A “romance scam” is a type of online fraud that occurs when an individual user of an internet dating website is targeted for fraud by an imposter posing as a potential paramour. The scammer creates a fake online dating profile that depicts photographs of an attractive man or woman alongside descriptions of the fictitious person. The scammer then uses this fake person to express romantic interest in the victim in order to trick him or her into sending money to the scammer. The scammer frequently targets vulnerable individuals who possess significant financial assets, such as retired widows or widowers.
A “retirement account scam” is a type of online fraud that occurs when a third party administrator (TPA) for retirement investment accounts is tricked into authorizing a money distribution to an imposter posing as the true accountholder. The imposter often starts the scam by calling the TPA, identifying himself or herself as an actual accountholder, and requesting a withdrawal distribution form. Once the imposter receives the withdrawal distribution form, the imposter returns the completed form to the TPA. The form is completed with the accountholder’s real personal identifying information (PII)—often stolen via BEC schemes, data breaches, and other hacking offenses—and bank account information for an account controlled by the imposter or the imposter’s conspirators. After the TPA processes the fraudulent request, the request is forwarded to the investment firm responsible for managing the accountholder’s investments, and the funds—often the accountholder’s life savings—are then directed to the imposter’s designated bank account.
The defendants and co-conspirators facilitated BEC schemes, romance scams, and retirement account scams by receiving and distributing fraudulent funds throughout the United States and the world. Over the course of the conspiracy, the defendants and their co-conspirators laundered over $30 million in fraud proceeds. The defendants created multiple sham companies that did not have physical premises, earn legitimate income, or pay wages to employees. In turn, the defendants opened business bank accounts at multiple financial institutions to facilitate receipt of the fraudulent money. The defendants also opened personal bank accounts to receive fraudulent funds, often using false identities and victims’ identities. After funds were deposited into the defendants’ bank accounts, the money was quickly withdrawn from the accounts and circulated among the defendants.
The following individuals have been charged with money laundering conspiracy:
Darius Sowah Okang is also charged with one count of bank fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft. The indictment alleges that Okang created a bank account in a retirement scam victim’s name, which was then used to deposit approximately $288,000 in funds fraudulently withdrawn from the victim’s retirement account.
Afeez Olaide Adeniran and Blessing Ojo are also charged with wire fraud. The indictment alleges that Adeniran defrauded a homebuyer of $40,000 intended for a real estate transaction. The indictment alleges that due to a computer intrusion and false invoicing scam, Ojo caused a media company in California to send payments totaling $89,140 to a bank account controlled by one of the defendants. In total, the victim sent $646,840, as a result of the fraud.
In addition, two related cases charging additional defendants with various counts of bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering, and conspiracies to commit these offenses are currently pending in federal court in Atlanta. These defendants include:
Members of the public are reminded that the indictments only contain charges. The defendants are presumed innocent of the charges, and it will be the government’s burden to prove each defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Secret Service, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations are investigating this case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kelly K. Connors, Russell Phillips, and John Ghose are prosecuting the case.
The investigating agencies received considerable support from numerous federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities, to include: Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the State of Georgia, Office of Inspector General. Also the Atlanta Police Department, Smyrna Police Department, Henry County Police Department, Gwinnett County Police Department, DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department, Chamblee Police Department, Dunwoody Police Department, Cobb County Police Department, McDonough Police Department, Carrollton Police Department, and the Sandy Springs Police Department, all in Georgia. Additional agencies are the New York City Police Department; Houston Police Department; Kent and Bellevue Police Departments in Washington; Newport Beach Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, San Francisco Police Department, and Upland Police Departments in California; Radnor Township Pennsylvania Police Department; York County South Carolina Sheriff’s Department; Bloomington Indiana Police Department; Arlington County Virginia Police Department; Wells Maine Police Department; Schaumburg Illinois Police Department; Salt Lake City Utah Unified Police District; and the Charlotte County Florida Sheriff’s Office.
This investigation is being conducted under the auspices of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program—the keystone drug, money laundering, and transnational organized crime enforcement program of the Department of Justice.
We engage in community outreach to educate local law enforcement and residents about how they can assist in the fight against, and protect themselves from, fraud schemes that target elder Americans. For further information on these scams, see https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/senior-scam-alert.
For further information, please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.