Federal Indictment Adds 10th Defendant and Expands Charges Against 9 Others in International “Romance Scam” Investigation
CHICAGO — Eight Chicago-area residents are among ten individuals charged as part of an international investigation into online fraud schemes, including “romance scams” and “mystery shopper scams.”
The Chicago-based investigation, dubbed “Operation Gold Phish,” identified a variety of cyber-enabled fraud schemes allegedly carried out by individuals in the United States and Nigeria. One of the alleged schemes involved “romance scams,” in which a defendant builds trust with a victim through a purported online romance before convincing the victim to send money to a predetermined recipient. The defendants contacted victims via websites such as Match.com, Facebook, and Instagram.
Another cyber-enabled fraud allegedly carried out by the defendants involved a “mystery shopper scam,” in which victims were fraudulently offered opportunities to receive commissions for evaluating services such as Western Union and MoneyGram. The victims received a check with instructions to deposit it in their bank accounts, withdraw the money in cash, and wire it to a predetermined third party. The check turned out to be fake, and the victims were defrauded of the money they had withdrawn from their accounts, the charges allege.
Nine of the defendants were originally charged last year with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. A federal indictment, returned May 16, 2019, added a tenth defendant and expanded the charges against the others. The original defendants are in law enforcement custody – eight in the U.S. and one in Nigeria – while the newly added defendant remains at large.
The indictment was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Jeffrey S. Sallet, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Craig Goldberg, Inspector-in-Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Chicago. Valuable assistance was provided by the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Peter S. Salib and Charles W. Mulaney represent the government.
Charged in the indictment are:
- Newly added defendant OLANIYI NASIRU OJIKUTU, 39, of Chicago (three counts of wire fraud)
- DANIEL SAMUEL ETA, also known as “Captain” and “Etaoko,” 35, of Skokie (12 counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit a computer intrusion, one count of passport fraud)
- BABATUNDE LADEHINDE LABIYI, also known as “Junior,” 26, of Chicago (one count of wire fraud, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution, one count of passport fraud)
- BARNABAS OGHENERUKEVWE EDJIEH, 29, of Chicago (one count of wire fraud, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution, one count of passport fraud)
- SULTAN OMOGBADEBO ANIFOWOSHE, also known as “Ayinde,” 27, of Chicago (one count of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution, one count of passport fraud)
- BABATUNDE IBRAHEEM AKARIGIDI, also known as “AK,” 39, of Chicago (one count of wire fraud, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution, one count of passport fraud)
- MIRACLE AYOKUNLE OKUNOLA, 21, of Chicago (one count of wire fraud, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution, one count of passport fraud)
- OLUROTIMI AKITUNDE IDOWU, also known as “Idol,” 55, of Chicago (one count of wire fraud, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution, one count of passport fraud)
- ADEWALE ANTHONY ADEWUMI, 28, of Richardson, Texas (two counts of wire fraud)
- OLANIYI ADELEYE OGUNGBAIYE, also known as “DonChiChi,” 26, of Lagos, Nigeria (one count of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit a computer intrusion). Ogungbaiye is in law enforcement custody in Nigeria.
The eight defendants in U.S. custody pleaded not guilty during arraignments last week before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole in Chicago.
In addition to the romance and mystery shopper schemes, the indictment accuses the defendants of engaging in other cyber-enabled scams. In a scheme known as a “business email compromise,” the defendants fraudulently obtained usernames and passwords or sent spoofing email messages to employees claiming to be from a known business contact, instructing victims to change the wire instructions for bank payments, the charges allege. Per the instructions given in the fraudulent emails, the victim then unknowingly wired funds to a bank account controlled by the defendants that had been opened in a fictitious name utilizing a fake passport, the indictment states.
The public is reminded that charges contains only accusations and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Making a false statement to a financial institution carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison; wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years; passport fraud is punishable by up to ten years; and conspiracy to commit computer fraud is punishable by up to five years. If convicted, the Court must impose reasonable sentences under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.