Former Railroad Employee Sentenced to Two and a Half Years in Federal Prison for Fraudulently Obtaining Disability Benefits
CHICAGO — A resident of the United Arab Emirates who orchestrated an $8 million cyber fraud scheme targeting several United States-based companies has been sentenced to more than eight years in a U.S. prison.
OLALEKAN JACOB PONLE, also known as “Mr. Woodbery,” and “Mark Kain,” 31, was living in the UAE in 2019 when he worked with co-schemers to engage in numerous business email compromise schemes. The co-schemers used phishing links to gain unauthorized access to email accounts and then created false instructions directing employees of the victim companies to wire money to bank accounts opened by money mules at Ponle’s direction. The fraudulent emails often claimed to be from the company or a known business contact and were nearly identical to prior legitimate emails sent over the company’s email account. After unwitting employees wired money, in some cases millions of dollars, to the bank accounts, Ponle instructed the money mules to convert the proceeds to Bitcoin and send them to him.
As a result of Ponle’s scheme, victim companies suffered more than $8.03 million in actual losses and more than $51.3 million in intended losses. One of the victim companies was based in Chicago, while others were located in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New York, California, and elsewhere.
Ponle is a Nigerian national who was arrested in June 2020 by law enforcement in the UAE. He was subsequently expelled from the UAE into the custody of the FBI and arrived in Chicago the following month. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to a federal wire fraud charge.
U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman on July 11, 2023, sentenced Ponle to eight years and four months in federal prison. Ponle was ordered to pay more than $8.03 million in restitution to the victim companies and forfeit numerous luxury items purchased with proceeds traceable to the fraud scheme, including a Rolls Royce Cullinan, Lamborghini Urus, Mercedes-Benz G-Class AMG G55, and Rolex and Patek Philippe watches. Ponle previously forfeited to the government 151 bitcoin, which were also derived from proceeds traceable to the fraud scheme.
The sentence was announced by Morris Pasqual, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI. Valuable assistance was provided by the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and the Dubai, UAE Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Melody Wells of the Northern District of Illinois represented the government.