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CHICAGO — A Nigerian national who allegedly orchestrated an international cyber fraud scheme targeting several U.S.-based companies has been expelled from the United Arab Emirates to face a federal criminal charge in Chicago.
OLALEKAN JACOB PONLE, also known as “Mr. Woodbery” and “Mark Kain,” 29, originally of Lagos, Nigeria, is charged in U.S. District Court in Chicago with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. A criminal complaint accuses Ponle of orchestrating “business email compromise” schemes to defraud several U.S.-based companies. The schemes resulted in attempted or actual losses to victim companies in the tens of millions of dollars, including a Chicago-based company that was defrauded into sending wire transfers totaling $15.2 million, the complaint states.
Ponle was arrested last month by law enforcement in the United Arab Emirates, where he had been residing. He was subsequently expelled from the UAE into the custody of the FBI and arrived in Chicago Thursday evening. Ponle made an initial court appearance this morning in Chicago. U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey T. Gilbert set a detention hearing for July 9, 2020, at 4:00 p.m.
The complaint and expulsion were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Emmerson Buie, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the FBI. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs at the Justice Department provided substantial assistance. The government of the United Arab Emirates and the Dubai Police Department provided valuable assistance. Assistant U.S. Attorney Melody Wells of the Northern District of Illinois is prosecuting the case.
Ponle’s alleged cyber fraud scheme spanned at least the first nine months of 2019. The complaint describes several instances in which one or more unknown subjects gained unauthorized access to a U.S.-based company’s email account and sent messages to unwitting employees claiming to be from the company or a known business contact. The emails were nearly identical to prior legitimate emails sent over the company’s email account, but the fraudulent emails instructed victims to wire funds to a bank account that was set up by money mules at the direction of Ponle, the complaint states. Ponle then instructed the mules to convert the fraud proceeds to Bitcoin and send them to a virtual wallet that Ponle owned and operated, the complaint states.
In addition to the Chicago-based companies, other victims included companies based in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New York, and California, the complaint states.
The public is reminded that a complaint contains only accusations and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Conspiracy to commit wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.