Two Nigerian Nationals Indicted for Fraud Scheme Targeting Dozens of Public and Private Institutions
PORTLAND, Ore.—An indictment has been unsealed in federal court charging two Nigerian nationals for attempting to steal $25 million from nearly two dozen public and private entities around the United States, including at least one in Oregon.
Efeturi Ariawhorai aka Efeturi Simeon, 35, a dual citizen of Nigeria and Vanuatu who most recently resided in the United Arab Emirates, and Ikenna Nwajiaku, 41, a Nigerian national believed to be residing in or near Lagos, Nigeria, have been charged in an 11-count indictment with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft.
“Federal law enforcement is determined to use every tool and capability it has to pursue cyber criminals and retrieve money mistakenly sent to unknown bank accounts. We applaud the local victim in this case for quickly reporting the crime and giving authorities the best possible chance at retrieving their money. Unfortunately, many of these situations go a different and very costly way. When in doubt, we encourage anyone who thinks they are the victim of a cyber crime to report immediately to the FBI. Time is of the essence,” said Assistant United States Attorney Quinn Harrington, Chief of the Cyber and National Security Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon.
“The level of greed it takes to steal from schools and hospitals, especially during the height of a global pandemic, is beyond disturbing,” said Special Agent in Charge Kieran L. Ramsey. “Through quick action from many of these victims the FBI, with our Recovery Asset Team, was able to freeze funds and return a majority of the stolen money. In fact, we were able to recover the total loss of nearly $3 million for a victim in Oregon and keep that money out of the hands of criminals. If you are the victim of a cyber intrusion or fraud scheme please reach out to the FBI as soon as possible, we are here to help.”
According to the indictment, beginning in June 2019 and continuing until January 2021, Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku conspired with one another and others known and unknown to defraud various public and private entities located throughout the U.S., including numerous school districts, universities, colleges, and hospitals. As part of their scheme, Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku would contact organizations by email; impersonate employees of the targeted organization or professionals from other entities doing business with the target organization, such as construction companies; and convince the organizations to send payments to bank accounts controlled by third parties acting on Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku’s behalf.
To conceal their fraudulent activity, Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku used false names and various identity-concealing technologies including virtual private networks, compromised servers, and leased infrastructure. Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku would also register email addresses and internet domain names with slight variations on the names of real companies to trick victim organizations.
In total, in just over a year and a half, Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku attempted to defraud 20 victim organizations out of approximately $25.2 million. 15 of the victim organizations lost a combined $6.2 million as a result of the scheme.
Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud are punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and three years’ supervised release. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by up to two years in federal prison and one year of supervised release per count of conviction.
Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku are both fugitives. On November 25, 2021, Ariawhorai was arrested in Italy by Italian authorities and the United States made a formal request for his extradition. However, Ariawhorai fled house arrest prior to his transfer to the District of Oregon.
This case was investigated by the FBI. It is being prosecuted by AUSA Harrington.
An indictment is only an accusation of a crime, and defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The FBI’s Recovery Asset Team (RAT), a component of the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), was established in 2018 to streamline communication with financial institutions and assist FBI field offices with freezing funds for victims who made transfers to domestic accounts under fraudulent pretenses. In 2021, RAT assisted with 1,726 incidents nationwide that together involved losses exceeding $443 million. RAT helped freeze more than $328 million of these potential losses, a 74-percent success rate.
If you are the victim of an online or internet-enabled crime, please file a report online with IC3 at www.ic3.gov or by calling your local FBI field office as soon as possible. For RAT to be effective, individuals and organizations must report crimes immediately and include all pertinent information, including account details.