Nigerian Scammer Convicted Of On-Line Romance Fraud
Had Targeted St. Louis Area Women
After two days of testimony from a dozen witnesses at his criminal trial in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, Illinois, Olayinka Ilumsa Sunmola, 32, of Lagos, Nigeria, changed his plea on March 2, 2016, from "not guilty" to "guilty" on all eight counts of the federal indictment, James L. Porter, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois announced.
"Basically, the evidence established that Sunmola, a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, was the ringleader of a criminal organization operating within South Africa that targeted and stole from hundreds of women across the United States, including dozens in the St. Louis metropolitan area." noted Acting United states Attorney Porter. "Our office will continue to pursue justice for these victims in Sunmola’s prison sentence and in our never-ending efforts to get restitution."
A grand jury sitting in East St. Louis, Illinois, indicted Sunmola on November 20, 2013, on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, and interstate extortion. Sunmola was later arrested on the Southern Illinois indictment by the London Metropolitan Police Service (sometimes referred to as "Scotland Yard") on August 9, 2014, as he was about to board a British Airways flight from London Heathrow Airport to Johannesburg, South Africa.
During two days of trial, the government established that Sunmola had created several bogus online profiles on dating websites portraying himself as a U.S. citizen currently or formerly in the Armed Forces of the United States and temporarily doing business in South Africa. Using fake names and photographs stolen from the hacked online accounts of real American men, Sunmola cultivated a romantic relationship with many women in the St. Louis area and throughout the United States by sending flowers, stuffed animals, greeting cards and candy. His purpose was to lead each of his victims to believe that she was his one true love, his sole love interest, and the woman with whom he intended to spend the rest of his life. After successfully drawing these women into a romantic relationship, Sunmola then began to manufacture phony emergencies requiring increasingly large amounts of money from his victims. He played upon each victim's romantic feelings and vulnerability and manipulated and groomed them for the purpose of bilking them of their cash, their assets, and their credit worthiness.
One victim described in the indictment was unwittingly drawn into a scheme involving counterfeit or stolen traveler’s checks. The evidence established that as a result of her innocent involvement in cashing the checks for Sunmola, she was arrested by local police and jailed, charged with theft by deception and forgery. She testified that she contemplated suicide as a result of Sunmola’s fraud against her. Another victim, a resident of the Southern District of Illinois, was induced to perform sexual acts on camera. She learned only after it was too late that Sunmola had recorded the video, which he promptly threatened to publish online unless she and her family sent him money. According to the indictment, Sunmola told the woman that by the time he was done with her she would want to kill herself. He pledged to ruin her life if she did not continue to send him the money he demanded. Sunmola admitted in open court to having made the video and extorting her and her family with it. The victim – identified in the indictment as "Jane Doe 6" – was due to testify at the trial later this week.
"I applaud the great work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District and our other law enforcement partners who helped put a stop to a pervasive scam artist that took advantage of too many unsuspecting Illinois victims," said Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
"The FTC is fortunate to have great partners, such as the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District, of Illinois," said Steven Baker, director of the FTC’s Midwest Region Office. "We congratulate them for achieving a great result on behalf of consumers in this important international effort."
Sentencing is set for June 17, 2016, at 10:00 a.m. By statute, Sunmola faces a maximum prison sentence of 127 years, a fine of $250,000 on each of the eight counts of the indictment, and as much as five years of supervised release. He will also be required to pay restitution to the victims of his crimes.
The case was investigated by the St. Louis Field Office of the Chicago Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The St. Louis Resident Agency of Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Fairview Heights office of U.S. Secret Service assisted in the investigation. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney's Office for investigation as part of an ongoing partnership between the two offices to identify, investigate and prosecute international scammers who prey upon Illinois residents. This prosecution is also part of a larger initiative with the Chicago Office of the Federal Trade Commission to target romance scammers. The South African Police Service conducted its own extensive investigation into Sunmola's activities in South Africa in coordination with the U.S. criminal investigation, which initiated searches of Sunmola's various properties and has instituted legal proceedings in South African courts seeking to forfeit them.
The prosecution was handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Nathan D. Stump and Bruce E. Reppert, and by Special Assistant United states Attorney Emily J. Wasserman.