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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 2, 2020

11 Members Of Money Laundering Ring Charged

Defendants Received and Laundered Proceeds of Online Fraud Schemes Involving Over $5 Million of Intended Loss

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York,  Patrick Freaney, Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Secret Service (“Secret Service”), Troy Miller, Director of New York Field Operations for United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”),  announced today the arrests of JACOB SAGIAO, MARYLYNN PENEUETA, BRITT JACKSON, JOSHUA FITTEN, DONTAE COTTRELL, ARINZE OBIKA, HERMAN BASS, DAVID URO, and PRINCE UKO for money laundering and wire fraud schemes.  Eight of the defendants were presented before United States Magistrate Judges in three federal judicial districts on February 27 and 28.  UKO will be presented before a United States Magistrate Judge in the Northern District of Georgia later today.  Two other defendants, VICTOR AHAIWE and NDUKWE ANYAOGU, remain at large.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, the defendants conspired to launder the proceeds of online fraud schemes that deceived victims into sending the defendants more than $5 million.  Thanks to the Secret Service and CBP, nine of the defendants are in custody, and all 11 face serious federal charges.”           

Secret Service Deputy Special Agent in Charge Patrick Freaney said:  “The U.S. Secret Service is dedicated to the pursuit and investigation of those responsible for committing cyber-enabled fraud.  The success of this investigation is the result of a collaborative effort between the New York Field Office of the Secret Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York.  Additionally, I would like to recognize the efforts of the Atlanta Field Office and Los Angeles Field Office of the Secret Service for their invaluable assistance that have made this investigation a success.”

CBP Director of New York Field Operations Troy Miller said:  “This case exemplifies the collaborative law enforcement efforts to combat transnational criminal organizations. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is proud to have collaborated with our fellow law enforcement partners during this investigation leading to today’s arrests.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said:  “The threat of cyber-enabled fraud has long been publicized, and many people assume they know enough to avoid being victimized by this type of crime.  The truth is, however, fraudsters are often very skilled at targeting their victims and masking their behavior in a way that often goes undetected until it’s too late.  Today’s charges are yet another reminder to the public to exercise due diligence in both personal and professional online settings as we work together to defeat cybercrime worldwide.”

According to the allegations in the two Complaints charging the defendants:[1]

From at least in or about July 2018 up to and including at least in or about November 2019, SAGIAO, PENEUETA, JACKSON, FITTEN, COTTRELL, OBIKA, BASS, URO, AHAIWE, ANYAOGU, and UKO received and laundered the proceeds of three business email compromise schemes, in which the corporate and organizational victims were fraudulently induced to send nearly $5 million to bank accounts controlled by SAGIAO, OBIKA, and others.

From at least in or about June 2019 up to and including the present, JACKSON participated in and received proceeds from an online romance fraud scheme, in which the victim was fraudulently induced to send over $130,000 to JACKSON and others.

In or about October 2018, ANYAOGU participated in and received proceeds from an email compromise scheme, in which a foreign law firm was fraudulently induced to transfer approximately $380,000, intended for another person, to a bank account ANYAOGU controlled.

In or about February 2020, UKO made the false statements to federal law enforcement officers that he had never exchanged text messages with a co-conspirator and that certain transactions were for a textile business rather than to launder the proceeds of criminal activity.

*                *                *

SAGIAO, PENEUETA, JACKSON, FITTEN, COTTRELL, OBIKA, BASS, URO, AHAIWE, and ANYAOGU are charged with: (1) conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and (2) conspiracy to commit money laundering.  AHAIWE is also charged with aggravated identity theft, and JACKSON and ANYAOGU are also charged with wire fraud.  UKO is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and making false statements in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the Government of the United States.  Conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349, carries a maximum term of 30 years in prison.  Conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h), carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison.  Aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A, carries a mandatory consecutive term of two years in prison.  Wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343, carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison.  Making a false statement in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the Government of the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, carries maximum term of five years in prison.  The maximum potential sentences and the mandatory minimum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants would be determined by the judge. 

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Secret Service, and, in particular, the Secret Service’s Electronic Crimes Task Force, CBP, the FBI, and special agents of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jun Xiang and Kevin Mead are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Defendant

Age

Hometown

Charges

JACOB SAGIAO

47

Oxnard, CA

Bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy

MARYLYNN PENEUETA

46

Oxnard, CA

Bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy

BRITT JACKSON

43

Columbus, GA

Bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy; wire fraud

JOSHUA FITTEN

25

Hacienda Heights, CA

Bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy

DONTAE COTTRELL

36

Whittier, CA

Bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy

ARINZE OBIKA

33

Queens, NY

Bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy

NDUKWE ANYAOGU

43

Marietta, GA

Bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy; wire fraud

HERMAN BASS

37

Hawthorne, CA

Bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy

DAVID URO

28

Brooklyn, NY

Bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy

VICTOR AHAIWE

54

Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Bank fraud conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy; aggravated identity theft

PRINCE UKO

46

Jonesboro, GA

Money laundering conspiracy; false statements

 

 

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaints and the descriptions of the Complaints set forth herein constitute only allegations and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Contact: 
Jim Margolin, Nicholas Biase (212) 637-2600
Press Release Number: 
20-079
Updated March 2, 2020