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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 1, 2019

Army Reservist Pleads Guilty To Participating In Money Laundering Scheme

Emeka Nnawuba Opened Bank Accounts with Fake Identities and Laundered More Than $2,000,000 in Fraud Proceeds

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that EMEKA NNAWUBA, a/k/a “Benjamin Alabie,” who is a member of the United States Army Reserves, has pled guilty to participating in a scheme to launder the proceeds of frauds perpetrated against dozens of victims.  NNAWUBA pled guilty today before United States District Judge Katherine Polk Failla, who will impose sentence on January 7, 2020.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Emeka Nnawuba admitted today that he received over $1 million from unsuspecting women in internet romance scams and laundered those proceeds to conceal their origin.  Nnawuba callously preyed upon victims looking for companionship, only to come away as victims of theft.  Nnawuba tried his luck in love and lost, as he now faces time in prison.”

According to the allegations in the Superseding Indictment and statements made in court:

From at least 2016 until 2018, NNAWUBA participated in a scheme to launder the proceeds of frauds perpetrated against dozens of victims.  Among other things, NNAWUBA used false identities and false passports to open bank accounts, received or attempted to receive more than $2,000,000 in fraud proceeds, withdrew tens of thousands of dollars of fraud proceeds in cash, and transferred more than $1 million of fraud proceeds to bank accounts controlled by co-conspirators in an effort to conceal the source of funds.

The funds laundered by NNAWUBA were procured principally by (a) romance scams, in which members of the scheme trolled dating websites to find unsuspecting women and stole their money on false pretenses, and (b) business compromise scams, in which members of the scheme impersonated individuals, professionals, or businesses in the course of otherwise ordinary financial transactions, and then fraudulently induced the counterparties to those transactions to transfer funds to bank accounts controlled and operated by NNAWUBA or other members of the scheme.

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NNAWUBA, 29, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, pled guilty to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.  

Five other individuals previously were charged and pled guilty in connection with their participation in the scheme. 

On February 12, 2018, Ifeanyi Ezeji pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to commit money laundering.  On May 31, 2018, Judge Failla sentenced Ifeanyi Ezeji to 40 months in prison and three years of supervised release, and ordered him to forfeit $2,080,347.14 and pay restitution in the amount of $873,891.31.

On May 31, 2018, Christopher Ezeji pled guilty to passport counterfeiting.  On October 4, 2018, Judge Failla sentenced Christopher Ezeji to five years of probation, and ordered him to forfeit $500.00 and pay restitution in the amount of $873,891.31.

On June 22, 2018, Peter Abbah pled guilty to aggravated identity theft.  On October 2, 2018, Judge Failla sentenced Abbah to 24 months in prison and one year of supervised release, and ordered him pay restitution in the amount of $218,498.76.

On July 27, 2018, Michael Akhiero pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud.  On April 22, 2019, Judge Failla sentenced Akhiero to seven months in prison and three years of supervised release, and ordered him to forfeit $600.00 and pay restitution in the amount of $143,192.99.

On January 11, 2019, Okechukwu Peter Ezika pled guilty to engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.  Ezika’s sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

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Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the U.S. Secret Service, and thanked United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations for its assistance. 

The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Juliana N. Murray and Robert B. Sobelman are in charge of the prosecution. 

Press Release Number: 
19-246
Updated August 1, 2019