New Jersey Man Convicted Of Laundering Millions From Fraud Schemes Targeting Victims Across The United States Perpetrated By Ghana-Based Criminal Enterprise
Defendant Controlled Several Bank Accounts With Deposits Totaling Over $5 Million, Which Primarily Consisted of Proceeds of Romance Schemes Targeting Elderly Victims
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that FREEMAN CELVIN, a/k/a “Celvin Freeman,” was convicted today of all seven criminal counts he was charged with for his participation in a fraud and money laundering conspiracy based in the Republic of Ghana (“Ghana”) involving the theft of millions of dollars. CELVIN was convicted after a jury trial before U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff which lasted approximately one week. CELVIN was previously arrested on February 17, 2021 and has been detained since his arrest.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As today’s jury verdict reflects, Freeman Celvin used an auto business in New Jersey as a front to launder millions of dollars in fraud proceeds to online scam artists in Ghana. The online scams perpetrated by Celvin’s partners in Ghana were lucrative and callous, as they targeted vulnerable, elderly men and women and tricked them into transferring their life savings to the defendant, who then took his laundering fee and sent the money abroad. Together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to zealously prosecute online scammers abroad and the U.S.-based money launderers they work in order to protect American victims from these scams.”
As reflected in the Indictment, public filings, and the evidence presented at trial:
From in or about 2014 through in or about February 2021, a criminal enterprise (the “Enterprise”) based in Ghana committed a series of business email compromises and romance scams against individuals and businesses located across the United States, including in the Southern District of New York. First, the objective of the Enterprise’s business email compromise fraud scheme was to trick and deceive businesses into wiring funds into accounts controlled by the Enterprise through the use of email accounts that “spoofed” or impersonated employees of a victim company or third parties engaged in business with a victim company. Second, the Enterprise conducted the romance scams by using electronic messages sent via email, text messaging, or online dating websites that deluded victims, many of whom were vulnerable older men and women who lived alone, into believing the victim was in a romantic relationship with a fake identity assumed by members of the Enterprise. Once members of the Enterprise had gained the trust of the victims using the fake identity, they used false pretenses to cause the victims to wire money to bank accounts the victims believed were controlled by their romantic interests, when in fact the bank accounts were controlled by members of the Enterprise like CELVIN.
CELVIN received fraud proceeds from victims of the Enterprise in personal bank accounts as well as business bank accounts for his company Freeman Autos LLC, a company purportedly involved in, among other things, automobile sales. The defendant also received fraud proceeds from other U.S.-based members of the Enterprise either by wire transfer or cash deliveries. Once CELVIN received fraud proceeds, he took out a percentage fee and then withdrew, transported, and laundered those fraud proceeds to other members of the Enterprise abroad in Ghana. The defendant primarily laundered the fraud proceeds by using the proceeds to purchase automobiles and other goods and shipping those products to Ghana and elsewhere. The defendant’s transactions had the appearance of legitimate business transactions when, in fact, the products had been purchased using the proceeds of fraud schemes. This trade-based money laundering scheme was designed to obscure the origin of the fraud proceeds as well as the identity of the ultimate beneficiaries of these schemes.
From in or about 2016 through in or about 2021, CELVIN controlled more than eight bank accounts that had deposits that totaled over approximately $5.7 million during that time period. A vast majority of the deposits consisted of large wire transfers and check or cash deposits from U.S.-based individuals and entities that were victims of fraud schemes of the Enterprise.
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CELVIN, 48, of East Orange, New Jersey, was convicted by a jury of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of receipt of stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, one count of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, and one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
CELVIN is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Rakoff on July 20, 2022 at 4:00 p.m.
The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Sagar K. Ravi, Katherine C. Reilly, and Mitzi Steiner are in charge of the prosecution.