New Jersey Man Sentenced To 78 Months For Laundering Millions From Fraud Schemes Perpetrated By Ghana-Based Criminal Enterprise
Defendant Controlled Bank Accounts 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 sentenced today to 78 months for his participation in a fraud and money laundering conspiracy based in the Republic of Ghana (“Ghana”) involving the theft of millions of dollars. On March 30, 2022, CELVIN was convicted after a jury trial of all seven counts against him before U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who imposed today’s sentence. CELVIN was previously arrested on February 17, 2021, and has been detained since his arrest.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Freeman Celvin used an auto business in New Jersey as a front to launder millions of dollars in fraud proceeds to 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. Today’s sentence demonstrates that money launderers who assist online scammers abroad will be held accountable and brought to justice for their crimes.”
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 based in Ghana (the “Enterprise”) 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. 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. The Enterprise also conducted 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 money 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. 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. The vast majority of those deposits consisted of large wire transfers and check or cash deposits from U.S.-based individuals and entities that were victims of the Enterprise’s fraud schemes.
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In addition to his prison term, CELVIN, 48, of East Orange, New Jersey, was sentenced to three years of supervised release and further ordered to forfeit $290,604.15. CELVIN’s co-conspirators, FRED ASANTE and LORD ANING, were previously sentenced to 108 months and 24 months in prison, respectively, earlier this year.
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.