Virginia Man Pleads Guilty To Laundering Millions From Fraud Schemes Targeting Victims Across The United States Perpetrated By Ghana-Based Criminal Enterprise
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that FRED ASANTE pled guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering for his role in a criminal enterprise based in the Republic of Ghana (“Ghana”) involving the theft of tens of millions of dollars. ASANTE was arrested on February 17, 2021 in Virginia and pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff. ASANTE has been detained since his arrest.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Fred Asante admitted today to laundering money from victims of various fraud schemes, including cruel scams targeting elderly online daters searching for companionship. Compounding the disappointment of learning their potential soulmate was indeed nonexistent, Asante’s victims later found they were also targets of a Ghana-based criminal enterprise netting over $35 million in illegal proceeds. We implore the millions of Americans looking for someone special online to use extra caution, and be especially beware if solicited for money or other personal information.”
According to the Indictment, public court filings, and statements made in court:
From at least in or about 2013 through at least in or about 2020, ASANTE was a member of a criminal enterprise (the “Enterprise”) based in Ghana that committed a series of frauds against individuals and businesses located across the United States, including in the Southern District of New York. The frauds perpetrated by the Enterprise have consisted of, among other frauds, business email compromises, romance scams, and fraud schemes related to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. 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. Finally, the Enterprise submitted fraudulent loan applications through a loan program of the United States Small Business Administration (the “SBA”) designed to provide relief to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (“EIDL”) Program. The Enterprise submitted fraudulent EIDL applications in the names of actual companies to the SBA and when an EIDL loan was approved, the funds were ultimately deposited in bank accounts controlled by members of the Enterprise.
ASANTE and other members of the Enterprise received fraud proceeds from victims of the Enterprise in dozens of business bank accounts that they controlled in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. The business bank accounts were opened in the names of companies formed by ASANTE and other members of the Enterprise that were purportedly involved in, among other things, automobile sales, food imports and exports, and freight trucking and shipping. Once ASANTE received fraud proceeds in bank accounts under his control, he withdrew, transported, and laundered those fraud proceeds to other members of the Enterprise abroad. The defendant primarily laundered the fraud proceeds through his business by using the proceeds to purchase automobiles, food products, and other goods from U.S.-based suppliers and distributors of such products 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. In total, from in or about 2016 through in or about 2020, the defendant controlled over a dozen business bank accounts with deposits totaling over $35 million.
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FRED ASANTE, 36, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, pled guilty to one count of 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 defendant will be determined by the judge.
Under the terms of his plea agreement, ASANTE agreed to pay a money judgment of $647,488 and to forfeit his interest in approximately $323,646 seized by the Government from his bank accounts as well as a 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE AMG seized by the Government.
ASANTE will be sentenced on May 18, 2022, by Judge Rakoff. ASANTE’s co-conspirator, LORD ANING, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud on October 15, 2021, and will be sentenced on February 28, 2022 at 4:30 p.m. before Judge Rakoff.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation.
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 Reilly, and Mitzi Steiner are in charge of the prosecution.