Defendant pleads guilty during trial to conspiring to launder more than $4 million in online romance scam proceeds from United States to Ghana
COLUMBUS, Ohio – On his third day of trial this week in federal court in Columbus, a Westerville man pleaded guilty to laundering the proceeds of online romance scams for at least two years.
Edward Amankwah, 45, admitted to conspiring to launder nearly $4.3 million through bank accounts in his control.
Amankwah and others were indicted by a federal grand jury in July 2021. Six other defendants charged with money laundering in the case have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. They are Robert K. Asante, Kwame O. Yeboah, Eric Ahiekpor, Mohamed Toure, Uriah Lamdul and Alexis Wellington. The total amount generated by romance fraud that these individuals laundered was more than $11.8 million.
The romance scams involved individuals who created several profiles on online dating sites. They then contacted men and women throughout the United States and elsewhere, with whom they cultivated a sense of affection, and often, romance.
After establishing relationships, perpetrators of the romance scams requested money, typically for investment or need-based reasons, and provided account information and directions for where money should be sent. In part, these accounts were in the names of Amankwah and the other defendants, their family members and their companies.
Funds were not used for the purposes claimed by the perpetrators of the romance scams. Instead, Amankwah and the other defendants conducted transactions designed to conceal, such as withdrawing cash, transferring funds to other accounts, buying official checks, sending wires to Ghana, China, and the United States, and more. Part of the conspiracy was for the defendants to move the romance fraud proceeds from the United States to Ghana.
Amankwah was not charged with defrauding the victims himself, but instead was charged with laundering the proceeds of the romance fraud.
Trial began on Sept. 26. On the first two days of trial, five victims testified about being defrauded.
As part of the romance fraud scheme, the victims were directed to send money to business bank accounts in the control of Amankwah. For example, one victim was defrauded by a purported member of the military who said he wanted to retire early and needed money to do so. The victim sent two wire transfers totaling $131,400 to Amankwah’s accounts.
Another victim fell in love with a person who claimed he owned a mine in Canada and needed help covering operating expenses. The victim sent $70,000 to one of Amankwah’s accounts.
Yet another victim began an online relationship with a man who claimed to be in the military in Afghanistan and sent four wires totaling more than half a million dollars to bank accounts in the control of Amankwah.
On the morning of the third day of trial, Amankwah pleaded guilty.
The public can report online romance scams and other internet crimes at ic3.gov.
Conspiring to commit money laundering is a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. As part of his plea, Amankwah has agreed to pay approximately $4.29 million in restitution.
Kenneth L. Parker, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; and Bryant Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), announced the plea entered Sept. 28 before U.S. District Judge Sarah D. Morrison. Assistant United States Attorneys Peter K. Glenn-Applegate and David J. Twombly are representing the United States in this case.
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