Eight Individuals Charged In Fraud Scheme Targeting Widows; Created False Identities, Feigned Relationships, Took Money
Charges allege they funneled $6 million through bank accounts over two years
SALT LAKE CITY – A federal grand jury returned a 10-count superseding indictment Wednesday afternoon charging eight individuals in connection with a fraud scheme primarily targeting widowed women over 65 years old. The indictment alleges that over approximately two years, the defendants defrauded dozens of victims out of more than $6 million, which they laundered through accounts they controlled.
According to the indictment, the defendants and unnamed co-conspirators used social media and social gaming applications to target widows. The defendants created false identities to befriend potential victims, feigned romantic interest, and eventually pressured them to send money to the defendants. The indictment also alleges the defendants engaged in a series of subsequent transactions to disguise the origins of the funds and promote the operation of the conspiracy – often sending significant sums of money overseas.
Charged in the indictment are Jeffersonking Anyanwu, age 25, Daniel Negedu, age 21, Onoriode Kenneth Adigbolo, age 31, Chukwudi Kingsley Kalu, age 28, and Godsent Nwanganga, age 24, all Nigerians living in Orem; David Maduagu, age 27, a Nigerian living in Taylorsville; and Richard Ukorebi, age 38, and Adrianna Sotelo, age 20, both of West Valley City. Ukorebi is also Nigerian.
All defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, three counts of mail fraud, and one count of money laundering conspiracy. Anyanwu, Negedu, Adigbolo, Kalu, Ukorebi, Nwanganga and Sotello are also each charged with one count of money laundering.
The indictment alleges that in the typical execution of the scheme, the defendants and their co-conspirators would create a fake online personality on a social media website or dating application, befriend a woman through that website, and convince the woman through the fake persona that they had some urgent financial need. The fake profiles included a businessman in Europe, high ranking United States military officers, a successful Utah businessman, an individual in Sweden under house arrest, and an engineer working as a subcontractor for a large oil company working in Oman. The fake schemes alleged in the indictment included telling women that a U.S. military member was stranded overseas, pitching loans or investment opportunities, and describing an urgent business need to purchase equipment. After presenting the false financial need, the victims were provided with the defendants’ bank account information. Once the money was in the defendants’ accounts, they would transfer the money to each other and to overseas accounts, withdraw the money as cash, or use the money for personal expenses. The indictment includes several examples of fake profiles the defendants allegedly used to obtain and launder money from victims. The victims in these examples ranged in age from 52 to 76.
One victim of the alleged scheme, a 75-year-old woman identified as C.S. in the indictment, was contacted on social media by the defendants using the profile “Aaron.Brain.” “Brain” claimed to be a businessperson living in Germany. “Brain” provided photos and discussed his business, claiming he was involved in a business supplying pipe for a sewer in Turkey. “Brain” provided photographs of industrial pipes in a warehouse. He told the victim she could make $600,000 in his business venture. He convinced C.S. to send 10 checks totaling $275,000 and make five wire transfers totaling $81,000 between April 2, 2018 and May 17, 2018.
The defendants and their unnamed co-conspirators used the name of a U.S. military general to befriend N.W., a 74-year-old woman, through social media. Using the persona of the general, they pretended to be a high-ranking officer at Ft. Bragg deployed overseas. They claimed to have a “portfolio” that was restricted due to customs fees and he needed her assistance to get his “portfolio” released. They instructed N.W. to send checks made out to several of defendants. The address they provided for mailing the checks was an address for Negedu in Vineyard, Utah, and other locations. N.W. sent approximately $140,150.
The maximum potential penalty for each of the first four counts in the indictment is 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 (or double the stolen amount). The penalty for each money laundering and money laundering conspiracy count is 10 years in federal prison and $250,000 (or double the laundered amount).
Anyanwu, Negedu, and Adigbolo were initially charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in late May. They were arraigned on the charges and entered pleas of not guilty. They will remain in custody pending resolution of the case after U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner found them to be a financial danger to the community, a risk of non-appearance, or both. Ukorebi, Maduagu, and Sotelo were previously charged by criminal complaint and arrested. Ukorebi and Maduagu were ordered detained pending trial. Sotelo is released on supervision pending trial. Nwanganga is incarcerated on unrelated charges. Kalu remains at large.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys in Salt Lake City are prosecuting the case. Special agents of the FBI and Postal Inspectors from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating the case.
The defendants were arrested and charged as part of DOJ’s Operation reWired, a coordinated international enforcement operation. (DOJ September 10, 2019 Press Release).