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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Tennessee

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, June 25, 2018

Eight Arrested in Africa-Based Cybercrime and Business Email Compromise Conspiracy

 

Memphis, TN – In accordance with the Justice Department’s recent efforts to disrupt business email compromise (BEC) schemes that are designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals, including many senior citizens, the Department announced Operation Keyboard Warrior, an effort coordinated by United States and international law enforcement to disrupt online frauds perpetrated from Africa. Eight individuals have been arrested for their roles in a widespread, Africa-based cyber conspiracy that allegedly defrauded U.S. companies and citizens of approximately $15 million since at least 2012.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant of the Western District of Tennessee, Executive Assistant Director David T. Resch of the FBI and Acting Special Agent in Charge William C. Hoffman of the FBI Memphis Field Office, made the announcement today.

Five individuals were arrested in the United States for their roles in the conspiracy including Javier Luis Ramos Alonso, 28, a Mexican citizen residing in Seaside, California; James Dean, 65, of Plainfield, Indiana; Dana Brady, 61, of Auburn, Washington; Rashid Abdulai, 24, a Ghanaian citizen residing in the Bronx, New York, who has been charged in a separate indictment; and Olufolajimi Abegunde, 31, a Nigerian citizen residing in Atlanta, Georgia. Maxwell Atugba Abayeta aka Maxwell Peter, 26, and Babatunde Martins, 62, of Ghana and Benard Emurhowhoariogho Okorhi, 39, a Nigerian citizen who resides in Ghana, have been arrested overseas and are pending extradition proceedings to face charges filed in the Western District of Tennessee.

The indictment also charges Sumaila Hardi Wumpini, 29; Dennis Miah, 34; Ayodeji Olumide Ojo, 35, and Victor Daniel Fortune Okorhi, 35, all of whom remain at large. Abegunde had his detention hearing today before U.S. District Court Judge Sheryl H.

Lipman of the Western District of Tennessee, who ordered him detained pending trial, which has been set for October 9, 2018.

"The defendants allegedly unleashed a barrage of international fraud schemes that targeted U.S. businesses and individuals, robbing them to the tune of approximately $15 million," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan. "The Department of Justice will continue to work with our international partners to aggressively disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises that victimize our citizens and businesses."

U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant said: "Frauds perpetrated through the Internet cause significant financial harm to businesses and individuals in our District and throughout the United States. Because those committing Internet fraud hide behind technology, the cases are difficult – but not impossible – to investigate. We will continue to deploy our resources to take on these difficult cases and seek justice for citizens harmed by Internet scammers."

"The devastating effects that cybercrime and business email compromise have on victims and victim companies cannot be understated, and the FBI has made it a priority to work with our law enforcement partners around the world to end these fraud schemes and protect the hard-earned assets of our citizens," said William C. Hoffman, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "These charges are the result of the diligence, hard work and tenacity of the best and smartest investigators and prosecutors, to overcome the challenges faced when dealing with sophisticated efforts to hide criminal activity that involves numerous people in multiple countries, and should send a signal that criminals will not go undetected and will be held accountable, regardless of where they are."

The indictment was returned by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on Aug. 23, 2017, and charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit computer fraud, and aggravated identity fraud.

The indictment alleges that the Africa-based co-conspirators committed, or caused to be committed, a series of intrusions into the servers and email systems of a Memphis-based real estate company in June and July 2016. Using sophisticated anonymization techniques, including the use of spoofed email addresses and Virtual Private Networks, the co-conspirators identified large financial transactions, initiated fraudulent email correspondence with relevant business parties, and then redirected closing funds through a network of U.S.-based money mules to final destinations in Africa. Commonly referred to as business email compromise, or BEC, this aspect of the scheme caused hundreds of thousands in loss to companies and individuals in Memphis.

In addition to BEC, the Africa-based defendants are also charged with perpetrating, or causing to be perpetrated, various romance scams, fraudulent-check scams, gold-buying scams, advance-fee scams, and credit card scams. The indictment alleges that the proceeds of these criminal activities, both money and goods, were shipped and/or transferred from the United States to locations in Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa

through a complex network of both complicit and unwitting individuals that had been recruited through the various Internet scams. The defendants are also charged with concealing their conduct by, among other means, stealing or fraudulently obtaining personal identification information (PII) and using that information to create fake online profiles and personas. Through all their various schemes, the defendants are believed to have caused millions in loss to victims across the globe.

An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The FBI led the investigation. The FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime of the Eastern Hemisphere Section of the Criminal Investigative Division, Major Cyber Crimes Unit of the Cyber Division, and International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center all provided significant support in this case, as did INTERPOL Washington, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Northern District of Georgia, Western District of Washington, Central District of California, Southern District of New York, and the Northern District of Illinois.

Senior Trial Attorney Timothy C. Flowers of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra L. Ireland of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee are prosecuting the case, with significant assistance from the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.

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Updated June 26, 2018