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Press Release

Nigerian Citizen Sentenced in Connection with International Ring of Online Romance Scams

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Tennessee

Memphis, TN – A Nigerian citizen residing in Georgia has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for his role in a conspiracy that perpetuated a series of romance and investment scams against victims across the United States, including in Western Tennessee. Efe Egbowawa, 40, was convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering as part of a scheme that used false identities and email accounts on internet dating sites to trick people into wiring or mailing money to shell companies and fictitious agents.  Kevin G. Ritz, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee announced the sentencing today.

A federal grand jury in the Western District of Tennessee indicted Egbowawa and the following individuals on June 29, 2023 with conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering:

  • Igocha Mac-Okor, 40, a Nigerian citizen residing in the Atlanta area, and
  • Kay Ozegbe, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in Atlanta.  

Evidence presented in court revealed that from 2017 to approximately November 2021, conspiracy members assumed false identities on email, social media, gaming applications, networking websites, dating websites, and other internet-based platforms in a scheme to trick victims into entering friendships and romantic relationships. The defendants then played various roles in exploiting those connections to convince their victims to send them money via wire, check, U.S. mail, and package delivery services.

As part of the conspiracy, romance scammers or “handlers” posed as potential friends or romantic partners and entered online relationships with unwitting victims. The relationships usually developed quickly through social media contact, text messages, email, and phone calls. Once the victim was clearly engaged in the scam, the scammer would begin to ask for emergency financial assistance. If the victim sent money, the scammer would ask for increasingly larger amounts of financial assistance.

Members of the conspiracy played different roles. Some functioned as the scammers, disguising their identities with online aliases, and luring unsuspecting victims into relationships. Others functioned as “money mules,” that is, individuals who moved the financial proceeds of the scams through several layers of bank accounts and shell companies to hide the sources of the money and make it difficult to trace.

On April 17, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker sentenced Egbowawa to 60 months in federal prison. Ozegbe pled guilty on January 29 to conspiracy to commit money laundering and will be sentenced on May 24, 2024. Mac-Okor is scheduled for trial on August 5, 2024.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Memphis Field Office and the United States Postal Investigation Service.

United States Attorney Kevin Ritz thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Smith, who prosecuted this case, as well as law enforcement partners for their role in the investigation.


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Updated April 30, 2024