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Press Release

Austin-Based Nigerian National Sentenced to Federal Prison for Role in Furthering a Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering

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

In Austin today, a federal judge sentenced a Nigerian National residing in Austin to 78 months in federal prison for laundering more than $1.7 Million in Business Email Compromise (BEC) scam proceeds stolen from multiple companies, announced U.S. Attorney John F. Bash; Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), San Antonio; and, Inspector in Charge Adrian Gonzalez, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Houston Division

In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ordered that 28-year-old Joseph Odibobhahemen pay $1,639,419.57 in restitution; pay a $1.5 million money judgment; and, be placed on supervised release for a period of three years after completing his prison term.

In a BEC scheme, scammers target businesses and individuals making wire transfer payments, often targeting employees with access to company finances. The scammers trick the employees into making wire transfer payments to bank accounts thought to belong to trusted partners—except the money ends up in accounts controlled by the fraudsters. Sometimes the scammers use computer intrusion techniques to alter legitimate payment request emails, changing the recipient bank accounts. Sometimes they send spoofed emails from email addresses similar to the real email accounts used by trusted partners.

On February 7, 2019, Odibobhahemen pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Odibobhahemen’s co-defendant in this indictment, Nosa Onaghise, pleaded guilty to one count of passport fraud on December 28, 2018.  Onaghise, another Nigerian citizen residing in Austin, admitted to attempting to use a false, forged or counterfeit passport to open several bank accounts in the U.S. in April 2018.  Onaghise faces up to ten years in federal prison.  He remains in federal custody pending sentencing scheduled for 10:00am on February 19, 2020, before Judge Pitman.

Court records in this indictment (A18cr358), and the indictment also returned in Austin against four other coconspirators (A19cr78), show that between November 2016 and April 2019, over $10 million was allegedly sent by victims to accounts controlled by the conspirators, who were able to take in excess of $6 million before law enforcement or financial institutions stopped the fraudulent transfers. Odibobhahemen and the others acquired or controlled dozens of bank accounts opened in the U.S., including in Austin, utilizing fraudulent identification documents, including fraudulent foreign passports in fake names.  Once the funds were fraudulently procured and deposited into these bogus accounts, the defendants worked quickly to withdraw or transfer the funds.

The four additional co-conspirators—Bameyi Omale, Chinonso Agbaji, Igho Calaba and Chibuzor Uba—have all pleaded guilty and await sentencing on January 30, 2020.

“This sentencing serves as a real warning to those who use deception to victimize our citizens while defrauding the financial system for personal gain,” said Shane Folden, special agent in charge for HSI San Antonio. “HSI is committed to pursuing thieves such as Mr. Odibobhahemen who brazenly enrich themselves through fraud. HSI will continue to utilize its broad investigative authorities to dismantle transnational criminal organizations who blatantly ignore the laws of this nation.”

Special agents with HSI and USPIS investigated this case.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Galdo and Keith Henneke are prosecuting this case on behalf of the Government.

Updated December 20, 2019

Financial Fraud