Five Texas Men Sentenced to Federal Prison for their Roles in Scheme to Launder Millions from Business Email Compromise Fraud
In Austin this afternoon, a federal judge sentenced a Nigerian National formerly residing in Houston to 135 months in federal prison for his role in laundering millions derived from Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes, 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 32-year-old Bameyi Kelvin Omale pay $5,378,292.03 in restitution.
“At DOJ we take cyber-theft extremely seriously, and we work tirelessly to protect our economy from sophisticated criminal schemes that target American businesses and consumers,” stated U.S. Attorney Bash.
“Today’s sentencing highlights HSI’s commitment to imposing consequences on cybercriminals, no matter who they are or where they are,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Folden. “The vast scope of this criminal scheme had a devastating effect on businesses, consumers and financial institutions. HSI is uniquely positioned to investigate and mitigate weaknesses within the U.S. financial, trade, and transportation sector that can be exploited by transnational criminal networks.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to defending the nation’s mail system from illegal use,” stated USPIS Inspector in Charge Gonzalez. “The sentence handed down today will send a clear message to those criminals who decide to use the U.S. mail in furtherance of their deceptive schemes. Postal Inspectors will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and bring them to justice.”
On September 24, 2019, Omale pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. Prior to Omale, three of his four co-defendants–Chinonso Agbaji, a 30-year-old resident of Houston; Igho Calaba, a 26-year-old resident of Austin; and Chibuzor Stanley Uba, a 31-year-old resident of San Antonio–also pleaded guilty to the same charge. Last month, Judge Pitman sentenced: Agbaji to 78 months in federal prison; Uba to 36 months in federal prison; and, Calaba to 30 months in federal prison.
The fourth co-defendant, Nnamdi Nwosu, a 33-year-old resident of Houston, is charged by indictment with one count of conspiracy to launder money instruments and one count of passport fraud in furtherance of the money laundering conspiracy. Nwosu remains a fugitive in this case.
Two other defendants involved in this scheme have also pleaded guilty to federal charges and have been sentenced. In December, Judge Pitman sentenced Joseph Odibobhahemen, a 29-year-old resident of Austin who pleaded guilty to the same money laundering conspiracy charge, to 78 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay $1,639,419.57 in restitution. Judge Pitman is scheduled to sentence the final defendant, Nosa Onaghise, next week. In December 2018, the 33-year-old resident of Austin, pleaded guilty to one count of passport fraud in furtherance of the money laundering conspiracy. As alleged in court documents, they were acting as part of the same scheme to launder funds from BEC fraud.
According court records, the funds were largely derived from BEC schemes perpetrated against U.S. and foreign victims. Over $10 million was allegedly sent by victims to accounts controlled by the defendants, who were able to take in excess of $3 million before law enforcement or financial institutions stopped the fraudulent transfers. 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 trusted partners.
Whatever the BEC method used, the scammers need bank accounts controlled by coconspirators to collect the stolen money. The indictment alleges that the conspirators acquired or controlled dozens of bank accounts opened in the U.S., including in Austin, TX, utilizing fraudulent identification documents, including fraudulent foreign passports in fake names. The indictment alleges that once the funds were fraudulently procured and deposited into these bogus accounts, the defendants worked quickly to withdraw or transfer the funds.
The indictment further alleges that some of the conspirators also received funds sent by the victims of romance fraud.
This indictment resulted from a continuing investigation by HSI and USPIS. The FBI also assisted in the investigation as did the California Highway Patrol. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of Texas and the Southern District of New York also provided assistance. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Galdo and Keith Henneke are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of Nnamdi Nwosu is asked to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE encourages the public to report any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.
Money laundering conspiracy calls for up to 20 years in federal prison upon conviction; passport fraud calls for up to 10 years in federal prison upon conviction.
It is important to note that an indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. Nwosu is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.