Seven Sentenced in Money Laundering Scheme Involving Proceeds from Multiple Foreign Scams that Targeted U.S. Victims
One Additional Extradited Co-conspirator Pleaded Guilty in Federal Court Yesterday in Austin
In Austin today, a federal judge sentenced two Nigerian citizens and a Houston man to federal prison for their roles in a money laundering conspiracy that collected millions of dollars from victims located across the country, announced United States Attorney John F. Bash; Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), San Antonio; Acting Special Agent in Charge Andy Tsui, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI); and, Inspector in Charge Adrian Gonzalez, United States Postal Inspection Service, Houston Division.
United States District Judge Sam Sparks sentenced:
- Nathaniel Itimi, a 46-year-old native of Nigeria and current U.S. citizen residing in Houston, to 97 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay, jointly and severally, $1,672,805.51 restitution;
- Lewis Akpomofune, a 41-year-old citizen of Nigeria residing in Houston, to 108 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay, jointly and severally, $1,672,805.51 restitution; and,
- Michael Omoh Okiki, a 37-year-old citizen of Nigeria residing in Houston, to 57 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay, jointly and severally, $1,213,354.94 restitution.
“Today’s sentencing reflects the commitment of the Department of Justice to destroy the money-laundering networks that facilitate fraud against the most vulnerable Americans, such as the elderly,” stated United States Attorney John F. Bash.
Last year, all three defendants pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Four other individuals received federal prison terms in connection with this investigation. They are:
- Ayibatonye Bienzigha, a 23-year-old citizen of Nigeria residing in New Jersey, received 37 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $51,307 restitution;
- Eghosa Obaretin, a 30-year-old citizen of Nigeria residing in Austin, received 40 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $677,303.83 restitution and forfeit $222,000;
- Roland Imoe, a 37-year-old native of Nigeria and current U.S. citizen residing in Austin, ten months in federal prison and ordered to pay $25,632 restitution; and,
- Augustine Ikolo, a 41-year-old citizen of Nigeria residing in Austin, received 97 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $842,970 restitution.
Previously, Obaretin and Imoe pleaded guilty to one count of Passport Fraud; Bienzigha, to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; and, Ikolo to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
In December 2017, co-defendant Ochuko Sylvester Eruotor, a 43-year-old resident of Canada and citizen of Nigeria, was extradited from Germany to the United States after being arrested with assistance from Interpol. Yesterday in Austin, Eruotor pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He remains in federal custody awaiting sentencing. No sentencing date has been scheduled.
Court documents showed that this investigation targeted a money laundering network that laundered the proceeds of various fraud schemes perpetrated against U.S. victims by scammers based in Canada, Nigeria, and the United States. The schemes included: “grandson-in-jail” frauds over the phone targeting elderly victims; fake investment scams; business email compromise scams; Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) tax filing scams; and, romance victim scams.
The money launderers opened bank accounts, sometimes using fraudulent passports in fake identities, or hired others to open bank accounts in order to facilitate their scheme. Those U.S.-based bank accounts would receive the fraudulently obtained funds from the victims. The U.S.-based conspirators quickly withdrew the money from the bank accounts with a portion of the fraud proceeds kept as a fee. Then the remainder of the funds were sent to Canada or Nigeria. To date, law enforcement has identified in excess of $3.5 million dollars of fraud proceeds from hundreds of victims laundered by the conspiracy.
“Today’s actions will not only bring a sense of justice to the victims in this case, but this significant investigation will also help increase awareness of this type of fraud,” said Shane Folden, Special Agent in Charge, HSI San Antonio. “To potential victims, we encourage you to be vigilant and if you feel like you are being scammed, please contact law enforcement to report the suspected scam before you make a payment. There are criminals who are always seeking to exploit the vulnerable in our communities for their own personal gain.”
“The defendants who perpetrated this scheme systematically defrauded innocent American citizens,” stated Andy Tsui, IRS Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge, San Antonio Field Office. “Protecting taxpayer money is a matter we take very seriously. IRS-Criminal Investigation will continue to vigorously pursue those who unjustly enrich themselves by creating elaborate money laundering schemes such as this one.”
Agents with HSI, IRS-CI, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigated this case. The United States Marshals Service provided assistance with Eruotor’s extradition. Assistant United States Attorney Michael C. Galdo prosecuted this case on behalf of the Government.