Thursday, July 18, 2024

Convicted Nigerian money launderer faces 25 years in U.S. jail

Mr Obiora organised scheme to receive over $6.5 million in criminal proceeds from business email compromise frauds.

• June 15, 2024
Rows of Dollars bundles
Rows of Dollars bundles used to illustrate the story

BOSTON – A Nigerian man, formerly of Massachusetts, pleaded guilty today to his role in separate schemes to launder criminal proceeds from fraud and obtaining a United States passport through false statements.

Chukwunonso Obiora, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of passport fraud conspiracy and one count of money laundering conspiracy. United States District Judge Indira Talwani scheduled sentencing for Oct. 8, 2024. Obiora was arrested on a complaint in October 2023 in Atlanta, Ga. and was ordered held pending trial. He was indicted in January 2024.

According to the charging documents, between at least as early as March 2021 and May 2023, Obiora and several co-conspirators agreed to receive and withdraw the proceeds of business email compromises (BECs) from bank accounts that they controlled, and to direct those funds to other co-conspirators, in exchange for a cut of the criminal proceeds.

BECs are a type of fraud scheme that targets companies that make regular business payments by wire. Cybercriminals use email to impersonate trusted parties to the payments in order to trick the victim companies into sending money to bank accounts controlled by participants in the scheme.

The defendant’s money laundering conspiracy—of which he admitted to being a leader and organizer—involved the following steps:

Obtaining individual victims’ means of identification and using that information to create fake driver’s licenses, incorporate businesses and open bank accounts in the victims’ names;

Providing the bank accounts to co-conspirators involved in the BEC schemes as accounts to which victims could be tricked into sending wires;
withdrawing money quickly from the bank accounts once the wire transfers arrived, before victim companies learned that they had been tricked into sending money; and

Depositing the proceeds into other accounts, and wiring BEC scheme proceeds to the defendant and others in Nigeria, China and elsewhere.

The defendant and his co-conspirators took steps to conceal the existence of the conspiracy, including by forging business invoices and writing false memos on checks to suggest that the BEC scheme proceeds deposited into Destination Accounts were legitimate business revenues; and by making false statements to banks regarding the nature of the BEC scheme proceeds that were deposited into Destination Accounts.

The defendant and his U.S.-based co-conspirators shared at least as much as 40 percent of the deposited BEC scheme proceeds as payment for their roles in the conspiracy. Across just two-plus years, the defendant and his co-conspirators engaged in at least $6.5 million in financial transactions involving the proceeds of BEC schemes.

After immigration authorities removed the defendant from the United States in December 2021, he agreed with a close relative who is an American citizen to obtain a U.S. passport in the relative’s name, which the defendant could use to re-enter the United States illegally. The relative reported his passport lost or stolen and, in May 2023, applied for a new passport at a U.S. Post Office in Watertown, Mass..

The sworn application had the relative’s name on it, but a picture of the defendant. The relative sent the issued passport to the defendant, who, in October 2023, used the passport to travel from Nigeria to Detroit, Mich., where the defendant presented himself as his relative at the U.S. border.

The charge of passport fraud conspiracy provides a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge of money laundering conspiracy provides a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $500,000 or twice the amount of the financial transactions that were the object of the conspiracy, forfeiture and restitution. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.

Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy and Michael J. Krol, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations New England made the announcement today. Valuable assistance was provided by the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, Criminal Investigations Division. Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth B. Kosto, Deputy Chief of the Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit is prosecuting the case.

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