Monday, May 20, 2024

Nigerian transnational fraudster captured, convicted after scamming 400 U.S. citizens in multimillion-dollar fraud scheme

“Fraudsters like this individual proved to be unethical by ruthlessly targeting the elderly in the name of greed,” said HSI special agent Francisco B. Burrola.

• May 3, 2024
U.S. PRISON
U.S. PRISON [CREDIT; BBC]

A sixth Nigerian national pleaded guilty to operating a transnational inheritance fraud scheme that defrauded elderly and vulnerable consumers across the United States.

According to court documents, Amos Prince Okey Ezemma, 50, was a member of a group of fraudsters that sent personalized letters to elderly victims in the United States over the course of several years. 

The letters falsely claimed that the sender was a representative of a bank in Spain and that the recipient was entitled to receive a multimillion-dollar inheritance left for the recipient by a family member who had died overseas years before. 

Ezemma and his co-conspirators told a series of lies to victims, including that, before they could receive their purported inheritance, they were required to send money for delivery fees, taxes and other payments to avoid questioning from government authorities. 

Ezemma and his co-conspirators collected money victims sent in response to the fraudulent letters through a complex web of U.S.-based former victims, whom the defendants convinced to receive money and forward to the defendants or persons associated with them. 

Victims who sent money never received any purported inheritance funds. In pleading guilty, Ezemma admitted to defrauding over $6 million from more than 400 victims, many of whom were elderly or otherwise vulnerable.

“The Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch will pursue, prosecute and secure the convictions of transnational criminals responsible for defrauding U.S. consumers, wherever they are located. I thank our law enforcement partners at the Postal Inspection Service, at Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and abroad for their tireless efforts to find and arrest those responsible for these crimes,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Justice Department and U.S. law enforcement will continue to work closely with law enforcement partners across the globe to bring to justice criminals who attempt to defraud U.S. victims.”

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a long tradition of protecting American citizens from these types of schemes and bringing those responsible to justice,” said Postal Inspector in Charge Juan A. Vargas of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Miami Division. “This guilty plea is a testament to the dedicated partnership between the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, HSI, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, to protect our citizens from these scams.”

“Fraudsters like this individual proved to be unethical by ruthlessly targeting the elderly in the name of greed,” said Special Agent in Charge Francisco B. Burrola of HSI Arizona. “This case like many others, demonstrates the power of agencies working together to protect senior citizens from thieves like this defendant.”

On May 2, Ezemma pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Ezemma is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams on July 22. Ezemma faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. 

With Ezemma’s guilty plea today, all six defendants charged in the indictment have now been convicted for participating in this scheme.

Five other defendants have already been convicted and sentenced by Judge Williams in connection with this scheme. 

On Nov. 1, 2023, the court sentenced Ezennia Peter Neboh, who was extradited from Spain, to 128 months in prison. On Oct. 20, 2023, Kennedy Ikponmwosa was sentenced to 97 months in prison. 

Three other defendants who were extradited from the United Kingdom also received prison sentences. Emmanuel Samuel, Jerry Chucks Ozor and Iheanyichukwu Jonathan Abraham were sentenced to 82 months, 87 months and 90 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in the scheme.

USPIS, HSI and the Consumer Protection Branch are investigating the case. Senior Trial Attorney and Transnational Criminal Litigation Coordinator Phil Toomajian and Trial Attorneys Josh Rothman and Brianna Gardner of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and authorities from the UK, Spain and Portugal all provided critical assistance.

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