Just weeks after the arrest of Obinwanne Okeke, a young Nigerian businessman in the U.S. over fraud, federal prosecutors in the U.S. say about 80 people, mostly Nigerians, have been arraigned over a massive conspiracy to steal millions of dollars through a variety of fraud schemes.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office disclosed this on Thursday while announcing an indictment charging the 80 people with stealing at least $46 million through various schemes that targeted businesses, the elderly and anyone susceptible to a romance scam.
“We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in U.S. history,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna told a news conference. “We are taking a major step to disrupt these criminal networks.”
According to federal authorities, 14 people in the U.S. were arrested on Thursday and at least three other defendants are already in custody.
Six defendants live in the U.S. are fugitives while the remaining defendants live in other countries, mainly Nigeria.
All defendants face charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft. Some will also be charged with additional offences for alleged fraud and money laundering.
According to investigators, the accused used business compromise email schemes to target American citizens and their hard-earned assets.
“We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in US history. BEC scam is used to hack email accounts to convince businesses or individuals to make payments that are either completely bogus or that should have been otherwise paid to legitimate companies.
“Indictments showed very specific allegations against this suspects many of whom are based in Nigeria in terms of stealing money from victims. The indictment also focuses on those responsible for enabling these fraud schemes including operatives in Los Angeles.”
Valentine Iro, 31, of Carson, and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 38, of Gardena, both Nigerian citizens, were among the suspects arrested Thursday.
According to the indictment, co-conspirators allegedly contacted the two Nigerians for “bank and money-service accounts that could receive funds fraudulently obtained from victims.”
“These victims are used primarily as money mules, by allowing their bank accounts to be used to transfer stolen funds,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt.
The U.S. investigators said Iro and Igbokwe conducted schemes that resulted in the transfer of at least $6 million in fraudulently obtained funds.
“Billions of dollars are lost annually, and we urge citizens to be aware of these sophisticated financial schemes to protect themselves or their businesses from becoming unsuspecting victims,” said Delacourt.
Last weekend, social media went into a frenzy when news broke that Nigerian businessman Okeke had been arrested for allegedly defrauding top American companies of huge sums of money.
Okeke, who is popularly known as Invictus Obi in Nigeria and had been honoured by Forbes recently as one of the youngest enterprising individuals in Africa, is facing prosecution in a U.S. court.
The 31-year-old was arrested earlier this month after the Special Agent Marshall Ward of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and his team launched an investigation in July 2018, following a petition by Unatrac Holding Limited.
The F.B.I. had, in June 2018, received complaints from Unatrac, an international subsidiary of heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, that Okeke gained unauthorised access to the e-mail account of its chief financial officer and was behind a series of fake invoices totalling $11 million.
Below are the names of the Nigerian suspects indicted in the $46 million alleged fraud case: