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Thursday, 1 November 2018

NIGERIAN ONLINE SCAMMERS PLEAD GUILTY IN US $0.854M FRAUD



A Nigerian national admitted Tuesday that he used spoofed email messages to redirect a payment for a Deerfield home to the bank account of an unwitting Iowa woman, who then sent the money on to him.

Clement Onuama, 53, of Arlington, Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud and will face up to five years in federal prison when he is sentenced on Oct. 30 by U.S. District Judge William Conley.

Madison.com reports that the real estate fraud scheme, carried out in 2014, was just one of several scams that Onuama admitted to perpetrating, but from it he gained the attention of federal investigators, leading to his arrest in Texas on Nov. 1.

Under plea agreements with federal prosecutors, Onuama and his co-defendant, Orefo Okeke, 41, also of Arlington, Texas, will likely be ordered to pay $854,755 in restitution when they are sentenced.

Okeke is scheduled to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud on July 26.

Asked by Conley specifically what he did, Onuama said, “Money was wired into my account. It wasn’t mine. It belonged to other people.”

Scams against a number of targets were carried out in different ways — real estate scams, romance scams, credit card fraud, identity theft, among them — Onuama admitted to Conley.

The real estate scam in 2014 happened when a Madison real estate agent, handling the sale of a home in Deerfield to a couple who had bad credit, was tricked into sending nearly $130,000 from a Chicago lender to the bank account of an Iowa woman, according to court documents.

The agent had just confirmed with a Stevens Point title company that the money was to be sent to an account at BMO Harris Bank. But the agent then received another email purportedly from the title company — actually from Onuama pretending to be the title company — changing the destination to an account at a Wells Fargo Bank in Bettendorf, Iowa. The agent acknowledged the change and sent the money there, documents state.

The woman whose account received the money had been involved in an online romantic relationship with a man who told her that he was in Spain and needed to transfer money, and asked to use her bank account to hold it.

She gave him her bank account details. Her account then received two money transfers, according to documents.

Later, she told authorities, the man told her to transfer $80,000 of the money to Onuama and $50,000 to another person. The woman did, despite not knowing either of them.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Graber said Tuesday that Onuama’s bank in Texas became suspicious and questioned the $80,000 transfer, but Onuama insisted the money was to pay for cars that he was going to export to Nigeria. He never provided proof of that claim, however, Graber said.

The plea agreement with Onuama states that he will give full and complete statements about his crimes and will testify at any trials or hearings in the future. Prosecutors could ask to adjust his sentence later based on his cooperation.

Graber said that Onuama and Okeke represent just some of the people working schemes in the U.S.

“They’re the money launderers,” he said. Other members of the scheme work from Nigeria, where they can’t be touched by U.S. authorities, he said. Onuama said in court, for example, that “someone else” was the man who romanced the Iowa woman.

Graber said that Onuama faces deportation once he serves his sentence.

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