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Texas Nigerian nationals sentenced to federal prison for money laundering scheme

AUSTIN, Texas — In Austin on Wednesday afternoon, a Nigerian national formerly residing in Houston was sentenced to 135 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $5,378,292.03 for his role in a money laundering scheme.

Bameyi Kelvin Omale, 32, was arrested in May of last year along with other Texas Nigerian nationals involved in the scheme to launder millions of dollars derived from business email compromise (BEC) schemes.

Three others – Chinonso Agbaji, a 30-year-old Houston resident, Igho Calaba, a 26-year-old Austin resident and Chibuzor Stanley Uba, a 31-year-old resident of San Antonio – pleaded guilty to the same charge. Last month, Agbaji was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison; Uba to 36 months in federal prison; and Calaba to 30 months in federal prison.

A fifth man, Nnamdi Nwosu, a 33-year-old Houston resident, is wanted on charges of conspiracy to launder money instruments and one count of passport fraud. He remains a fugitive.

Two others involved in the scheme were also sentenced.

In Feb. 2019, 28-year-old Joseph Odibobhahemen of Austin pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy. In December 2018, 32-year-old Nosa Onaghise of Austin pleaded guilty to one count of passport fraud in furtherance of the money laundering conspiracy.

Odibobhahemen was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $1,639,419.57. Onaghise is scheduled to be sentenced next week.

According to the indictment, the money was largely derived from BEC schemes perpetrated against U.S. and foreign victims. The scheme began sometime before Nov. 2016. More than $10 million was allegedly sent by victims to accounts controlled by the defendants, who were able to take in excess of $3 million before the fraudulent transfers were stopped by law enforcement of financial institutions.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in a BEC scheme, scammers target businesses and individuals making wire transfer payments, often targeting employees with access to company finances. The scammers trick the employees into making wire transfer payments to bank accounts thought to belong to trusted partners, but instead the money ends up in accounts controlled by the scammers. Sometimes the scammers use computer intrusion techniques to alter legitimate payment request emails, changing the recipient bank accounts, while other times they send spoofed emails from email addresses similar to trusted partners. Either way, the scammers need bank accounts controlled by co-conspirators to collect the stolen money.

The indictment said that the conspirators in this case acquired or controlled dozens of bank accounts opened in the U.S., including in Austin, utilizing fraudulent identification documents, including fake passports. The indictment said that once the funds were procured and deposited into these fake accounts, the defendants worked quickly to withdraw or transfer the money.

The indictment alleged that some of the conspirators also received funds sent by the victims of romance fraud.

Money laundering conspiracy calls for up to 20 years in federal prison upon conviction, while passport fraud calls for up to 10 years in federal prison upon conviction.

If you have any information about the whereabouts of Nnamdi Nwosu, contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form.

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