The United States of America has unsealed a 252-count federal grand
jury indictment against 77 Nigerians.

In the 145-page indictment released by the US Department of Justice,
the defendants are accused of participating in massive online frauds
to defraud victims and money laundering.

The indictment was unsealed after law enforcement authorities arrested
14 defendants across the US.

Valentine Iro, 31,  and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 38, were
arrested for alleged involvement in schemes resulting in the
fraudulent transfer of at least $6 million in fraudulently obtained
funds, and the overall conspiracy was responsible for the attempted
theft of at least an additional $40 million.

Speaking for the justice department, US attorney Nick Hanna, said:
“The indictment alleges that the 80 defendants and others used various
online fraud schemes – including business email compromise (BEC)
frauds, romance scams, and schemes targeting the elderly – to defraud
victims out of millions of dollars. According to a criminal complaint
also unsealed today, co-conspirators based in Nigeria, the United
States and other countries contacted the lead defendants in the
indictment – Valentine Iro, 31, of Carson, and Chukwudi Christogunus
Igbokwe, 38, of Gardena, both Nigerian citizens – for bank and
money-service accounts that could receive funds fraudulently obtained
from victims.

"Once members of the conspiracy convinced victims to send money under
false pretenses, Iro and Igbokwe coordinated the receipt of funds and
oversaw an extensive money-laundering network, according to the
145-page indictment. See Also Corruption Full List Of Nigerians Indicted By US Government

“The indictment and criminal complaint allege that Iro and Igbokwe,
who were among those arrested this morning, were involved in schemes
resulting in the fraudulent transfer of at least $6 million in
fraudulently-obtained funds – and the overall conspiracy was
responsible for the attempted theft of at least an additional $40
million.

“The fraudsters targeted victims in the United States and across the
globe, including individuals, small and large businesses, and law
firms. Some of the victims of the conspiracy lost hundreds of
thousands of dollars to fraud schemes, and many were elderly. This
case is part of our ongoing efforts to protect Americans from
fraudulent online schemes and to bring to justice those who prey upon
American citizens and businesses."

Hanna added, "We have taken a major step to disrupt criminal networks
that use BEC schemes, romance scams and other frauds to fleece
victims. This indictment sends a message that we will identify
perpetrators – no matter where they reside – and we will cut off the
flow of ill-gotten gains.”

Similarly, the assistant director in charge, Paul Delacourt of the
FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, noted: "(The) announcement highlights
the extensive efforts that organized criminal groups will engage in to
perpetrate BEC schemes that target American citizens and their
hard-earned assets.

“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. The FBI is
committed to working with our partner agencies worldwide to continue
to identify these cybercriminals and to dismantle their networks.

“Iro and Igbokwe essentially were brokers of fraudulent bank accounts.
According to the indictment, Iro and Igbokwe collected bank accounts,
fielded requests for bank account information, provided that
information to co-conspirators around the world, and laundered the
money obtained from victims – all of this in exchange for a cut of the
money stolen from victims of the various fraud schemes."

Delacourt pointed out further, “If a bank account with a specific
business name was required to trick a business-victim into making a
payment, Iro and Igbokwe often coordinated with “money mules” to open
accounts that could receive funds obtained, according to court
documents. In addition to making the fake business name mirror the
name of a legitimate company, members of the conspiracy routinely
filed fictitious business name statements with the Los Angeles County
Registrar/Recorder’s Office that were presented to banks when the
fraudulent accounts were opened.

“Once a victim deposited funds into a bank account or a money services
account, Iro and Igbokwe allegedly coordinated with others to further
launder the funds. Members of the conspiracy sometimes wired funds to
other bank accounts under their control; in other cases, they simply
withdrew funds as cash or negotiable instruments such as cashier’s
checks.

 “When stolen funds were withdrawn as cash, the defendants frequently
used illicit money exchangers to move funds overseas, generally
avoiding transferring the funds directly through banking institutions,
the indictment alleges. To do this, Iro and Igbokwe coordinated the
transfer of a victim’s funds from a fraudulent bank account they
controlled to U.S. bank accounts belonging to illicit money
exchangers. Those money exchangers, in turn, used a Nigerian banking
application to transfer other funds in naira (₦), the currency of
Nigeria, from Nigerian bank accounts they controlled to the Nigerian
bank accounts specified by Iro and Igbokwe."

This method, he said, was used to transfer millions of dollars to
their Nigerian co-conspirators without directly transferring funds
overseas.

The indictment alleged that Jerry Ikogho, 50, of Carson (who was taken
into custody on Sunday), and Adegoke Moses Ogungbe, 34, of Fontana,
were among those who served as illicit money exchangers for the
conspiracy.

Each of the defendants named in the indictment was charged with
conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and
aggravated identity theft.

A number of the defendants also face substantive fraud and money
laundering charges.

Additionally, Iro, Igbokwe, Ikogho, Ogungbe, and three other
defendants –Izuchukwu Kingsley Umejesi, 30, of Los Angeles, Tityaye
Marina Mansbangura, 33, of Palmdale, and Obi Madekwe, 31, of Nigeria –
were charged with operating illegal money transmitting businesses.
Ogungbe and Mansbangura were also among those arrested, and Umejesi
considered a fugitive is currently being sought by authorities.

Delacourt continued: “Iro, Igbokwe and Chuks Eroha, 39, face
additional charges for attempting to destroy their phones when the FBI
executed a search warrant in July 2017. Iro also is charged with lying
to the FBI in an interview conducted during the search. The complaint
alleges that, when the FBI arrived to conduct the court-authorized
search at Iro’s apartment in Carson, Iro broke his phone in half,
while Igbokwe and Eroha threw phones from a bedroom window of the
apartment.

"While Iro claimed he previously had broken the phone during an
argument with his wife, the complaint details how the FBI was able to
determine that the phone was operational until seconds after the FBI
knocked on Iro’s apartment door to execute the search warrant. Eroha
is believed to have fled to Nigeria shortly after the FBI executed the
warrant.

“The charges contained in the criminal complaint and indictment are
merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless
and until proven guilty in a court. This investigation is being led by
the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Los Angeles County District
Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and
the United States Department of State provided substantial assistance
during the investigation.

Documents obtained by SaharaReporters showed that several agencies
provided support during the takedown or during the investigation,
including the United States Postal Inspection Service, U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security
Investigations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.
Customs and Border Protection, the Ventura County District Attorney’s
Office and the California Franchise Tax Board.

Many of the FBI’s legal attachés provided assistance throughout the
investigation, including the Criminal Division’s Office of
International Affairs, and foreign authorities around the world.

"In particular," said Delacourt, "the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office
thank the National Crime Agency in the United Kingdom and the Public
Prosecutor’s Office of Osnabrück, Germany for their contributions.

“This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys
Anil J. Antony and Joseph B. Woodring of the Cyber and Intellectual
Property Crimes Section.

“The FBI in 2017 issued a report on the rise of BEC schemes and
published a recap of 2018’s Operation WireWire, which was an
international effort to disrupt international BEC scams. An FBI public
service announcement that warns of the dangers of BEC schemes
encourages businesses to 'trust but verify'.”

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