Two Nigerians, Chiwendu Azuonwu and Basil Amadi, may be facing between two and 10 years in a US prison after they were charged to court for allegedly defrauding a 68-year-old Texas woman in a romance scam.
The woman was duped out of $100,000 in a catfishing scam where she was led to believe she was dating pop star, Bruno Mars.
Azuonwu, 39, a Nigerian national and permanent resident of Houston, appeared in court on Tuesday, accused of posing as Mars on Instagram as part of the scam to swindle the victim out of her savings.
Kotton Port Rail Centre Television reported that Azuonwu was charged with third-degree felony and money laundering, and was taken into custody this week.
In court documents, his co-conspirator was identified as Basil Amadi, 29, also a Nigerian national.
The victim, a resident of North Richland Hills, Texas, told the police that in 2018 she created a profile on Instagram "in search of companionship."
She then was approached online by someone claiming to be Bruno Mars. During these interactions on Instagram and Google Hangouts, the woman told investigators that she "fell in love" with the person she thought was Mars.
Also, the scammer posing as Mars told the woman that he planned to quit his tour so that he could be with her.
The woman told the police that she believed at the time that she was communicating with the 11-time Grammy Award winner after she received text messages showing Mars performing while he was on tour.
In September 2018, the defrauder demanded that the woman should send him a $10,000 cheque to help cover touring expenses, according to the police.
After the woman had agreed, she went to a local branch of the Wells Fargo bank in North Richland Hills and withdrew a cashier’s cheque made out to "Basil Chidiadi Amadi," a person described as a "friend of the band," according to authorities.
The woman deposited the check into an account at JPMorgan Chase and then returned to her bank and withdrew a cashier’s cheque that was made out to "Chi Autos" - "at the request of 'Mars.'"
The second cheque was deposited on September 14, 2018, into a separate bank account at JPMorgan Chase, according to detectives.
However, security agents required bank records and traced the two JPMorgan Chase accounts to Azuonwu and Amadi, and then ran their names through the database of drivers’ license holders and found their pictures.
According to Harris County prosecutors, Azuonwu acknowledged that he was the owner of one of the bank accounts in question, though he denied ever knowing Amadi.
He also said he did not know how $90,000 was deposited into his account, according to the criminal complaint.
Amadi also told investigators that he did not know Azuonwu. He also could not explain the source of the $10,000 payment that appeared in his bank records.
Though Azuonwu’s bail was set at $30,000, if both are convicted, they risk two to ten 10 years in state prison.