No fewer than five Nigerians, one of them extradited from Canada, and three Americans, have been indicted by the United States Justice Department for their role in a fraudulent “sweepstakes” or lotto scam with an intended loss in excess of $300million.
The Nigerian extradited from Canada, last Thursday, is known as Harry Cole and has several aliases, according to a statement issued by the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
The 50 year-old Nigerian, normally resident in Canada, is known as Akintomide Ayoola Bolu, John King, Big Bro and Egbon.
He would now face federal charges for his alleged role in the fraudulent scam.
A federal grand jury indictment, returned in September, 2018, charges Cole with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud (sweepstakes) and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Each count, upon conviction, calls for up to 20 years in federal prison.
Cole, who remains in federal custody, is one of eight defendants charged in connection with the scheme.
The others include: Nigerian Akintola Akinmadeyemi; Americans Joel Calvin and Clarence Barefield (aka CJ), both resident in Austin and Mesquite, TX, resident Donna Lundy.
Others are Nigerian citizens and Canadian residents Emmanuel Olawale Ajayi (aka Wale, aka Walata), Tony Dada Akinbobola (aka Lawrence D Awoniyi, aka Boss Tony, aka Toyin) and Bolaji Akinwunmi Oyewole (aka BJ, aka Beejay).
According to the indictment, the defendants carried out their sweepstakes scheme from 2012 to 2016.
Cole allegedly purchased lists from Lundy of elderly potential victims and their addresses.
He and other conspirators based in the Toronto, Ontario Canada metropolitan area sent packages containing fraudulent sweepstakes information to conspirators residing in the U.S.
The packages contained thousands of mailers, which U.S.-based conspirators sent to victims notifying them that they had won a sweepstakes.
Each mailer included a fraudulent check issued in the name of the victim, usually in the amount of $8,000, and a pre-addressed envelope.
Victims were instructed to deposit the check into their bank account, immediately withdraw between $5,000 and $7,000 in cash or money orders and send the money to a “sweepstakes representative” to facilitate the victim collecting his or her prize.
By the time the victim was notified by the bank that the deposited check was fraudulent, the cash or money order had been sent by the victim and received by the defendants or conspirators.
The intended loss from this scheme was over $300million, with an actual loss of more than $900,000.
The indictment also alleges that from June, 2015 through June, 2016, Emmanuel Ajayi led a Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) scheme in which over 1,200 fraudulent Income Tax Returns were filed using stolen Personal Identifying Information (PII) requesting $25million in tax refunds.
Ajayi used bank accounts involved in the sweepstakes scheme to receive refunds and funnel the money to conspirators in the U.S.
An IRS analysis determined that this scheme resulted in the actual loss of approximately $3.4million paid from the U.S. Treasury.
In order to acquire the money generated by the Sweepstakes and SIRF schemes, the conspirators operated a money laundering conspiracy in the U.S.
It was discovered that that conspiracy employed knowing and unknowing participants to conduct financial transactions with the goals of moving the proceeds from both fraudulent schemes outside of the U.S. without detection by law enforcement.
The defendants, including Akinbobola, Ajayi and Oyewole, are considered fugitives.
On March 9, 2020, Akinmadeyemi was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
On May 27, 2020, Barefield was sentenced to eight years in federal prison.
Both were ordered to pay, jointly and severally, $111,870.25 in restitution.
Defendants Calvin and Lundy, who pleaded guilty to the money laundering conspiracy charge, are scheduled for sentencing in Austin on March 9, 2021, before U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel.
U.S. Attorney John F. Bash; Acting Special Agent in Charge, Roderick Benson; Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Houston Field Office; Special Agent in Charge, Shane Folden; Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), San Antonio; and, Inspector in Charge, Adrian Gonzalez; U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Houston Division, announced Harry Cole’s extradition on Friday.
“If you defraud Americans, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. The United States government will work tirelessly to find you, extradite you, and hold you accountable for your crimes,” stated U.S. Attorney Bash.
“Today’s extradition of Harry Cole demonstrates the power of the American judicial system,” IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge Benton.
“Despite the fact that Cole was living in Canada, special agents were able to track him because of our strong relationships with our international law enforcement agencies and bring him to justice.
“HSI is committed to using our broad authority and global presence to bring international fugitives to justice,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Folden.
Declare Buhari’s Seat Vacant, Owuru Urges Court
The candidate of the Hope Democratic Party (HDP) in the last presidential election, Chief Ambrose Owuru, has approached the Federal High Court in Abuja, asking it to declare the seat of President Muhammadu Buhari vacant.
Owuru, who was among the four petitioners that went to tribunal to challenge Buhari’s re-election, in his fresh suit, sought for an order to restrain the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), from “undertaking or planning any other election into the office of the President”, in 2023.
The Plaintiff, in his suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/480/2021, maintained that Buhari is “an unlawful President that is illegally occupying the Presidential seat”.
It would be recalled that Owuru and his party, HDP, had in an earlier appeal they litigated up to the Supreme Court, insisted that the Justice Mohammed Garba-led Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, erroneously dismissed a petition they lodged against the return of Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as winner of the presidential election that held on February 23, 2019.
They specifically prayed the apex court to sack Buhari on the premise that he emerged through an illegal process.
According to the Appellants, INEC, failed to follow condition precedents stipulated in the Electoral Act, when it unduly postponed the presidential election that was originally fixed for February 16.
The HDP claimed that its candidate, Owuru, secured over 50million votes in a referendum that was conducted by both electorates and observer networks that were dissatisfied with the unilateral postponement of the presidential election by INEC.
However, in a unanimous decision, a five-man panel of Justices of the Supreme Court led by Justice Mary Odili, struck out the appeal for constituting “a gross abuse of the judicial process”.
Meantime, in the fresh suit, Owuru and his party argued that their suit against Buhari at the Supreme Court was inconclusive.
The Plaintiffs argued that the case was fixed outside the 60 days period that was allowed by the law.
Owuru asked the court to declare him the authentic winner of the last presidential poll, as well as, to issue an order for his immediate inauguration to take over from Buhari.
He prayed the court to declare that he is entitled to serve out a tenure of 4 years after his formal inauguration.
More so, the HDP presidential candidate, aside from asking for Buhari’s immediate removal from office, equally prayed the court to compel him to refund all salaries, allowances and emoluments he collected while he unlawfully stayed in office as President.
Owuru also asked the court to give an order that salaries, allowances and emoluments be paid to him from May 29, 2019, when he ought to have been sworn in, till date.
The Plaintiff further applied for, “An order of interlocutory injunction restraining the Respondents by themselves and acting through their agents, servants, privies and or proxies howsoever from any further organizing, undertaking or planning of any other election into the office of the President of Nigeria or any such other Presidential Election interfering, harassing and or disturbing the Applicant adjudged acquired right as unopposed and unchallenged winner of the original scheduled and held the February 16 Presidential Election thereof until the 1st Applicant unserved constitutional four years term of office is served pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit by this honourable court”.
Cited as 1st to 3rd Respondents in the matter were Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation, and INEC.
Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the matter to be heard.
World Bank Report Exposes Buhari’s Lies, PDP Affirms
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the report by World Bank that 7 million Nigerians have been pushed into poverty in the last year, has clinically belied the integrity posturing of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The opposition party said the World Bank report came in the face of the recent claims by President Buhari that his administration has lifted over 10 million Nigerians out of poverty in the last two years.
The PDP asserted that the report by the World Bank has further vindicated its position that President Buhari runs an uncoordinated and clueless administration that thrives on lies, false performance claims, deceit, and perfidious propaganda.
The statement added that, “Nigerians can now clearly see why the APC and President Buhari’s handlers are always in a frenzy to attack our party and other well-meaning Nigerians whenever we point to the poor handling of the economy and on the need for President Buhari to always be factual on pertinent issues of governance in our country.
“Unfortunately, it indeed appears that Mr. President enjoys living in denial while watching millions of Nigerians go down in abject poverty, excruciating hunger, and starvation as our country now ranks 98th out of 107 in Global Hunger Index under his watch.
“Otherwise, why would Mr. President claim that his administration has lifted over 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty while official figures even from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show worsening poverty rate with 142.2% growth in food inflation and over 82.9 million Nigerians being unable to afford their daily meals due to the failure of the administration to take practical steps to grow and protect the food sector?
“Under President Buhari, Nigerians are now subjected to the worst form of poverty and hardship, with collapsed purchasing power, occasioned by a voodoo economy management that has wrecked our productive sectors and pummeled our naira from the about N167 to a US dollar in 2015 to the current over N500 per dollar.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. President will choose to always bandy fictitious figures and false performance claims, when he has, in a space of six years, destroyed our national productivity and reduced our country to a beggarly nation, a laughing stock and object of pity among the comity of nations.
“The PDP invites Nigerians to note President Buhari and APC’s similar false performance claims in other critical sectors, including power, transportation, road infrastructure, health, education, agriculture, security, aviation among others, where the Buhari administration has been bandying fictitious figures with no tangible project to point at.
“Our party counsels President Buhari, his handlers as well as their party, the APC, to note that Nigerians have seen through their deceitful clams.
“The PDP, once again, urges Mr. President to end his false performance claims and get more competent hands to manage the economy before every Nigerian is turned into a street beggar.”
Amnesty Kicks As FG Pushes Social Media Regulation
Amnesty International has strongly opposed the call by the Nigerian Government to regulate the use of social media and online broadcasters.
It would be recalled that the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had urged the House of Representatives to include regulation of Twitter in the National Broadcasting Commission Act.
The minister made the call at the public hearing on a bill to amend the NBC Act organised by the House Committee on Information.
“I will want to add, that specifically, internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in this because we have responsibility to monitor content— including Twitter,” he said.
Reacting, Amnesty International, in a tweet via its Twitter account, yesterday, kicked against the motion.
It noted that when social media is regulated, authorities can arbitrarily have powers to shut down the internet and limit access to social media.
It further noted that criticizing the government will be made punishable with penalties of up to three years in prison.
“When social media is regulated, authorities can arbitrarily have powers to shut down the Internet and limit access to social media.
“Criticizing the government will be made punishable with penalties of up to three years in prison.
“Regulating social media in Nigeria could be easily abused to punish critics of government policies and actions, and anyone who asks difficult questions could find themselves liable for ‘diminishing public confidence in the government.’
“Seeking a law to prohibit abusive, threatening and insulting behaviour is open to very wide interpretation. This section would pose a threat to critical opinion, satire, public dialogue and political commentary,” the statement added.
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