FIB Nabs Five Nigerians Over $4.5m Internet Scams
At least, five Nigerians have been charged in New York by the United States’ Justice Department for various Internet scams, running into about $4.5million.
One of the Nigerians, Charles Onus, was arrested in San Francisco on April 14, for payroll hacking, in which he stole nearly $1million.
The other four Nigerians were charged, along with two others now at-large, with romance scams and using shell companies to launder over $3.5million in funds from victims of romance fraud schemes.
Mentioned in the charge were Abuchi Shedrach Felix, Oluwatomiwa Akintola, Gregory Ochiagha, and Olanrewaju Ajibola.
Both Nadine Jazmine Wade and Habiba Fagge, also charged, are not Nigerians.
Onus was presented, last Wednesday, in a Manhattan federal court before Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave.
The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge, Paul G. Gardephe.
In the complaint against him, Onus was accused of running a scheme to conduct cyber intrusions of multiple user accounts maintained by a company that provides human resources and payroll services to employers across the United States, in order to steal payroll deposits.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said, “Charles Onus allegedly participated in a scheme that stole nearly $1million by hacking into a payroll processing company’s system to access user accounts and divert payroll to prepaid debit cards he controlled.
“As alleged, Onus did this as effectively as someone who commits bank burglary, but with no need for a blowtorch or bolt-cutters. Thanks to the FBI and IRS-CI, Onus is in custody and facing serious federal charges.”
The unsealing of the indictment against the other four Nigerians was announced by United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss; Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Secret Service (“USSS”), Patrick J. Freaney; and Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Jonathan D. Larsen.
They were all charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, in connection with their involvement in laundering millions of dollars in proceeds derived from romance fraud schemes.
Felix, Akintola, and Ajibola were arrested last Tuesday at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey.
Ochiagha was arrested last Wednesday in the Bronx area of New York.
Felix, Akintola, Ajibola, and Ochiagha were presented in Manhattan federal court, last Wednesday, before U.S. Magistrate Judge, Sarah L. Cave.
Abuchi Shedrach Felix, 29, of Newark, New Jersey; Nadine Jazmine Wade, 28, of the Bronx, New York; Oluwatomiwa Akintola, 27, of Brooklyn, New York; Gregory Ochiagha, 55, of the Bronx, New York; Habiba Fagge, 24, of Towson, Maryland; and Olanrewaju Ajibola, 36, of Newark, New Jersey; were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h).
The offence carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney, Audrey Strauss said, “As alleged, the conspirators preyed on the emotions of their numerous online romance fraud victims to fleece the victims out of millions of dollars. Thanks to the Secret Service and IRS Criminal, the defendants have dates in court to face federal charges.”
The USSS Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge, Patrick J. Freaney said, “Cyber enabled romance schemes continue to harm innocent and unsuspecting people, and the U.S. Secret Service remains committed to investigating those who perpetuate these acts. In this instance, the conspirators allegedly utilized online aliases and created shell companies in furtherance of their scheme to defraud.
“Through a collaborative investigative effort by the Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the New York City Police Department Financial Crimes Task Force, the accused will answer the charges brought against them in the Southern District of New York”.
IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge, Jonathan D. Larsen said, “The arrests of the alleged perpetrators of this $3.5million scheme deal a death blow to the vast criminal activity in which the defendants were allegedly engaged.
“IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to aggressively pursue those who profit from illegal activity and ensure they are brought to justice.”
According to the allegations in the complaint, “Using online aliases, the defendants’ co-conspirators contacted victims on various dating sites, and convinced those victims, under false pretence, to transfer funds to the defendants and others.
One online alias used in the schemes frequently employed the names “Diego Francisco,” “Richard Francisco,” or “Tom Francisco” (the “Francisco Alias”).
The conspirators used online photos of a male model when providing victims with photos of the Francisco Alias.
After engaging in conversation with the victims via phone, text, and email, the conspirators, posing as the Francisco Alias, would ask victims for money.
The reason offered for why the Francisco Alias needed money could vary. In one version of the scheme, the Francisco Alias was supposedly an architect who had travelled to Dubai and needed funds in order to receive several million dollars in payment.
In another version of the scheme, the Francisco Alias supposedly worked on an oil rig and needed funds to repair the rig.
The Francisco Alias would then instruct the victims to transfer funds to bank accounts controlled by the defendants.
The means of transfer varied.
For example, in some cases, the Francisco Alias instructed victims to obtain cashier’s checks or money orders made payable to one of the defendants’ companies and then either mail the check to the conspirators – at addresses that included one in the Bronx – or to deposit the cashier’s check directly into a bank account held in the name of one of the defendants’ companies.
The Francisco Alias would instruct the victims to send him photographs of any cashier’s checks and any mailing labels.
Each of the defendants created a shell company and opened bank accounts in the name of his or her respective shell company (the “Shell Company Accounts”).
The Shell Company Accounts received funds from victims of the romance fraud scheme described above and rapidly depleted those funds through cash withdrawals, cashier’s checks, and the purchase of vehicles, among other means.
The Shell Company Accounts received over $4.5million between in or about 2018 and 2020, over $3.5million of which came from victims of the romance fraud scheme.
According to allegations in the Indictment filed in federal court, “From at least in or about July 2017 through, at least, in or about 2018, Onus participated in a scheme to conduct cyber intrusions of multiple user accounts maintained by a company that provides human resources and payroll services to employers across the United States (the “company”), in order to steal payroll deposits processed by the company.
During the course of the scheme, unauthorized access was obtained to over 5,500 company user accounts through a cyber intrusion technique referred to as “credential stuffing.”
During a credential stuffing attack, a cyber threat actor collects stolen credentials, or username and password pairs, obtained from other large-scale data breaches of other companies.
The threat actor then systematically attempts to use those stolen credentials to obtain unauthorized access to accounts held by the same user with other companies and providers, to compromise accounts where the user has maintained the same password.
After Onus successfully gained unauthorized access to a company user account, he changed the bank account information designated by the user of the account so that Onus would receive the user’s payroll to a prepaid debit card that was under Onus’s control.
From at least in or about July, 2017, through at least in or about 2018, at least approximately 5,500 company user accounts were compromised and more than approximately $800,000 in payroll funds were fraudulently diverted to prepaid debit cards, including those under the control of Onus.
The compromised company user accounts were associated with employers whose payroll was processed by the company, including employers located in the Southern District of New York.
Onus, 34, was charged with one count of computer fraud for causing damage to a protected computer, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
He was also charged with one count of computer fraud for unauthorised access to a protected computer to further intended fraud, and one count of receipt of stolen money.
Each of the offence carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Onus also faces one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed.
Again, RSG Begins Unveiling, Flag-Off Of Nine Key Projects, ’Morrow
A statement by the state government said that the process is in continuation of the commissioning and flag-off of projects by Governor Nyesom Wike.
It indicated that Rumuola flyover would be commissioned tomorrow, while the GRA flyover would be commissioned on Saturday.
The also stated that the government would commission the Ezimgbu Road on Monday, December 13, 2021; with another commissioning of Tombia Road Extension scheduled for Tuesday, December 14, 2021.
The statement said that the governor would commission the Safe Home, Borikiri, Port Harcourt on Wednesday, December 15; while on Thursday, December 16, 2021, the governor would commission the Odokwu internal roads.
Also, the governor would continue the flag-off of key infrastructure projects with Chokocho-Igbodo Road slated for Monday, December 20, 2021; Oyigbo-Okoloma Road on Wednesday, December 22, 2021; and Magistrates’ Court Complex, Port Harcourt on Thursday, December 23, 2021.
Wike Justifies N7bn Libel Suit Against THISDAY
Wike said he was in court to seek justice and clear his name as a person from the malicious publication by THISDAY Newspaper, which portrayed him as deceitful, untrustworthy person, who exerts subterranean influences on judicial matters and over court sittings in Port Harcourt.
It would be recalled that Wike had in August, 2020, slammed a N7billion suit being damages for libel written and published in THISDAY’s Tuesday, June 23, 2020 edition captioned, “With Wike, Obaseki Meets His PDP’s Waterloo; Almost.”
The defendants in the suit are THISDAY Newspapers Limited, Leaders and Company Limited, Davidson Iriekpan, Chuks Okocha and Adibe Emenyonu.
Wike, while testifying as witness in suit No. PHC/1505/CS/2020 before the court presided over by Justice A. Enebeli, asserted that the defendants maliciously and falsely portrayed him as an unreliable friend/person.
“When you say somebody cannot be trusted; that cannot be a fair comment. When you say somebody is influencing the Judiciary, that cannot be a fair comment”, the governor said.
In his written statement on oath, Wike had stated that the defendants had accused him of influencing the decision of the court sitting in Port Harcourt that granted an injunction restraining Godwin Obaseki from participating in the primaries of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State in 2020.
He stated that the defendants maliciously accused him of undemocratically exerting influence on the primaries process of PDP in Edo State in aid of his ally, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, who was the beneficiary of the court order restraining Obaseki from participating in the PDP primaries.
The governor, who told the court that he was not even aware of the aforementioned suit by Ogbeide-Ihama against Obaseki, said the publication was reckless, false and without regards for the truth.
According to him, contrary to well-known journalistic tradition and practices, the defendants did not investigate properly to ensure the information they relied on was accurate.
“They did not seek to verify the facts from me or in any manner oblige me with the opportunity to state my own side of the story before proceeding to make the false publication” the governor argued.
Wike stated that the defendants further denigrated him before the entire world as a fake democrat, who engages in meddling in the internal affairs of All Progressives Congress (APC) in order to get at his political foe, Chibuike Amaechi.
The governor explained that he was not a member of the APC and has had no hand in the internal crisis which has bedevilled the party both in Rivers State and all over Nigeria.
“By the letter of Messrs E.C. Ukala and Co., Solicitors, under the hand of Emmanuel C. Ukala, SAN, dated 23rd June, 2020, the defendants were given opportunity to retract, and recant the publication as well as to offer apology for the false publication but the defendants spurned the opportunity and ignored the letter completely.”
The governor, while responding to claim by lawyer to the defendants, Turudu Ede, SAN, that the essence of the lawsuit was to intimidate and harass his clients, said the whole essence of the suit was to get justice and clear his name as a man of substantial character, honour and repute.
“The essence of the suit is to get justice since they (defendants) refused to retract the publication or apologise. So, I sued them to clear my name.”
Speaking to journalists outside the court, one of the lawyers to Wike, Mr. Mark Agwu said his client was in court to seek legal redress.
“To challenge him as a person, it means you have made him untrustworthy, a deceit, a cheat, an influencer of the court, because the publication they made was that he had a role to play in influencing the outcome of that Federal High Court case. Nobody will take that lightly, and especially for a man who believes in the rule of law”, Agwu added.
The court adjourned the matter for further hearing to 12th, 13th and 14th of January, 2022.
$130m Fraud: Rivers Sues Saipem SPA, Saipem Contracting Firm, Others
In a 16-count criminal charge filed by the Director of Public Prosecution, C.F. Amadi for the Rivers State Attorney General, the state alleged that after collecting the said sum as advanced payment between 2011 and 2018, the defendants have not kept their obligation under the contract.
Others charged alongside the companies were Walter Peviana; Kelechi Sinteh Chinakwe; Giandomenico Zingali; Vitto Testaguzza and Davide Anelli, who are directors and officers of the companies.
The defendants are charged with various offences ranging from conspiracy, cheating and obtaining credit by false pretence, contrary to Section 518 (6) and (7) and punishable under Section 518 of the Criminal Code, Cap 37 Vol. 2 Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria, 1999, section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b) of the Criminal Code, Cap 37 Vol. 2 Laws of Rivers State, amongst others.
Already, the Rivers State Government has issued a fiat to the law firm of Godwin Obla (SAN) to prosecute the matter before the state High court.
The defendants are equally charged for the offence of false Statements by Officials of Companies contrary to and punishable under Section 436 (b).
The prosecution specifically accused the defendants of obtaining credit of $130million by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b); obtaining credit of $20,467,942.00 by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b), obtaining credit of N7,000,000,000.00 only by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b).
They are charged for obtaining credit of N318,640,173.54, by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b); attempt to cheat $97million contrary to Section 508 and punishable under Section 509; attempt to cheat $15million contrary to Section 508 and punishable under Section 509; conspiracy to receive a credit of $97million by false pretences contrary to Section 518 (6) and punishable under Section 518; cheating $11million contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; cheating contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; cheating N110, 097, 416.51 contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; cheating by collecting sums attributable to shared facilities already paid for in AFAM Phase I in AFAM Phase II contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421.
Obtaining N20, 467, 942 contrary to Section 421 and punishable under Section 421; obtaining credit of $60,168,936.00 by false pretences or other fraud, contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b); obtaining credit of $1,512,034.00 by false pretences or other fraud contrary to Section 419A and punishable under Section 419 (A) (1) (b) all of the Criminal Code Law of Rivers State, Cap 37 Vol. 2 Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria 1999.
According to the Proof of Evidence attached to the charge and the statement made by the Head, Power Generation/Mechanical of the Rivers State Ministry of Power, one Mr Temple Azunda M., the facts constituting the case in hand are as follows:
Saipem SPA and Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited and other officers of the duo, herein the Defendants, are Italian companies which services have been retained by the Rivers State Government, herein RSG, in several projects, prominent amongst which is the AFAM Phase II Power Plant Project.
By an initial tripartite agreement made on the January 20, 2010, the RSG under the auspices of the Rivers State Ministry of Power entered a contract with Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, Saipem SPA for the construction of the OGCT power plant in Port Harcourt at a total cost of $119million consequent upon which the Rivers State Government made advance payments, in instalments, to Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd and Saipem SPA amounting in total to a sum of $130million in all which the Defendants have acknowledged receipt of.
The Defendants were to be given an initial mobilization of 20per cent of the total contract sum which the RSG paid.
It was part of the initial agreement – and indeed a condition sine qua non – that, to access the 2nd tranche of payment of 25per cent from the Rivers State Government, the Defendants would mandatorily have installed the Gas Turbine into the foundations as referenced in ATTACHMENT 1 to VO 007 which states that:
CONTRACTOR shall be entitled to a payment corresponding to 20per cent of the VO No. 007 LS PRICE upon mobilisation to site and commencement of bush clearing activities at SITE.
Upon commencement of bush clearing activities at the site, the contractor shall issue the invoice relevant to the above payment and the owner shall pay such invoice within 14 days from its issuance.
The parties agree that no deduction for recovery of advance payment shall apply on the payment due to the contractor for invoices issued by the contractor in accordance with this paragraph.
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