Three Nigerians sentenced after taking millions in fraud schemes
The schemes victimized thousands of Americans, including those in central Pennsylvania, according to U.S. Department of Justice.
By REBECCA LeFEVER
Daily Record/Sunday News
York, PA – Ever gotten an email telling you about the million dollars you won in a Virgin Islands lottery?
How about a phone call from someone who said he was your grandson and that he was in prison overseas and needed to be bailed out?
Three men who helped run those types of schemes — and more — were sentenced in federal court last week after they victimized thousands of U.S. citizens, including residents in York County, according to Peter J. Smith, U.S. Attorney with the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Christian Nwosu, 41, Alexander Ojiri, 53, and Kennedy Onaiwu, 42 — all Nigerian nationals — were charged separately, but all pleaded guilty to wire and mail fraud.
The trio was part of a large group who used MoneyGram and Western Union agents to convert money transfers into cash and distribute it among co-conspirators. Both Nwosu and Onaiwu worked as MoneyGram and Western Union agents, while Ojiri served as a middleman between the mass marketers and agents.
In total, there were 1,056 victims and $13.5 million reported stolen, the release states.
The investigation is ongoing and, to date, 28 people have been charged. Officials believe there are more victims and a substantially larger amount of unreported losses — only an estimated 5 to 25 percent of victims have come forward, Smith said.
Between April 2004 and November 2010, Onaiwu, along with four others listed in the indictment, was involved a domestic and foreign scheme that instructed victims to send Western Union and MoneyGram transfers as an advance fee for financial awards, offers or online purchases.
The mass marketers used fake names, companies and addresses when they spoke with victims, and told them to send the money to people with fake names.
Onaiwu was involved in a variety of schemes, including sweepstakes winnings, employment opportunities and person-in-need scams to get money from the victims, according to the indictment.
The mass marketers sent fraudulent prize notifications and employment opportunities with checks through Canada Post and the U.S. mail.
In February 2008, Onaiwu identified himself as the owner of Kenizo Enterprises and applied for MoneyGram and Western Union agency agreements, according to his indictment.
He was awarded those agreements and was sent $369,417 in 122 transfers through MoneyGram and $85,229 in 37 Western Union transfers, documents state.
Of those transfers, five were received from York County residents, totaling $15,200.
Onaiwu was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and sentenced to 41 months in prison and to pay $453,221.65 in restitution.
Nwosu was arrested in Virginia in June after he was federally indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy to commit fraud, according to court documents.
After waiving his preliminary hearing in July, Nwosu was sentenced last week to 46 months in prison and $1,520,886 in restitution — $15,097 to be repaid on his own and the rest to be paid with two others in separate cases, documents state.
The grand jury indictment that details Nwosu’s role in the organization remains sealed, according to U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Heidi Havens.
Ojiri was arrested in New Jersey in March and, after waiving his preliminary hearing, was placed under a detention order after he was determined to a flight risk. Ojiri has dual citizenship in the United States and Nigeria.
In addition, it was found the Ojiri had used multiple Social Security numbers and traveled frequently between the two countries.
Ojiri was sentenced last week after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. He will serve 46 months in prison and must pay $798,742.84 in restitution.
Ojiri’s grand jury indictment also remains sealed, Havens said, which means details about his role in the organization were unavailable.
Christian Nwosu, Alexander Ojiri and Kennedy Onaiwu were three members of a large group who ran multiple kinds of scams to bilk people out of money, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Here are the others who are named in court documents with Onaiwu:
Betty Agho, pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud, and attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Itohan Agho-Allen, is scheduled for trial in June.
Susan Osagiede, signed an agreement to plead guilty to mail and wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. A plea hearing before a judge has not taken place.
Elvis Uadiale, is scheduled for his initial court appearance March 13.
Chikelos Ejikeme, Christian Ejiofor, Chukwuemeka Nwakanma, Ikejiani Okoloubu, Prince Edosa and Christian Okonkwo all were indicted Feb. 29 on charges of mail and wire fraud. These six are in either Canada or Nigeria, and extradition proceedings are under way, according to Heidi Havens, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Who to contact
If you think you’ve been the victim of a mass-marketing scam, call 877-876-2455 or file a complaint at postalinspectors.uspis.gov or through ftc.gov.
Types of schemes
Sweepstakes schemes: Winners were directed to pre-pay processing fees and taxes in order to collect cash prizes.
Loan schemes: Advance-fee loan schemes told people they were successful loan applicants and directed them to pay advance fees to buy insurance or place security deposits to guarantee loan proceeds.
Employment opportunity schemes: Job seekers were directed to write checks and use the proceeds to complete purchases. The victims were sometimes referred to as secret shoppers and were to pay a portion of the cash proceeds as payment for services.
Person-in-need schemes: Mass marketers developed online relationships with victims or posed as a relative, typically a grandchild, and told victims of a false need or emergency.
Internet purchase schemes: Mass marketers posed as the sellers of a large ticket item and directed victims to send money transfers as payment. The merchandise was never delivered.
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