MADISON, Wis. — Two Nigerian men were each sentenced to 12 years in federal prison, and a U.S. citizen victim-turned-criminal was sentenced to five years’ probation in an international romance and cyber fraud scheme that defrauded victims from the United States and Canada.
These sentences were announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Jeffrey M. Anderson, Western District of Wisconsin. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Milwaukee, and the Price County (Wisconsin) Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office, with assistance from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and numerous law enforcement agencies in California, Indiana, Arizona, New Jersey and Iowa.
Richard Ugbah, 36, a Nigerian citizen living in Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson to 12 years in federal prison for wire fraud. Ugbah was also ordered to forfeit a Mercedes Benz automobile and two bank accounts.
Michael Adegoke, 34, a Nigerian citizen living in Chicago, Illinois, was also sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Jon Whipple, 60, from St. Petersburg, Florida, who was initially a victim of a similar romance fraud scheme, but later participated in the scheme by disseminating counterfeit checks in exchange for small amounts of money, was sentenced to five years of probation.
The defendants were also ordered to pay restitution to the victims, although it is unlikely victims will be repaid because most of the fraud proceeds were either spent on luxury goods or directed to individuals and accounts overseas.
From about October 2013 to August 2015, the defendants participated in a scheme to defraud victims in the United States and Canada out of more than $12.9 million.
Co-schemers targeted victims by creating fake profiles on internet dating services. Once they gained the victims’ trust, co-schemers got victims to pay so-called “inheritance taxes” on non-existent inheritances, and to send money in exchange for checks that turned out to be fraudulent.
Although Judge Peterson found that the intended loss in the romance fraud scheme was $12.9 million, he noted that the amount was likely understated given the scope of the scheme and the number of victims.
Concurrent 12-year sentence awarded for separate business email compromise (BEC) scheme
In a related case, Judge Peterson also sentenced Ugbah to 12 years in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in connection with his role in a business email compromise (BEC) scheme. Judge Peterson ordered this BEC sentence to be served concurrently with Ugbah’s sentence in the romance fraud case.
The BEC case was originally filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, but transferred to the Western District of Wisconsin for the guilty plea and sentencing.
In the BEC scheme, co-conspirators sent “spoofed” emails that appeared to come from company owners or employees and asked other employees to wire transfer money into bank accounts, purportedly for company business.
The wire transfers went into accounts belonging to romance fraud victims who had been tricked into acting as unwitting money launderers.
As part of the scheme, the online suitors directed the romance fraud victims to Ugbah, who admitted posing as a financial advisor who used the name “David Sanders” and obtained the victims’ bank account information and instructed those victims to forward the money to other accounts controlled by co-conspirators.
This conspiracy targeted at least 53 businesses across the United States, and the businesses cumulatively suffered losses of just over $1.5 million, with an intended loss of more than $4 million.
Ugbah communicated with more than 100 romance fraud victims in connection with the BEC case.
The BEC fraud charges against Ugbah resulted from an investigation conducted by the FBI in Los Angeles. The prosecution of the case has been handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Feldman in California, and by Assistant U.S. Attorney Duchemin in Wisconsin.