Chicago-area trio charged with running online romance fraud, other schemes
CHICAGO — Two Nigerian nationals and a U.S. Citizen residing in the Chicago suburbs were charged last week for several cyber-enabled fraud conspiracies, an undercover federal law enforcement investigation revealed.
The following agency heads announced the charges: U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch Jr., Northern District of Illinois; Special Agent in Charge James M. Gibbons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Chicago; Inspector in Charge William Hedrick, U.S. Postal Inspection Service Chicago; Special Agent in Charge Kathy A. Enstrom, IRS Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago; and Robert Berlin, DuPage County State’s Attorney.
Samuel Aniukwu, 46, a Nigerian national residing in Romeoville, Illinois; Anthony Emeka Ibekie, 55, a Nigerian national residing in Oswego, Illinois; and, Jennifer Gosha, 48, a U.S. citizen residing in Oak Park, Illinois were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
One of the alleged schemes involved “romance scams,” in which a conspirator builds trust with a victim through a purported online romance before convincing the victim to send money to a predetermined recipient.
The conspirators allegedly communicated with victims throughout the United States via social media and dating websites, including Match.com and OKCupid.com. The charges allege that the conspirators also engaged in other cyber-enabled frauds, including a “business email compromise” scheme and an inheritance fraud. The alleged scams resulted in a loss to victims of at least $750,000, the complaint states.
In the business email compromise scheme, the conspirators allegedly defrauded victims by targeting corporate email accounts via computer intrusion techniques, the complaint states. Correspondence to those email accounts were blocked while the conspirators used them to communicate with unsuspecting victims in an attempt to induce fraudulent wire transfers. In the inheritance fraud scam, the conspirators fraudulently told victims that they had received a substantial inheritance and needed to send money to the conspirators in order to claim it, the complaint states.
The charges allege that the defendants created fictitious business entities and opened numerous bank accounts in those entities’ names in order to launder proceeds from the fraud schemes. During a court-authorized search last week of Aniukwu’s residence, law enforcement seized multiple digital devices, including a cellphone that contained letters purported to be from “Standard Charter Financial Group,” according to the government’s memorandum in support of Aniukwu’s detention.
The letters were addressed to victims regarding processing of the bogus inheritance payments, the memorandum states. The charge in the complaint carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
If convicted, the Court must impose reasonable sentences under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The public is reminded that a complaint contains only accusations and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Saurish Appleby-Bhattacharjee and Paige Nutini, Northern District represented the government.