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March 4, 2024Baltimore, MD, United StatesFinancial Crimes

HSI Baltimore investigation lands Maryland man 40 months in federal prison for series of fraud schemes

Baltimore fraudster’s schemes resulted in losses of more than $1.5 million

BALTIMORE — An investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore, the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service in Washington, D.C., and the Baltimore Police Department resulted in a 40-month federal prison sentence followed by three years of supervised release for a Maryland man who defrauded victims out of more than $1.5 million. Noel Chimezuru Agoha, 40, of Baltimore, received the sentence Feb. 28 for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The judge also ordered Agoha to pay $1 million in restitution.

“Mr. Agoha and his collaborators engaged in a years-long series of fraud schemes that cheated victims out of more than a million dollars,” said HSI Baltimore Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris. “HSI Baltimore will continue to work with our law enforcement partners on the Mid-Atlantic El Dorado Task Force and across law enforcement to disrupt such fraud networks, cripple their ability to operate, and deprive them of their ill-gotten gains — and make their victims whole again.”

According to the investigation, between February 2015 and November 2018, Agoha colluded with others, including co-conspirators Sessieu Ange Oulai, 37, of Parkville and Kelechi Arthur Ntibunka, 35, of Essex, to execute a business email compromise scam.

As part of the scheme, Agoha and his accomplices opened and controlled “drop accounts” with financial institutions to launder fraud proceeds and receive money from victims of criminal fraud schemes, including the business email compromise scam. The conspirators used fraudulent e-mails to deceive people and companies engaged in financial transactions and ongoing business relationships with others by impersonating clients, people in positions of authority, and representatives of companies with whom the victims had ongoing business.

Through these fraudulent e-mails, the conspirators induced the victims to send money via electronic transfer or deposit into bank accounts controlled by Agoha and other conspirators. In this way, Agoha and other accomplices intercepted payments intended for others.

Agoha, Oulai, Ntibunka and other conspirators monitored deposits, transfers and balances, relayed information, and instructed co-conspirators through text messages. The defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly received or attempted to receive more than $1.1 million in proceeds from business email compromise scams. Agoha personally obtained approximately $111,242 as a result of the business email compromise scheme to which he is pleading guilty.

Agoha also joined a fraud conspiracy that conducted romance scams targeting people looking for romantic partners or friendships on dating websites and other social media platforms. Specifically, members of the fraud conspiracy created profiles using fake names, locations, images and personas to initiate and cultivate relationships with prospective victims under false pretenses. After initiating a relationship with a victim, conspirators attempted to convince or induce them to provide money through electronic transfer or deposit into bank accounts controlled by the conspiracy. They also convinced their victims to give them items of property through interstate delivery or international shipment. Victims were sometimes induced to conduct transactions at the direction of the conspirators, such as transfers in and out of particular bank accounts.

Agoha used business bank accounts he controlled in Maryland to receive and launder proceeds of romance scams. Proceeds deposited into Agoha’s accounts were withdrawn and spent. Agoha and his co-conspirators accrued more than $1 million in romance scam proceeds.

After pleading guilty to their roles in the fraud scheme, Oulai was sentenced to 32 months and Ntibunka was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. They were also ordered to pay restitution of $300,000.

This investigation was spearheaded by HSI’s Mid-Atlantic El Dorado Task Force and investigated by HSI Baltimore, the Diplomatic Security Service and the Baltimore Police Department. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland prosecuted the case.

The Mid-Atlantic El Dorado Task Force comprises special agents from HSI Baltimore, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Anne Arundel County Police Department, the Prince George’s County Police Department, and the Montgomery County Department of Police.

HSI encourages members of the public to report instances of fraud, crimes or suspicious activity by calling the HSI Tip Line at 877-4-HSI-TIP. The tip line is staffed 24 hours a day.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees and consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Learn more about HSI’s mission to increase public safety in your community on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @HSIBaltimore.