HSI Tucson, multiagency investigation results in 2 Nigerian nationals’ guilty pleas for international inheritance fraud scheme targeting elderly US victims; 1 sentenced
TUCSON, Ariz. — Two Nigerian nationals who were previously extradited to the United States from Spain pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit fraud and one Nigerian national, who was extradited to the United States from the United Kingdom, was sentenced to 87 months in prison. Each played a role in an international inheritance fraud scheme. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), assisted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch and the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) are investigating the case.
According to court documents, Ezennia Peter Neboh, 48; Kennedy Ikponmwosa, 52; and Jerry Chucks Ozor, 43, were part of a group of fraudsters that sent personalized letters to elderly victims in the United States. The letters falsely claimed that the sender represented a bank in Spain and that the recipient was entitled to receive a multimillion-dollar inheritance left by a family member who had died years earlier in Portugal. Victims were told that before they could receive their purported inheritance, they were required to send money for delivery fees and taxes and instructed to make other payments. Victims sent money to the defendants through a complex web of U.S.-based former victims. The defendants convinced these former victims to receive money from new victims and then forward the fraud proceeds to others.
On July 25, U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams sentenced Ozor to 87 months in prison for his role in the scheme. Ikponmwosa pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail fraud and wire fraud on the same date. On Aug. 9, Neboh pleaded guilty to committing the same offense.
“The Justice Department's Consumer Protection Branch will continue to bring to justice international criminals responsible for defrauding U.S. consumers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Working together, U.S. and foreign law enforcement can and will thwart schemes such as the one charged in this case and prevent further losses to American victims.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a long tradition of protecting American citizens from these types of schemes and bringing those responsible to justice,” said Inspector in Charge Juan A. Vargas of the USPIS Miami Division. “This result is a testament to the dedicated partnership between the Justice Department's Consumer Protection Branch, Homeland Security Investigations and the USPIS to protect our citizens from these scams.”
In June, Williams sentenced Emmanuel Samuel, 39, of London, to 82 months in prison for his role in the scheme. During sentencing, Williams said that it was important to send a message to international criminals who believe that “they would never have been caught” that they cannot prey on people in the United States “with impunity.” Sentencing is scheduled for Neboh and Ikponmwosa on Nov. 2 and Oct. 20, respectively.
Senior trial attorney Phil Toomajian and trial attorneys Josh Rothman and Brianna Gardner of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, Europol, and authorities from the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal all provided critical assistance.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311). This Justice Department hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting is the first step. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. English, Spanish and other languages are available.
More information about the department’s efforts to help American seniors is available at its Elder Justice Initiative webpage. For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website at www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at 877-FTC-HELP. The Justice Department provides a variety of resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office for Victims of Crime, which can be reached at www.ovc.gov.
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 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’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.