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February 23, 2023Tucson, AZ, United StatesCyber Crimes, Financial Crimes

Nigerian national extradited from UK to face fraud charges

Indictment unsealed charging 6 Nigerian nationals with operating international fraud scheme that defrauded elderly US consumers

TUCSON, Ariz. — An indictment was unsealed Feb. 21 charging six Nigerian nationals — three residing in the United Kingdom and three residing in Spain — with operating a large transnational fraud scheme. One of the charged defendants made his initial appearance Feb. 23 after being extradited from the United Kingdom.

“The successful extradition of the defendant is the result of a dynamic and coordinated investigative effort by HSI, and our law enforcement and judicial partners,” said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Arizona Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown. “Crimes aimed at the elderly have devastating financial effects. HSI will continue to aggressively investigate greedy swindlers who prey on the vulnerable for profit.”

Ezennia Peter Neboh, 48, Kennedy Ikponmwosa, 51, and Prince Amos Okey Ezemma, 49, of Madrid, Spain; and Iheanyichukwu Jonathan Abraham, 44, Emmanuel Samuel, 39, and Jerry Chucks Ozor, 43, of London, face federal charges in Miami.

Authorities in Madrid and London arrested Neboh, Ikponmwosa, Abraham, Samuel and Ozor in April 2022 based on an indictment filed in the Southern District of Florida. The suspects have remained incarcerated since then. Samuel made his initial appearance in Miami Feb. 23. Okey Ezemma remains at large.

According to court documents, the defendants are charged with operating an inheritance fraud scheme. Over the course of more than five years, they allegedly sent personalized letters to elderly consumers in the United States, falsely claiming 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 purportedly had died years before in Spain. Victims were told that before they could receive their purported inheritance, they were required to send money for delivery fees, taxes and payments to avoid questioning from government authorities. Victims sent money to the defendants through a complex web of U.S.-based former victims the defendants convinced to serve as money mules. According to the indictment, victims who sent money never received their purported inheritance funds.

“Schemes that prey on the elderly are particularly insidious,” said Principal Deputy Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch will pursue and prosecute transnational criminals who defraud U.S. consumers, wherever they are located. I thank the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom for their tireless efforts in assisting U.S. authorities to find and arrest these individuals so that they may face charges here in the United States.”

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a long tradition of protecting citizens from these types of schemes and bringing those responsible to justice,” said Postal Inspector in Charge Juan A. Vargas for the United States Postal Inspection Service’s Miami Division. “The indictment unsealed is a testament of the dedicated partnership between the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, to protect our citizens from these scams.”

The defendants are all charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, as well as mail fraud and wire fraud. Emmanuel Samuel made his initial court appearance Feb. 23 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Neboh, Ikponmwosa, Abraham, and Ozor remain in extradition proceedings. If convicted, Samuel faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

HSI, the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating the case.

Senior Trial Attorney Phil Toomajian and Trial Attorneys Josh Rothman and Brianna Gardner of the Consumer Protection Branch are prosecuting the case. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, Europol, the Portuguese Judicial Police, the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency and the Spanish National Police 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 available at the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311). This U.S. Department of Justice 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 sustained due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.

Here are some tips to avoid losing money to scams:

  • Protect yourself and older loved ones by raising awareness. Although this can be an uncomfortable topic, make sure you, your family and your friends are familiar with scams. The more you know about these scams, the better prepared you are to prevent being a victim.
  • Check in on older loved ones. Scammers are seeking to target those living alone or grieving the loss of a spouse as they are more vulnerable.
  • Do your research. Research the individual’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or other details have been used elsewhere.
  • Listen to your gut. If the individual seems too good to be true, talk to someone you trust.
  • Do not overshare personal information. Requests for inappropriate photos or financial information could later be used to extort you.
  • Be suspicious if you have not met in person. If the individual promises to meet in person, but consistently comes up with an excuse for cancelling, be suspicious.
  • Do not send money. Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.
  • Be careful when answering a call. Scammers specifically target the elderly to take advantage of their loneliness.
  • Do not travel to foreign countries to claim a “prize” or “inheritance.”
  • No U.S. government agency or bank will ask people to pay taxes or fees with gift cards.

Members of the public can report crime or suspicious activity by calling the tip line at 866-347-2423 or filling out the online tip form.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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.