BOSTON – Seven Nigerian nationals were charged in indictments unsealed in connection with their roles in expansive online fraud schemes targeting individuals and businesses in the United States, including phishing schemes, romance scams, business email compromise schemes, work-at-home scams, identity theft schemes, theft of personally identifiable information (PII) and credit card theft.
Chukwuemeka Francis Meke, a/k/a “Meke Angelo,” a/k/a “Lvrkdnona,” was charged on July 23, 2019, with conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, wire fraud conspiracy, and aggravated identity theft. Jude Akhigbe, Happy Chukwuma, and Uche Solomon were charged on Aug. 20, 2019, with two counts of wire fraud conspiracy. Micahel Eromosele Iyoriobhe and Ajibola Ayomide Olanrewaju were charged on Sept. 3, 2019, with wire fraud conspiracy, unlawful possession of means of identification, and aggravated identity theft. Talib Gbolahan a/k/a “Talib Gbolahan Nkosi,” a/k/a “Loco Smith,” was charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. All four indictments were unsealed today in Boston.
According to the indictments, the defendants each participated in a variety of international online fraud schemes. The defendants and their co-conspirators each deployed “phishing kits” that mimicked the appearance of legitimate websites to gather online credentials. In some cases, those credentials themselves were used to obtain money and property from U.S. victims. For instance, Gbolahan, using a “phishing kit” that mimicked the appearance of the dating websites “SeniorPeopleMeet” and “OurTime,” directly obtained account credentials, personally identifiable information, and payment card data from individuals who thought they were visiting those websites. Gbolahan then used that credit card information to make fraudulent purchases.
In other cases, certain defendants created fictitious online personas to develop online romantic relationships with individuals in the U.S., and then leveraged those relationships to obtain money and property. For instance, Iyoriobhe, using the personas “Alisha Keary” and “Alisha White,” and Olanrewaju, using the persona “Rita Mercer,” established online relationships with men in the United States pretending to be an American woman living overseas. Iyoriobhe and Olanrewaju conspired together to obtain money from these men through various ruses, such as pretending to travel to the United States to see the victim, but needing assistance paying taxes on an inheritance.
Individuals across the country, including in the Massachusetts towns of South Easton, Lynn, Gloucester, Lawrence, Somerville, North Dartmouth, and others, were victimized by the defendants’ online fraud schemes.
The fraud schemes targeted businesses as well as individuals. For instance, Meke and his co-conspirators were charged with using the emails and passwords of three employees from a retail company based in Massachusetts that employs more than 25,000 people and has locations in more than a dozen states, to send an email to another employee, seeking to transfer $300,000 from the company to pay a vendor. This type of scheme is known as a business email compromise (BEC) scheme.
The indictments in the District of Massachusetts are part of an ongoing national effort by the Department of Justice to address online fraud schemes that target United States citizens from abroad, often based out of Nigeria. Today, the Department of Justice announced significant actions, including 281 arrests in Operation reWired, a nationwide coordinated effort to disrupt BEC and other cyber-enabled financial frauds. Several actions were taken this summer in the District of Massachusetts as part of Operation reWired, including the arrests of Chukwuemeka Eze, who was charged by complaint with bank fraud and money laundering on June 11, 2019, and Seyon Balogun a/k/a “Oshine,” who was indicted in a money laundering conspiracy on July 9, 2019.
The wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy charges provide for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and the conspiracy and possession of a means of identification charges provide for a sentence of up to five years in prison. The aggravated identity theft charges provide for a mandatory sentence of two-years in prison that must run consecutively to any other sentence imposed. Each charge also provides for up to three years of supervised release, a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain/loss, whichever is greater. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Andrew E. Lelling and Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amy Harman Burkart, David J. D’Addio, Seth B. Kosto, and Mackenzie A. Queenin of Lelling’s Cybercrime Unit are prosecuting the cases unsealed today.
The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.