The defendant allegedly used up to $230,000 of the stolen money to buy a Richard Mille RM11-03 watch.
A popular content creator known by the name ‘Ray Hushpuppi’ was among six indicted by the Central District of California after attempting to scam a Qatari businessperson to finance the construction of a fake school at the cost of at least $1.1 million, the US Justice Department [DOJ] said on Wednesday.
Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, a 37-year-old Nigerian, along with one of the most high-profile money launderers in the world, pleaded guilty on 20 April this year, according to documents revealed by the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
“The defendants allegedly faked the financing of a Qatari school by playing the roles of bank officials and creating a bogus website in a scheme that also bribed a foreign official to keep the elaborate pretence going after the victim was tipped off,” said Acting United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison.
Arrested in June last year in Dubai, Abbas was involved in a scheme to steal the money from a businessperson as well as bank accounts from others around the world to build the school for children. However, the statement did not mention the businessperson’s identity.
Three US-based defendants were arrested last week along with three others believed to be in Africa over involvement in “wire fraud, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, and aggravated identity theft”.
The DOJ said the popular content creator worked alongside Kenyan 28-year-old Abdulrahman Imraan Juma, ‘Abdul’, and 40-year-old Kelly Chibuzo Vincent from Nigeria, to scam the Qatari businessperson by posing as consultants and bankers working to finance the construction of the fake school.
Juma pretended to be the facilitator of the loans, Abbas played the role of ‘Malik’, a Wells Fargo banker in New York, while Vincent worked to orchestrate false narratives to trick the businessperson.
“Mr. Abbas, who played a significant role in the scheme, funded his luxurious lifestyle by laundering illicit proceeds generated by con artists who use increasingly sophisticated means,” said Wilkison, noting that email compromise scams are a growing international trend.
Furthermore, 26-year-old Yusuf Adekinka Anifowoshe, ‘AJ’, of Brooklyn, New York, assisted Abbas in calling the victim while 28-year-old Rukayat Motunraya Fashola, ‘Morayo’ of Valley Stream, New York, and 34-year-old Bolatito Tawakalitu Agbabiaka, ‘Bolamide’ of Linden, New Jersey, worked on the laundering process.
All three defendants were arrested on 22 July by FBI special agents, with Anifowoshe, Fashola and Agbabiaka currently free on bond.
“Approximately $230,000 of the stolen funds allegedly were used to purchase a Richard Mille RM11-03 watch, which was hand delivered to Abbas in Dubai and subsequently appeared in Hushpuppi’s social media posts,” read the statement by the DOJ.
Some $50,000 was used by the mastermind of the scheme to acquire a St. Christopher and Nevis citizenship as well as a passport for Abbas obtained by creating a false marriage certificate and bribing a government official in St. Kitts.
Abbas previously engaged in other financial schemes that have caused over $24 million in losses.
The DOJ said the culprits were all exposed following an internal dispute that drove Vincent to contact the victim and claim that Abbas and Juma were partaking in a fraud.
Abbas then tried to have Vincent jailed in Nigeria by “a highly decorated deputy commissioner of the Nigeria Police Force”, who then sent ‘Hushpuppi’ images of the arrest along with bank account details for the payment.
The US justice department says that the defendants’ crimes carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison while aggravated identity theft can lead to a mandatory two-year prison term.