Houston, Texas - A Nigerian national was charged in court documents unsealed today for his role as the alleged ringleader of an international advance-fee scheme that allegedly involved false promises of investment funding by individuals who impersonated U.S. bank officials in person and over the internet to victims around the world, who were told they had to make certain payments before they could supposedly receive their funding.
Proceeds of the scheme were allegedly laundered through U.S. bank accounts and diverted back to the scheme’s perpetrators in Nigeria.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Robert Smolich of the U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General made the announcement.
Osondu Victor Igwilo, 49, of Lagos, Nigeria, was charged in a complaint filed in the Southern District of Texas in December 2016 and unsealed today. The complaint charges Igwilo with one count of wire fraud conspiracy, one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of aggravated identity theft. Igwilo remains a fugitive.
As alleged in the complaint, Igwilo was the leader of a criminal network of “catchers,” who sent phishing emails to potential victims falsely offering investment funding on behalf of BB&T Corporation, a U.S. bank headquartered in North Carolina. When victims were interested in the supposed investment funding, Igwilo allegedly dispatched U.S. citizens whom he had recruited over the internet to pose as “representatives” of BB&T to meet in person with the victims and sign a supposed investment agreement on behalf of BB&T. When traveling to the countries where the victims resided, these representatives, at Igwilo’s direction, would visit the local U.S. embassy or consulate and employ fake documents with fraudulent seals of the U.S. government to deceive the victims into believing that the investment agreement was sponsored by the U.S. government, the complaint alleges. Igwilo then allegedly used the representatives and catchers to convince victims to make wire payments to bank accounts in the United States on the false belief that such payments were necessary to effectuate the investment agreements. The holders of the U.S. bank accounts were “money movers,” who disposed of the funds as directed by Igwilo, including by purchasing luxury vehicles, from brands such as Mercedes Benz and Range Rover, and shipping them to Nigeria, the complaint alleges.
Uche Diuno, 52, also of Lagos, was charged in a separate case in a second superseding indictment filed on Oct. 3, 2018 with one count of wire fraud conspiracy, one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of concealment money laundering. Diuno was arrested in Paris, France on Sept. 29, 2018 and is awaiting extradition.
As alleged in the second superseding indictment, Diuno was a “chairman” or leader in the scheme, who operated his own network of catchers and money movers alongside Igwilo’s, which he used in furtherance of the same BB&T investment scam.
Seven other individuals have been charged to date as part of the same investigation including Uju Okigbo, 49, of Houston, Texas, an alleged money mover; Chioma Okafor, 29, of Houston, an alleged money mover; Marita Ranalan Underwood, 62, of Manila, Philippines, an alleged representative; John Christian Rutledge, 65, of Yaphank, New York, an alleged representative; Osa May Martin, 69, of Carthage, Missouri, an alleged representative; Tochukwu Nwosisi, 47, of Indianapolis, Indiana, an alleged money mover and Tiffany Sourjohn, 48, of Miami, Oklahoma, an alleged representative.
Okigbo, Okafor, Rutledge and Sourjohn have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Underwood remains a fugitive. Martin and Nwosisi are pending trial.
The charges in the complaint and second superseding indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case was investigated by the FBI and Department of State Office of Inspector General. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney William E. Johnston of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Suzanne Elmilady of the Southern District of Texas. Forfeiture aspects of the case are being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristine Rollinson of the Southern District of Texas.