A United States federal grand jury in the district of Maryland has indicted nine Nigerians over allegations that they conspired to defraud elderly victims of millions of dollars.
The Nigerians are accused of engaging in fraudulent online romantic relationships and risk 20 years in jail, a statement by the U.S. Department of Justice said.
According to the statement, the accused are Gbenga Ogundele, Mukhtar Haruna, Victor Oloyede, Olusegun Ogunseye, Babatunde Popoola, Adeyinka Awolaja, Mojisola Popoola, Olusola Ola, Victor Oloyede and Olufemi Williams.
Except Mr. Haruna who is based in Lagos, Nigeria, others live in the US are all aged over 40, apart from Mr. William who is 26.
While the statement said only Mr. Haruna was yet to be arrested, it confirmed the arrests of the remaining alleged internet fraudsters on September 30, same day they appeared before a federal court in Greenbelt and Illinois.
Their indictment, announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and Special Agent in Charge Kevin Perkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has 10-count charges of crimes, allegedly committed between January 2011 and Maybe 18, 2015.
They were accused of searching “online dating websites to initiate romantic relationships with elderly male and female individuals.”
“They phoned, emailed, texted and used internet chat messenger services to form romantic relationships with the victims, who lived in Maryland and around the country,” the Department of Justice said.
The indictment further alleged that the accused used a number of false stories and promises to convince the victims to provide money to the conspirators, including fake hospital bills, plane trips to visit the victims, problems with overseas businesses and foreign taxes.
The conspirators allegedly opened bank accounts in order to receive millions of dollars from the victims.
The indictment also alleged numerous deposits from several victims into bank accounts controlled by the defendants, or checks received from the victims, ranging in individual amounts from $1,720 to $30,000.
“All of the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for conspiring to commit wire fraud, and for conspiring to commit money laundering,” the Justice Department said.
Additionally, it said that, “all of the defendants except for Mojisola Popoola face a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison to be served consecutive to any other sentence for aggravated identity theft, arising from the alleged use of a victim’s name, bank account number or driver’s license in furtherance of the fraud scheme.
“An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.”
The indictment and arraignment of Nigerians, the Justice Department said, “is part of the efforts undertaken in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force”.
With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and state and local partners, the task force was established to “wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes”.