International cyber-fraudster, Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, says he deserves a lesser sentence after pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering at a United States court in July last year.
Mr Abbas, a Nigerian Instagram celebrity, told the U.S. Central District Court in California that the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to recommend a reduction in the applicable sentencing guidelines offence level following his guilty plea.
He was arrested in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate (UAE) in June 2020, and subsequently ferried to the US, where he pleaded guilty to the charges in July 2021.
The trial judge, Otis Wright, has fixed 7 November for his sentencing.
Ahead of the sentencing, a team of U.S. attorneys, led by Stephanie Christensen, has urged the court to “sentence the defendant (Hushpuppi) to 135 months’ imprisonment.”
But in court filings through his lawyer, Louis Shapiro, Hushpuppi said the US Attorney’s Office “agreed to recommend that Mr Abbas be sentenced to a term of imprisonment below the calculated range dictated by statute…”
Giving a summary of his client’s argument, Mr Shapiro, urged the court to “depart and vary from the sentencing guideline factors in the plea agreement.”
The defence lawyer based his contention on the grounds that Mr Abbas showed an “early acceptance of responsibility” for the fraud.
He added that Hushpuppi endured “painstaking and crushing COVID conditions” after being diagnosed with the ailment.
“Mr Abbas, through his counsel, is entreatiing the court to vary from the calculated guideline range towards a 13-level reduction to 20 points (33-41) months.
“This reduction would also enable Mr Abbas to continue supporting his family in their time of need,” the court documents dated 5 September read.
“Mr Abbas comes from a good family’
Determined to secure a lighter sentence for his client, Mr Shapiro chronicled Hushpuppi’s family background.
He described Hushpuppi, 39, as a “devoted husband, father and son” to his family.
Giving details of Mr Abbas’ three children who live with their mothers in London, New York and Dubai, the defence lawyer said “his children depend on his continued support,” adding, Hushpuppi “comes from a good family and has not had any prior run-ins with the law.”
Highlighting Mr Hushpuppi’s entrepreneurial skills by pursuing his dreams of having a personal business, Mr Shapiro noted that “he worked hard and created opportunities for himself.”
The lawyer explained that Mr Abbas’ decision to plead guilty in the case has “forced” his ailing parents to move to secret locations due to the danger they have been exposed to in Nigeria.
‘Impact of statutory sentencing guidelines on Mr Abbas’
Putting forth arguments to sway the court in granting a lesser sentence, the defence lawyer said Hushpuppi “has a young family who looks to him to provide.”
Contending that Mr Abbas was not aware of how many persons were involved in the fraudulent scheme as well as the the extent of the monetary scheme, Mr Shapiro said “the scheme…Mr Abbas became entangled in was already in operation prior to his involvement.”
He said the wire fraud scheme was “being spearheaded by Ghaled Alaumary and individuals in North Korea, with whom Mr Abbas had no knowledge.”
Mr Shapiro disclosed that Hushpuppi was approached by Mr Alaumary, an old friend, and asked to procure bank account information.
“This information was to be used to wire transfer fraudulently obtained funds,” the lawyer admitted, but said the “extent” of the fraud was unknown to Mr Abbas.
Pointing out Mr Abbas’ cooperation with law enforcement agents when he was contacted, the defence lawyer said Hushpuppi is “sincerely remorseful,” adding he “poses no threat to be a repeat offender.”
“Based on Mr Abbas’ lack of criminal history, his extraordinary work ethic, his unconditional acceptance of responsibility, and his minimal risk of recidivism, a departure and variation below the sentencing guidelines would be sufficient to reflect on the seriousness of the offence, to deter future crimes,…”
In an impassioned plea, Mr Shapiro said, “Nobody benefits from Mr Abbas’ continuing to languish in prison – not his family, not his parents, not society.”
He requested that “the court impose a sentence below the statutory guidelines range.”
Mr Abbas, in July 2021, agreed to plead guilty to the multi-million-dollar fraud charges slammed against him by the American government.
He has been in detention since his arrest in Dubai and repatriation to the US in June 2020.
Hushpuppi who initially maintained his innocence, entered into a plea bargain agreement with the US authorities in July 2021, in the hope of getting a lighter punishment.
He pleaded guilty to Count Two which is “Conspiracy to Engage in Money Laundering,” an offence that attracts a maximum imprisonment of 20 years among other punishments including full restitution, his plea agreement with the U.S. government states in part.
This paper reported that despite pleading guilty, Mr Abbas will not be freed from paying restitution.
“Defendant understands that the defendant will be required to pay full restitution to the victim(s) of the offence to which the defendant is pleading guilty.
“Defendant agrees that, in return for the USAO’s compliance with its obligations under this agreement, the court may order restitution to persons other than the victim(s) of the offenses to which defendant is pleading guilty and in amounts greater than those alleged in the count to which defendant is pleading guilty,” the plea agreement seen by PREMIUM TIMES in July 2021 read.
Not being an American citizen, he will be deported after completing his jail term and paying up the amount to be restituted.
The maximum penalty for the offence which Mr Abass hopes will be reduced at his sentencing include: “20 years’ imprisonment; a 3-year period of supervised release; a fine of $500,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greatest; and a mandatory special assessment of $100.”
In June 2020, the Hushpuppi who is known for flaunting his ostentatious lifestyle on the Internet, was arrested in Dubai by special agents including the Emerati police officers and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operatives.
The FBI stated in an affidavit obtained by PREMIUM TIMES that its investigations revealed that Mr Abbas financed this extravagant lifestyle with proceeds of crime.
Details of offences
The US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California states in the agreement that beginning no later than on or about January 18, 2019, through on or about June 9, 2020, Hushpuppi “knowingly combined, agreed, and conspired with multiple other persons (“co-conspirators”) to conduct financial transactions into, within, and outside the United States involving property that represented the proceeds of wire fraud.”
The co-conspirators, according to USAO, targeted multiple victims and laundered and/or attempted to launder funds fraudulently obtained, and attempted to be fraudulently obtained, through bank cyber-heists, business email compromise (BEC) frauds, and other fraud schemes.
The intended victims of the conspiracy were said to include a foreign financial institution (which was a bank in Malta), the victim’s law firm (located in New York State), and two companies located in the United Kingdom.
Mr Abbas was said to have known that “these fraudulent schemes included bank cyber-heists, BEC schemes, and other fraud schemes.”
A top Nigerian police officer, Abba Kyari, was later indicted over his roles in facilitating the crime. But a federal court in Abuja, recently dismissed the Nigerian government’s extradition request for Mr Kyari.
The judge, Emeka Nwite, said Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, was responsible for the failure of the case by instituting the extradition proceedings despite the pending criminal case against Mr Kyari in Nigeria.
Mr Kyari and three other police officers are being tried on charges bordering on cocaine trafficking.
The foreign financial institution (a bank in Malta) was an intended victim of a cyber-heist, while the other victims identified above were victims of BEC schemes.
In some BEC schemes involving victim companies in the United Kingdom, Mr Abass was said to have with one co-conspirator on May 12, 2019, how they anticipated fraudulent payments of approximately £6 million per week.
“Once a victim deposited funds into a bank account, the defendant would coordinate with other co-conspirators to obtain or move the funds, and then to further launder the funds,” the U.S. government said.
In addition to admitting defendant’s involvement in the schemes intending to defraud the victims listed above, Mr Abass was also said to have admitted involvement in a scheme to defraud a victim company in Qatar that was building an international school (the Qatari Victim Company) and the owner of that company.
He was also said to have in December 2019, begun conspiring with a co-conspirator to defraud the owner of the Qatari company “who was seeking a lender to invest $15,000,000 in a project to build an international school”.
Mr Abass’ alleged co-conspirator was said to have already defrauded the victims of funds at the time that the defendant joined the scheme.
“Beginning on or around December 11, 2019, the defendant began to communicate with the Victim Businessperson, fraudulently using the name Malik,” it was stated.
As Malik, the prosecution said further, Huspuppi falsely told the victim that he would open a bank account in the United States where the $15,000,000 loan could initially be deposited.
“In truth, defendant and Coconspirator A did not intend to assist the Victim Businessperson in securing a loan; they were defrauding the Victim Businessperson,” the prosecution alleged.
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