The Justice Department on Thursday unsealed a 252-count federal indictment charging 80 defendants with involvement in a massive business email scam and money laundering scheme.
The 145-page indictment, unsealed Thursday, said the 80 named individuals are charged with conspiracy to commit mail and bank fraud, as well as aggravated identity theft and money laundering.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, confirmed that authorities had arrested 14 of the defendants across the United States. 11 of those apprehended were in the Los Angeles region. The majority of the defendants are outside the country, mostly in Nigeria.
The defendants allegedly laundered the funds through a Los Angeles-based money laundering network. Two were already in federal custody on other charges, and one was arrested earlier this week. They used business email compromise frauds, romance scams and schemes targeting the elderly to defraud victims out of millions of dollars.
According to the criminal complaint, Valentine Iro, 31, of Carson, and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 38, of Gardena, both Nigerian citizens, who were among the suspects arrested Thursday, conducted schemes that resulted in the transfer of at least $6 million in fraudulently obtained funds.
“These victims are used primarily as money mules, by allowing their bank accounts to be used to transfer stolen funds,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt.
According to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office “The overall conspiracy was responsible for the attempted theft of at least $40 million.”
U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna said the case was part of an ongoing effort to protect citizens and businesses from email scams.
“Today, we have taken a major step to disrupt criminal networks that use schemes, romance scams and other frauds to fleece victims,” he said. “This indictment sends a message that we will identify perpetrators, no matter where they reside — and we will cut off the flow of ill-gotten gains.”
“In the BEC scams, the fraudsters will often hack a company’s email system, impersonate company personnel, and direct payments to bank accounts that funnel money back to the fraudsters in Nigeria,” Hanna said.
“In the romance scams, victims think they are developing a dating relationship, when in fact they are just being tricked into sending money to the fraudsters.” Hanna added that “we believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in U.S. history.”