SA woman, Nigerian men admit plotting global online fraud

2016-12-17 14:47


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Gulfport – A South African woman and six Nigerian men have admitted to being part of a global fraud network that used online dating sites to reach potential victims, the US Department of Justice said on Friday.

The seven Africans pleaded guilty this week to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, department spokesperson Peter Carr said in an email.

They're among 21 defendants charged in federal court in Gulfport, Mississippi.

The investigation started in September 2011, when a Biloxi woman told police that a man she'd met online through a dating website had sent her cellular phones to repackage and reship, according to documents filed with Wednesday's and Thursday's guilty pleas.

She allowed Homeland Security investigators use her email account to correspond with the man.

Investigators learned that the conspiracy involved more than 200 people worldwide, led out of South Africa and Nigeria, according to court papers. They got warrants for 360 email accounts, obtaining about a million messages.

Laundry list of crimes

The Homeland Security Investigations office in New Orleans was involved, according to the news release.

The conspirators used email scripts to gain victims' affection and get them to send money and participate in other fraud schemes, according to the "statement of facts" backing up the guilty pleas.

It said those included depositing and then wiring someone else money from $29m in cheques and other "monetary instruments" that turned out to be counterfeit, repackaging and forwarding merchandise bought with more than 39 000 stolen credit card numbers, and using hundreds of thousands of dollars of counterfeit postal and private carrier shipping labels.

The US Postal Service alone lost $300 000, the statement said.

The group also took over victims' bank accounts and used several layers of "e-mules" to launder money, according to the documents.

Those who pleaded guilty this week were identified as Rhulane Fionah Hlungwane, 26, of South Africa, and Nigerians Gabriel Oludare Adeniran, 30; Olusegun Seyi Shonekan, 34; Taofeeq Olamilekan Oyelade, 32; Olufemi Obaro Omoraka, 27; Anuoluwapo Segun Adegbemigun, 40; and Adekunle Adefila, 41.

All but Adefila also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identity theft, access device fraud and theft of government funds, according to the news release.

Four of the 14 others charged in Mississippi have pleaded guilty, one is scheduled for trial on January 30 on new charges, two have died, two are awaiting extradition from Nigeria and two remain fugitives, Sheila Wilbanks, spokesperson for US Attorney Gregory Davis in Jackson, said in an email.

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