Massive International Fraud and Money Laundering Conspiracy Detailed in Federal Grand Jury Indictment

August 29, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice on Aug. 22 unsealed a 252-count federal grand jury indictment against 80 defendants, most of whom are Nigerian nationals, with participating in a massive conspiracy to steal millions of dollars through a variety of fraud schemes and launder the funds through a Los Angeles-based money laundering network.

The indictment alleges that the defendants and others used various online fraud schemes—including business email compromise (BEC) frauds, romance scams and schemes targeting the elderly—to defraud victims out of millions of dollars. According to the criminal complaint, co-conspirators based in Nigeria, the United States and other countries contacted the lead defendants in the indictment—Valentine Iro, 31, of Carson, and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 38, of Gardena, both Nigerian citizens—for bank and money-service accounts that could receive funds fraudulently obtained from victims. Once members of the conspiracy convinced victims to send money under false pretenses, Iro and Igbokwe coordinated the receipt of funds and oversaw an extensive money-laundering network, according to the 145-page indictment.

The indictment and criminal complaint allege that Iro and Igbokwe were involved in schemes resulting in the fraudulent transfer of at least $6 million in fraudulently obtained funds. The overall conspiracy was responsible for the attempted theft of at least an additional $40 million.

The fraudsters targeted victims in the United States and across the globe, including individuals, small and large businesses, and law firms. Some of the victims of the conspiracy lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraud schemes.

“This case is part of our ongoing efforts to protect Americans from fraudulent online schemes and to bring to justice those who prey upon American citizens and businesses,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “We have taken a major step to disrupt criminal networks that use BEC schemes, romance scams and other frauds to fleece victims. 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.”

According to the indictment, Iro and Igbokwe collected bank accounts, fielded requests for bank account information, provided that information to co-conspirators around the world and laundered the money obtained from victims.

If a bank account with a specific business name was required to trick a business-victim into making a payment, Iro and Igbokwe often coordinated with “money mules” to open accounts that could receive funds obtained, according to court documents. In addition to making the fake business name mirror the name of a legitimate company, members of the conspiracy routinely filed fictitious business name statements with the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder’s Office that were presented to banks when the fraudulent accounts were opened.

Once a victim deposited funds into a bank account or a money services account, Iro and Igbokwe allegedly coordinated with others to further launder the funds. Members of the conspiracy sometimes wired funds to other bank accounts under their control. In other cases, they simply withdrew funds as cash or negotiable instruments such as cashier’s checks.

When stolen funds were withdrawn as cash, the defendants frequently used illicit money exchangers to move funds overseas, generally avoiding transferring the funds directly through banking institutions, the indictment alleges. To do this, Iro and Igbokwe coordinated the transfer of a victim’s funds from a fraudulent bank account they controlled to U.S. bank accounts belonging to illicit money exchangers. Those money exchangers, in turn, used a Nigerian banking application to transfer other funds in naira (?), the currency of Nigeria, from Nigerian bank accounts they controlled to the Nigerian bank accounts specified by Iro and Igbokwe. This method was used to transfer millions of dollars to Nigerian co-conspirators without directly transferring funds overseas.


Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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