A Nigerian residing in Atlanta, US, Olufolajimi Abegunde, has been sentenced to over six years in prison after he was convicted of cyber fraud in the US.
A statement on the US department of justice website on Wednesday said Brian A. Benczkowski, assistant attorney-general of the criminal division, and D. Michael, an attorney in Dunavant of the western district of Tennessee, made the announcement.
Abegunde, 32, was sentenced by Sheryl Lipman, a judge in the western district of Tennessee, on Tuesday.
Lipman ordered Abegunde, who has an MBA from Texas A&M University in College Station, to pay $57,911.62 in restitution to the victims of his offence.
Abegunde and one Javier Luis Ramos-Alonso, 29, were convicted in March after a seven-day trial. Ramos-Alonso received a 31-month sentence for his role in the scam.
The convicts are said to have received more than $10,000,000 to the detriment of US citizens and businesses.
Evidence presented during the trial showed that the Nigerian engaged in black-market currency exchanges over the life of the conspiracy.
“Purporting to hold himself out as a legitimate businessman, Abegunde claimed association with a business entity that was not yet operational in late 2017, so for his primary source of income he relied on his off-the-book currency exchanges,” the statement read.
“Through this network, Abegeunde played a key role, along with Ramos-Alonso, in laundering fraud funds from an Oct. 3, 2016, business email compromise (BEC) of a land title company located in Bellingham, Washington.
“The proceeds of another BEC perpetrated in July 2016 upon a real estate company in Memphis, Tennessee, also moved through parts of the same criminal organisation.”
Abegunde is also accused of witness tampering.
“While incarcerated and awaiting trial in the Western District of Tennessee, Abegunde continued his conspiratorial activities, trying to convince his fake spouse, who has since filed for divorce, to refuse to testify against him,” the statement said.
“Abegunde also engaged in witness tampering by sending a self-written Motion to Dismiss bearing his former attorney’s name and professional attestation.
“The evidence at trial established that Abegunde drafted and sent the motion, which his attorney expressly did not authorize, to his faux spouse in an effort to deceive her into not testifying against him.”
A campaign demanding Abegunde’s acquittal has been launched.
In a petition, the convict is said to be a victim of fraud himself. His case was described as that of ”racial/ethnic profiling of a Nigerian in the United States”.
”In 2016, Mr Abegunde (MBA) founded FJ Williams Inc. DBA tranzAlert; A multinational financial technology startup and Money service Business(MSB)/ International Funds Remittances Business duly registered with Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN), United States Department of Treasury; authorised to act as a Money Service Business(MSB) and licensed with the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance,” it read.
”FJ Williams Inc. is also licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as an International Money Transfer Operator. In addition, FJ Williams Inc . is under permit to remit funds from Canada by the Government of Canada.
”However, when in August of 2016 Mr Abegunde’s friend, Ojo, came visiting with his family to the US, Mr Abegunde (MBA) never knew trouble was in the offing, which he may likely pay for dearly.
”Mr Ojo had a cheque from the Bank of America with which he maintained an account, but same was closed arbitrarily (this is the fate suffered by many Nigerians in the US) and he was handed a cheque with the value of the balance in the account on it. Mr Ojo’s several attempts to cash the cheque over the counter proved futile and on one of several attempts, he was advised by the cashier, to open another account in a different bank to lodge the cheque into the account, in order to clear it and then get the value of the cheque in cash.
”However, since Mr Ojo wasn’t resident in the US and on account of his visitor’s status, Mr Ojo used Olufolajimi’s house address in Atlanta Georgia for the bank(Wells Fargo) requirement on the forms to be filled out by Mr Ojo.
”Mr Ojo was notified by the bank (Wells Fargo) in October of 2016 when a person in California inadvertently made a transaction into his account, Mr Ojo immediately authorize the reversal of this transaction. It should be noted that this money was never withdrawn or spent by Mr Ojo, Wells Fargo reversed the transaction.
”On March of 2017, two FBI Agents by names Kevin Hall and Tyson Fowler visited Mr Abegunde’s residence in search of Mr Ojo who by then had long left the US after his visit, Mr Abegunde (MBA) gave these two agents full cooperation and ensured that Mr Ojo contacted the FBI within one hour after they departed. However during their visit, it seemed as though these FBI Agents had already formed an opinion of guilt about Mr Abegunde. This was evident when they asked Mr Abegunde (MBA) “why do you Nigerians like defrauding us Americans?” They also asked how he could afford his living expenses, to which he told them that he had founded a startup duly licensed by the Georgia State authorities and also the Central Bank of Nigeria. Regardless of the character impugning questions posed to Mr Abegunde, he still made good on his word to assist in the FBI investigation by ensuring that Mr Ojo contacted the FBI Agents.”