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TUCSON, Ariz. — Two Nigerian nationals who were extradited to the United States from the United Kingdom pleaded guilty to operating a transnational inheritance fraud scheme in May after a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tucson investigation involving the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).
“These guilty pleas are a result of the unwavering commitment and countless hours spent by HSI and our law enforcement partners to ensure that this investigation led the extradition of the two Nigerian nationals,” said HSI Arizona Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown. “Operating a transnational inheritance fraud scheme that targets the elderly is not only morally reprehensible; it also undermines the financial systems we use and depend upon. I thank everyone who worked on this case. These two defendants are one step closer to facing much-deserved prison time.”
According to court documents, Jerry Chucks Ozor, 43, and Iheanyichukwu Jonathan Abraham, 44, were part of a group of fraudsters who sent personalized letters to elderly victims in the United States. The letters falsely claimed that the sender represented a Spanish bank and that the recipient was entitled to receive a multimillion-dollar inheritance left by a family member who had died years before in Spain. Victims were told that before they could receive their purported inheritance, they had to send money for delivery fees, taxes and payments to avoid questioning from government authorities. Victims sent money to the defendants through a complex web of U.S.-based former victims. The defendants convinced these former victims to receive money from new victims and then forward the fraud proceeds to others, thereby serving as so-called “money mules.” In pleading guilty, the defendants admitted to bilking over $6 million from more than 400 victims, many of whom were elderly or otherwise vulnerable.
“The Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch will pursue, prosecute and secure the convictions of transnational criminals responsible for defrauding U.S. consumers, wherever they are located. I thank the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency for its extensive efforts in helping to ensure that these defendants are held accountable here in the United States,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Justice Department and U.S. law enforcement will continue to work closely with law enforcement partners across the globe to bring to justice criminals who attempt to defraud U.S. victims from outside the United States.”
On May 18, Ozor pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Abraham pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud on May 31. Ozor is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams on July 27. Williams will sentence Abraham on Aug. 9. Both defendants face maximum penalties of 20 years in prison.
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a long tradition of protecting American citizens from these types of schemes and bringing those responsible to justice,” said Postal Inspector in Charge Juan A. Vargas of the USPIS Miami Division. “These guilty pleas are a testament to the dedicated partnership between the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to protect our citizens from these scams.”
Senior Trial Attorney Phil Toomajian and Trial Attorneys Josh Rothman and Brianna Gardner of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, Europol, and authorities from the U.K., Spain and Portugal all provided critical assistance.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311). This Justice Department hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting is the first step. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. English, Spanish and other languages are available.
More information about the department’s efforts to help American seniors is available at its Elder Justice Initiative webpage. For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website. Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC or at 877-FTC-HELP. The Justice Department provides a variety of resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office for Victims of Crime.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.
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