Audrey Strauss, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Patrick J. Freaney, Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Secret Service (“USSS”), and Jonathan D. Larsen, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”), announced today the unsealing of a complaint charging ABUCHI SHEDRACH FELIX, NADINE JAZMINE WADE, OLUWATOMIWA AKINTOLA, GREGORY OCHIAGHA, HABIBA FAGGE, and OLANREWAYU AJIBOLA with conspiracy to commit money laundering, in connection with their involvement in laundering millions of dollars in proceeds derived from romance fraud schemes.
FELIX, AKINTOLA, and AJIBOLA were arrested last night at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey. OCHIAGHA was arrested earlier today in the Bronx. WADE and FAGGE are currently fugitives. FELIX, AKINTOLA, AJIBOLA, and OCHIAGHA will be presented in Manhattan federal court later today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “As alleged, the conspirators preyed on the emotions of their numerous online romance fraud victims to fleece the victims out of millions of dollars. Thanks to the Secret Service and IRS Criminal, the defendants have dates in court to face federal charges.”
USSS Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge Patrick J. Freaney said: “Cyber enabled romance schemes continue to harm innocent and unsuspecting people, and the U.S. Secret Service remains committed to investigating those who perpetuate these acts. In this instance, the conspirators allegedly utilized online aliases and created shell companies in furtherance of their scheme to defraud. Through a collaborative investigative effort by the Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the New York City Police Department Financial Crimes Task Force, the accused will answer the charges brought against them in the Southern District of New York. For further information on ways to better avoid romance scams, please visit www.secretservice.gov/romancescams.”
IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen said: “The arrests of the alleged perpetrators of this $3.5 million scheme deal a death blow to the vast criminal activity in which the defendants were allegedly engaged. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to aggressively pursue those who profit from illegal activity and ensure they are brought to justice.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint:
Using online aliases, the defendants’ co-conspirators contacted victims on various dating sites, and convinced those victims, under false pretenses, to transfer funds to the defendants and others. One online alias used in the schemes frequently employed the names “Diego Francisco,” “Richard Francisco,” or “Tom Francisco” (the “Francisco Alias”). The conspirators used online photos of a male model when providing victims with photos of the Francisco Alias. After engaging in conversation with the victims via phone, text, and email, the conspirators, posing as the Francisco Alias, would ask victims for money. The reason offered for why the Francisco Alias needed money could vary. In one version of the scheme, the Francisco Alias was supposedly an architect who had traveled to Dubai and needed funds in order to receive several million dollars in payment. In another version of the scheme, the Francisco Alias supposedly worked on an oil rig and needed funds to repair the rig. The Francisco Alias would then instruct the victims to transfer funds to bank accounts controlled by the defendants. The means of transfer varied. For example, in some cases, the Francisco Alias instructed victims to obtain cashier’s checks or money orders made payable to one of the defendants’ companies and then either mail the check to the conspirators – at addresses that included one in the Bronx – or to deposit the cashier’s check directly into a bank account held in the name of one of the defendants’ companies. The Francisco Alias would instruct the victims to send him photographs of any cashier’s checks and any mailing labels.
Each of the defendants created a shell company and opened bank accounts in the name of his or her respective shell company (the “Shell Company Accounts”). The Shell Company Accounts received funds from victims of the romance fraud scheme described above and rapidly depleted those funds through cash withdrawals, cashier’s checks, and the purchase of vehicles, among other means. The Shell Company Accounts received over $4.5 million between in or about 2018 and 2020, over $3.5 million of which came from victims of the romance fraud scheme.
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ABUCHI SHEDRACH FELIX, 29, of Newark, New Jersey, NADINE JAZMINE WADE, 28, of the Bronx, New York, OLUWATOMIWA AKINTOLA, 27, of Brooklyn, New York, GREGORY OCHIAGHA, 55, of the Bronx, New York, HABIBA FAGGE, 24, of Towson, Maryland, and OLANREWAYU AJIBOLA, 36, of Newark, New Jersey, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h), which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants would be determined by a judge.
Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of USSS and IRS-CI.
This case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Micah F. Fergenson and Matthew J. King are in charge of the prosecution.
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