SALT LAKE CITY- Jeffersonking Anyanwu, 34, of Orem, was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with facilitating a romance scheme involving more than 350 victims. Anyanwu was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $8.4 million in restitution to the victims of his crimes.
Anyanwu was one of eight defendants who were charged in an indictment for their role in facilitating romance scams and laundering the money received from those scams. He and his codefendants allegedly took more than $8.4 million from more than 350 victims, many of them elderly. Anyanwu worked with coconspirators in the United States and in Nigeria, and used social media to create online personas to use in “romance scams.” Romance scams involve creating fake online personas to ensnare victims susceptible to online friendships.
The fake personas were usually males in the 55–65-year-old range, and appeared to target widows, divorcees, or women in troubled marriages. Victims were apparently targeted through social media sites, dating sites, and online games such as word searches or word puzzle games. Anyanwu allegedly used more than 20 accounts to facilitate the scheme.
Several kinds of imposter personas were employed. Often, they employed the identities of real U.S. generals. The imposters convinced the women that they were stationed overseas, intended to marry the women, and had significant assets overseas. They also convinced the women that they could not access their assets or leave the foreign station unless the women advanced them funds to be used to release their assets and obtain secure travel.
The romance scams in the scheme also included imposters posing as businessmen located abroad on oil rig platforms or constructing pipelines. The imposters would convince the women that the imposters were romantically interested in the women, but they could not leave until they finished the pending project. They would then convince the women to help advance funds to help complete the project, assuring the women that it was a safe and secure investment that would be returned to them.
The romance scams also involved efforts to impersonate celebrities. The imposters would encourage women to advance funds for a celebrity-meet-and-greet, a celebrity’s charity, or to help the celebrity while funds were tied up in a divorce.
To collect money from the victims, the imposters (largely overseas) turned to coconspirators whose location would not trigger suspicion. These coconspirators would provide U.S. bank accounts and addresses to be relayed to the victims to help convince them to send money.
In addition to Anyanwu, five other defendants have pleaded guilty and received sentences. Defendant Onoriode Kenneth Adigbolo was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment. Defendant Daniel Negedu and Defendant Richard Bassey Ukorebi were each sentenced to 51 months’ imprisonment. Defendant David Maduagu was sentenced to 26 months’ imprisonment. These Defendants have been ordered jointly and severally liable for $8.4 million in restitution. Defendant Adriana Sotelo was sentenced to 12 months’ home confinement. The case remains pending against two other defendants.
Assistant United States Attorneys Carl LeSueur and Aaron Clark from the District of Utah prosecuted the case. Special Agents from the FBI conducted the investigation.
The indictment in this case was one of several resulting from an investigation by the FBI’s Provo, Utah office into romance scam and money laundering activities.
For more information about romance scams please visit the FBI’s informational website here.