Money Mule Involved In A Business Email Compromise Scheme Is Sentenced To 13 Years In Prison

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FILE PHOTO: A guard stands behind bars

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – U.S. Attorney Dena J. King announced today that Chukwudi Michael Okwara, 42, of Charlotte, was sentenced to 13 years in prison and three years of supervised release for his role as a money mule in a Business Email Compromise scheme. In June 2021, a federal jury convicted Okwara of multiple counts of money laundering, making a false statement to a financial institution, and aggravated identity theft.

A Business Email Compromise scheme, or BEC, is a sophisticated scam often targeting businesses involved in wire transfer payments. The fraud is carried out by compromising and/or “spoofing” legitimate business email accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques, to cause employees of the victim company (or other individuals involved in legitimate business transactions) to transfer funds to accounts controlled by scammers.

According to trial evidence, witness testimony, documents filed with the court, and today’s sentencing hearing, beginning in November 2018, Okwara, who also goes by “Collins Bird” and “Larry Eugene Coleman,” used fake documents to open multiple money mule bank accounts. Money mule bank accounts are accounts used by fraudsters as a pass-through means of moving ill-gotten funds. As trial evidence established, Okwara used the money mule accounts to receive and launder the proceeds of several BEC scams totaling $2 million, perpetrated on six victim companies. The victim companies, which were located throughout the United States, were tricked into wiring large amounts of money into the bank accounts controlled by Okwara. Within days of receipt of the fraudulent wires, Okwara used false and stolen identities and conducted financial transactions in order to conceal the fraud, including making large cash withdrawals and sending wires to other bank accounts under his control. 

Okwara is currently in federal custody and will be transferred to the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility.

In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney King commended the investigating efforts of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Warren and Mark T. Odulio, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, prosecuted the case.