A Los Angeles federal grand jury indictment alleges an elaborate scheme to steal more than $1.1 million from a businessperson attempting to finance the construction of a school for children in Qatar and the subsequent laundering of illicit proceeds through bank accounts around the world, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
The three-count indictment unsealed Monday charges three U.S.-based defendants who were arrested last week — as well as three defendants believed to be in Africa — with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, and aggravated identity theft, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Ramon O. Abbas — also known by his social media handle of “Ray Hushpuppi” — was initially charged in the case. Court documents show that Abbas, a 37-year-old Nigerian national, pleaded guilty in April in Los Angeles federal court.
A version of Abbas’ plea agreement outlines his role in the school-finance scheme, as well as several other cyber and business email compromise schemes that cumulatively caused more than $24 million in losses, according to prosecutors.
The case was filed in Los Angeles because certain acts of money laundering allegedly took place in the region.
“The defendants allegedly faked the financing of a Qatari school by playing the roles of bank officials and creating a bogus website in a scheme that also bribed a foreign official to keep the elaborate pretense going after the victim was tipped off,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison.
“Mr. Abbas, who played a significant role in the scheme, funded his luxurious lifestyle by laundering illicit proceeds generated by con artists who use increasingly sophisticated means,” Wilkison said. “In conjunction with our law enforcement partners, we will identify and prosecute perpetrators of business email compromise scams, which is a massive and growing international crime problem.”
The three U.S.-based defendants are Yusuf Adekinka Anifowoshe, also known as “AJ,” 26, of Brooklyn, New York; Rukayat Motunraya Fashola, also known as “Morayo,” 28, of Valley Stream, New York; and Bolatito Tawakalitu Agbabiaka, also known as “Bolamide,” 34, of Linden, New Jersey. They were arrested last Thursday.
The indictment alleges that Abbas conspired with Abdulrahman Imraan Juma, also known as “Abdul,” 28, of Kenya, and Kelly Chibuzo Vincent, 40, of Nigeria, to defraud the Qatari businessperson by claiming to be consultants and bankers who could facilitate a loan to finance construction of the planned school.
Juma allegedly posed as a facilitator and consultant for the illusory bank loans, while Abbas played the role of “Malik,” a Wells Fargo banker in New York, according to court documents. Vincent, in turn, allegedly provided support for the false narratives fed to the victim by, among other things, creating bogus documents and arranging for the creation of a fake bank website and phone banking line.
The victim was defrauded out of more than $1.1 million, according to prosecutors.
About $230,000 of the stolen funds allegedly were used to purchase a Richard Mille RM11-03 watch, which was hand-delivered to Abbas in Dubai and subsequently appeared in “Hushpuppi’s” social media posts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Other illicit proceeds from the scheme were allegedly converted into cashier’s checks, including $50,000 in checks that were used by Abbas and a co-conspirator to fraudulently acquire a St. Christopher and Nevis citizenship, as well as a passport for Abbas obtained by creating a false marriage certificate and then bribing a government official in St. Kitts.
The proceeds of the fraud allegedly were laundered in several ways. According to the indictment, Abbas was assisted in laundering the proceeds of the fraud by Fashola and Agbabiaka.
Court documents outline a dispute among members of the conspiracy, which allegedly prompted Vincent to contact the victim and claim that Abbas and Juma were engaged in fraud. After that contact, Abbas allegedly arranged to have Vincent jailed in Nigeria by Abba Alhaji Kyari, 46, of Nigeria.
According to an affidavit, Kyari is a highly decorated deputy commissioner of the Nigeria Police Force who is alleged to have arranged for Vincent to be arrested and jailed at Abbas’ behest, and then sent Abbas photographs of Vincent after he was in custody. Kyari also allegedly sent Abbas bank account details for an account into which Abbas could deposit payment for Vincent’s arrest and imprisonment.
Anifowoshe, Fashola and Agbabiaka are expected to be arraigned in Los Angeles in August. All three are currently free on bond.
A sentencing date for Abbas has not been scheduled.