LOS ANGELES - A federal grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday charged 80 people, most of whom are Nigerian nationals, with participating in a massive conspiracy to steal millions of dollars through a variety of fraud schemes and launder the funds through a Los Angeles-based money laundering network, the Department of Justice announced.
The indictment was unsealed after the FBI conducted a series of raids Thursday morning and arrested 14 defendants across the United States, with 11 of those arrests taking place in the Los Angeles region. Two defendants were already in federal custody on other charges, and one was arrested earlier this week. The remaining defendants are believed to be abroad, with most them located in Nigeria.
According to the indictment, the individuals charged used various online fraud schemes – including business email compromise (BEC) frauds, romance scams, and schemes targeting the elderly – to defraud victims out of millions of dollars.
According to a criminal complaint also unsealed Thursday, co-conspirators based in Nigeria, the United States and other countries contacted the lead defendants in the indictment – Valentine Iro, 31, of Carson, and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 38, of Gardena, both Nigerian citizens – for bank and money-service accounts that could receive funds fraudulently obtained from victims. Once members of the conspiracy convinced victims to send money under false pretenses, Iro and Igbokwe coordinated the receipt of funds and oversaw an extensive money-laundering network, according to the 145-page indictment.
The indictment and criminal complaint allege that Iro and Igbokwe, who were among those arrested Thursday morning, were involved in schemes resulting in the fraudulent transfer of at least $6 million in fraudulently-obtained funds – and the overall conspiracy was responsible for the attempted theft of at least an additional $40 million.
The individuals named in the indictment targeted victims in the United States and across the globe, including individuals, small and large businesses, and law firms, the FBI said. Some of the victims of the conspiracy lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraud schemes, and many were elderly.
Each of the 80 defendants named in the indictment is charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft. A number of the defendants also face substantive fraud and money laundering charges.
Additionally, Iro, Igbokwe, and five other defendants –Jerry Ikogho, 50, of Carson, Adegoke Moses Ogungbe, 34, of Fontana, Izuchukwu Kingsley Umejesi, 30, of Los Angeles, Tityaye Marina Mansbangura, 33, of Palmdale, and Obi Madekwe, 31, of Nigeria – are charged with operating illegal money transmitting businesses. Ogungbe and Mansbangura were also among those arrested this morning, and Umejesi is a fugitive currently being sought by authorities.
U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna held news conference to announce the domestic arrests and the unsealing of the federal indictment charging the 80 defendants. Also on hand were officials from the FBI, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office.