NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — Officials on Wednesday announced that authorities have charged six people accused of using shell companies to launder millions in funds from victims of romance fraud schemes.
“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,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said.
Authorities announced the unsealing of a complaint charging Abuchi Shedrach Felix, Nadine Jazmine Wade, Oluwatomwiwa 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 Tuesday night at Newark Liberty International Airport while Ochiagha was arrested earlier today in the Bronx, according to officials.
Wade and Fagge are still in the wind, they noted.
According to the allegations in the complaint, using online aliases the suspects contacted the victims on various dating sites and convinced them under false pretenses, to transfer funds to them and others.
The “Francisco Alias” were online alias used in the schemes using the names “Diego Francisco,” “Richard Francisco,” or “Tom Francisco,” where photos of a male model were used.
After engaging in conversation via phone, text, and email, the suspects would ask victims for money, officials added.
In one version, 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 from 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.
Additionally, the Francisco Alias would instruct the victims to send photographs of any cashier’s checks and any mailing labels.
The complaint said that each suspect created a shell company and opened bank accounts in the name of his or her respective shell company where they received funds from victims of the romance fraud scheme 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.
“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.” IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen said.
Felix, 29, of Newark, New Jersey, Wade, 28, of the Bronx, Akintola, 27, of Brooklyn, Ochiagha, 55, of the Bronx, Fagge, 24, of Towson, Maryland, and Ajibola, 36, of Newark, New Jersey, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.