INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis man will serve time in federal prison after being convicted for his role in an international romance scam operation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana said Edwin Agbi participated in an international scam that conned senior citizens out of their retirement savings. His role was to receive money from the victims and pass it along to his partners. In return, he would get a cut of the money.
A probable cause affidavit filed in the case against Agbi said the investigation began after a bank investigator tipped the United States Secret Service about irregular bank activity. The investigator told the Secret Service that the New Albany, Ohio Police Department was investigating an account for four fraudulent transactions.
The investigator said a fraud victim thought he was making payments for a series of real estate transactions. In another series of fraudulent transactions, the victim thought he was sending money to his girlfriend. Instead, it was going into the account under investigation.
A bank manager recognized irregular account activity. The document said the account holder was making a series of withdrawals from different branch locations around Indianapolis. It appeared the account holder was trying to skirt the $10,000 reporting requirements.
When the manager talked to the account holder, the document said she claimed the transfers were from her uncle to buy clothes. The manager challenged her claim, asking her why she got $50,000 to buy clothes. She changed her story, claiming it was for her father in Mexico.
Later, the account holder went to a branch in Avon to withdraw the remaining $19,900. The document said she provided the purpose in a “non-convincing tone” that it was for car repairs. The bank froze her account.
While investigating the account holder’s accounts. The document said the Secret Service learned that she had opened accounts and performed nearly identical activities at several other banks.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Agbi, along with his co-conspirators, created fake profiles on an online dating service designed for adults over 50. Over time, they were able to deceive several senior victims, making them believe that they were in genuine relationships.
The Secret Service contacted one of the fraud victims, who said he met his girlfriend “Elisabeth Stevens” online, but never met her in person. Over the span of a year, he forwarded his entire 401K account, valued at approximately $400,000 to multiple people as directed by his “girlfriend.”
The account holder in the Ohio investigation, along with “Kareem Sunday,” were two of the people that he sent money. The document said he believed they were his girlfriend’s personal bankers and they were helping him forward funds to his girlfriend while she was in Egypt.
On multiple occasions, the document said his “girlfriend” sent checks to the victim to supposedly repay him. However, all of the checks were refused by the bank as being counterfeit or drawn on an overdrawn account.
The victim told the Secret Service that his “girlfriend” told him to stop sending wire transfers, directing him to send cash to an Indianapolis address.
The U.S. Postal Service was able to track the shipment. The document said a postal inspector also discovered approximately 22 USPS Express Mail packages had been delivered to the address between October 2018 and February 2018 from out-of-state addresses.
The Secret Service was able to discover the address the package was being sent to had a possible resident of Agbi. An agent conducted surveillance, discovering a vehicle with registration returning to Agbi with a mailing address the same as that where the package was being sent to.
After getting a warrant for the package, they discovered a bar of soap, three boxes of chocolate, a paperback book, and an envelope containing $20,000. The document said it is not unusual for fraud perpetrators to ask their victims to conceal money by putting it inside books or magazines.
The postal inspector delivered the package and they stopped a person that picked up the delivery. The document said that person told inspectors that Agbi asked them to get the package before meeting him at another residence.
While interviewing Agbi, the document said investigators learned that he is also known by Kareem Sunday, a nickname he got while living in Nigeria.
The office said after Agbi got the money from fraud victims he would keep a portion for himself before sending the remaining money to his co-conspirators’ foreign bank accounts.
Agbi was convicted of mail fraud, use of a fictitious name in furtherance of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.
Along with the jail time, Agbi was ordered to be supervised by the U.S. Probation Office when he is released and pay $95,000 in restitution.
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