CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Nine men have been charged for their role in a series of romance and other online schemes to coerce victims, many elderly, into sending money to various bank accounts controlled by them.
Two of the men are from West Virginia. One is from Huntington.
The three indictments unsealed Tuesday describe romance scams as online schemes that target individuals looking for romantic partners, friendship and other close personal and business relationships on dating websites and other social media platforms.
The defendants are accused of creating profiles using fictitious names, locations and images.
Officials say at least 200 victims were duped, many of whom were elderly. The scheme netted at least $2.5 million.
At the early stages of the romance scams, defendants frequently requested relatively small gifts, such as gift cards and cell phones from their victims. As the relationships continued, they requested increasingly larger sums of money from their victims. The defendants allegedly opened bank accounts and laundered the proceeds of the romance scams through those accounts. The defendants also occasionally used cryptocurrency and celebrity meet-and-greet scams to obtain money from their victims.
The nine defendants are charged with various fraud-related crimes, including mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and receipt of stolen property.
As of Tuesday, all nine of the defendants have been apprehended in operations executed by the United States Secret Service and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in seven states.
The following individuals were charged in the indictments:
- Kenneth Emeni, 29, a citizen of Nigeria, residing in Martinsburg, West Virginia;
- John Nassy, 27, a citizen of Nigeria, residing in a suburb of Washington, D.C.;
- Kenneth Ogudu, also known as Kenneth Lee, 28, a citizen of Nigeria, residing in Columbus, Ohio;
- Oluwagbenga Harrison, 30, a citizen of Nigeria, residing in Stone Mountain, Georgia;
- Romello Thorpe, 25, a United States citizen, residing in Washington, D.C.;
- Ouluwabamishe Awolesi, also known as Oluwabamise Johnson, 28, a citizen of Nigeria and the United States, residing in Beltsville, Maryland;
- Augustine Amechi, 24, a citizen of Nigeria, residing in Huntington, West Virginia;
- Banabas Ganidekam, 24, a citizen of Ghana, residing in Westerville, Ohio; and
- Abdul Osumanu, 26, a citizen of Ghana, residing in Omaha, Nebraska.
The United States Secret Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG), the West Virginia State Police, the South Charleston Police Department and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia conducted the long-term investigation that spanned approximately two years.
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