SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – A Utah man has been sentenced to federal prison for conducting romance scams targeting elderly victims, pocketing millions in stolen funds.
The U.S. Department of Justice has identified the man as Jeffersonking Anyanwu, 34, from Orem.
Anyanwu has been sentenced to 63 months in prison and has been ordered to pay $8.4 million in restitution.
Authorities say Anyanwu is guilty of committing money laundering through romance schemes targeting over 350 victims, many of them elderly.
Anyanwu was one of eight defendants charged for their role in the romance scams that netted them over $8.4 million in stolen funds. The suspect worked with coconspirators located in the U.S. and Nigeria.
Authorities say the suspects created fake online personas to dupe their victims through social media sites, dating sites and online games. The profiles were often “males in the 55 to 65-year-old range and appeared to target widows, divorcees, or women in troubled marriages.” Authorities say Anyanwu used over 20 profile accounts to scam his victims.
False profile identities included celebrity personas, U.S. generals who were well-off and businessmen working abroad on oil rig platforms or constructing pipelines.
Officials say the suspects posing as U.S. generals would convince their victims they were romantically interested in them. The suspects would then convince victims they could not access their assets or leave their job station unless the women provided funds to help them out.
For the businessmen impersonations, the suspects would convince victims they couldn’t leave their current project until it was finished. To speed things along, they would ask victims for money to help complete the project, ensuring the funds were an investment to be returned.
For celebrity impersonations, the suspects asked victims to send money for charity events, meet-and-greets or to help the celebrity while they were tied up in divorce settlements.
Authorities say the suspects partnered with overseas conspirators who provided U.S. bank accounts and addresses for victims to send funds to.
In addition to Anyanwu, five other defendants have pleaded guilty and received sentences:
- Defendant Onoriode Kenneth Adigbolo was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment.
- Defendant Daniel Negedu and Defendant Richard Bassey Ukorebi were each sentenced to 51 months’ imprisonment.
- Defendant David Maduagu was sentenced to 26 months’ imprisonment.
“These Defendants have been ordered jointly and severally liable for $8.4 million in restitution,” officials say.
- Defendant Adriana Sotelo was sentenced to 12 months of home confinement.
Authorities say the case is still pending against two other defendants involved in the schemes.
Multiple officials conducted work on the case including Assistant United States Attorneys Carl LeSueur and Aaron Clark from the District of Utah and special agents from the FBI.
“The indictment in this case was one of several resulting from an investigation by the FBI’s Provo, Utah office into romance scam and money laundering activities,” officials say.
For tips on spotting and avoiding romance scams online, click here.