Defendants involved in a romance fraud scheme that victimized a Taney County, Missouri, woman and an email hacking scheme that targeted a program at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., were indicted in federal court in the Western District of Missouri as part of the Department of Justice’s fourth annual Money Mule Initiative.
The Money Mule Initiative targets networks of individuals through which international fraudsters obtain proceeds of fraud schemes. These individuals sometimes referred to as money mules, receive money from fraud victims and forward the illicit funds, often to overseas perpetrators. By receiving and transferring illicit funds, money mules facilitate a wide range of fraud schemes, including those that often predominately impact older Americans — like romance scams and lottery fraud — and those that target companies through business email compromise schemes.
“Foreign fraudsters rely on American accomplices to facilitate their schemes,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore. “These so-called money mules pocket a share of every stolen dollar and profit from the victimization of others. Whether the criminal conspiracy involves a romance fraud scheme, an email hacking scheme, or some other illegal fraud, we will strive to protect our community from such predators and hold them accountable.”
In the Western District of Missouri, the initiative targeted an online romance scheme that stole more than $300,000 from several victims, including a Taney County resident. The initiative also included the indictment of a Florida man for a business email compromise scheme that stole $164,568 from a program at Fort Leonard Wood that provides transportation for military service members to be with their families during the holidays.
The Department of Justice announced that, nationwide, federal law enforcement took action to address 4,750 money mules over the last 10 weeks; enforcement actions occurred in every state in the country. These actions more than doubled the number of actions taken during last year’s effort. Agencies are also conducting outreach to educate the public about how fraudsters use money mules and how to avoid unknowingly assisting fraud by receiving and transferring money.
The thousands of actions taken by law enforcement ranged from warning letters to civil and administrative actions, to criminal prosecutions. Law enforcement served approximately 4,670 letters warning individuals that their actions were facilitating fraud schemes. These letters outlined the potential consequences for transferring money acquired illegally. Civil or administrative actions were filed against 11 individuals, and through seizures and voluntary return of funds, law enforcement obtained nearly $3.7 million in fraud proceeds.
Additionally, more than 30 individuals were criminally charged for their roles in receiving and forwarding victim payments or otherwise laundering fraud proceeds.
In the Western District of Missouri, those criminal cases included:
USA v. Huggins
Franklin D. Huggins, 53, of Homosassa, Florida, was charged in a two-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Missouri, on Nov. 16, 2021.
The federal indictment alleges that Huggins participated in a $223,427 wire fraud conspiracy and in a money-laundering conspiracy from Jan. 1, 2017, to Jan. 28, 2019. Huggins’s co-conspirators allegedly targeted Fort Leonard Wood and two businesses through a business email compromise scheme. In a business email compromise scheme, conspirators hack into a business email account, then send an email from what appears to be an employee of such business with authority to engage in financial matters, instructing that money be sent to certain bank accounts.
According to the indictment, conspirators sent emails to individuals associated with businesses in an attempt to gain unlawful access to business email accounts. After gaining access to such email accounts, the conspirators then utilized the business email accounts to portray themselves as the businesses and individuals represented. Under such assumed identities, the conspirators would then engage in what seemed to be normal financial transactions with other victim businesses, individuals, and entities, requesting money for certain purposes. These victim businesses, individuals, and entities, believing they were conducting business with the real individuals and not the conspirators, sent money to the conspirators based upon those false representations.
Once Huggins received the victims’ money in one of his accounts, he would withdraw cash, use the proceeds for his own personal benefit, and transfer the money to other individuals or entities, for purposes other than what was represented to the victims.
According to the indictment, Huggins and his co-conspirators stole $164,568 from the Fort Leonard Wood branch of the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Co-conspirators hacked the email of an Illinois business that provided charter bus services then sent emails purportedly from the business, which provides transportation for military service members during the winter holidays – including round-trip bus transportation to airports for military service members to be with their families during the holidays.
Huggins and his co-conspirators allegedly also stole $9,000 from an individual in Tennessee and allegedly stole $49,859 from a business in Idaho.
The indictment also includes a forfeiture allegation, which would require Huggins to forfeit to the government any property derived from the proceeds of the alleged offenses, including a money judgment of $223,427.
USA v. Obafemi
Badetito O. Obafemi, 39, of Dallas, Georgia, was charged in a 14-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Missouri, on July 27, 2021.
The federal indictment alleges that Obafemi participated in a wire fraud conspiracy and a money-laundering conspiracy from June 1, 2016, to March 2018. The indictment also charges Obafemi with 11 counts of money laundering and one count of operating an illegal money transmitting business.
Obafemi was the owner of Easy Tickets, LLC, and Goeasy Logistics, LLC, with offices for both companies listed at his residence.
Romance scams target people, some of them elderly, in search of companionship or romance through online websites such as Facebook, Our Time, and Go Fish. The perpetrators of the romance scams created several profiles on online dating sites and social media sites. The conspirators then contacted individuals throughout the United States, including at least one individual in Taney County, with whom they cultivated a sense of affection and romance.
Having established relationships with the victims, the indictment says, the perpetrators of the romance scams requested money for various untrue purposes, including equipment, business project expenses, other business expenses, hospital and other medical expenses, construction costs, travel expenses, taxes, and loans. The conspirators directed the victims to wire transfer or deposit money into various accounts, including accounts established and maintained by Obafemi. When he received the money, Obafemi allegedly withdrew some of the proceeds in cash, utilized some of the proceeds for his own benefit, and transferred some of the proceeds to other accounts in the United States and overseas.
According to the indictment, the Taney County victim was contacted via Facebook by an individual claiming to be “Kevin Condon” in May 2016. Following several conversations by email, phone, and Facebook, “Condon” convinced the victim to send him money for expenses related to his overseas business project and various medical issues. Conspirators stole a total of $27,460 from the Taney County victim. “Condon” also attempted to convince the victim to deposit $40,000 into an account controlled by Obafemi, purportedly to pay a court in South Africa for his release from jail.
The indictment also specifically refers to a victim in Minnesota who sent Obafemi and his co-conspirators $230,000 after meeting on an online dating site, and a victim in New Jersey who sent conspirators $54,000 after meeting on an online dating site.
The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require Obafemi to forfeit to the government any property derived from the proceeds of the alleged offenses, including a money judgment of $311,460.
These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Casey Clark. They were investigated by the Department of Defense, Office of Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, the Citrus County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office, the Belle Meade, Tenn., Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI and the Northfield, Minn., Police Department.