Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today that ONYEKACHI EMMANUEL OPARA was extradited from South Africa. In December 2016, OPARA was arrested in South Africa on the basis of a provisional arrest warrant for participating in fraudulent business email compromise scams that targeted thousands of victims around the world, including the United States. Collectively, the scams attempted to defraud millions of dollars from victims. OPARA arrived in the Southern District of New York this morning, and will be presented today in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck. Co-defendant David Chukwuneke Adindu was previously sentenced to 41 months in prison for participating in the business email compromise scams.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “As alleged, Onyekachi Opara attempted to dupe thousands of victims into transferring money to him and his co-defendant in a phony email scheme. Today’s extradition shows that defendants who allegedly target American victims from a distance are nonetheless subject to the reach of American justice.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “Technology changes daily, so do the tactics used by scammers to prey on unsuspecting victims. This case and others we are aggressively investigating every day prove, regardless of these criminals efforts to disguise their illegal activity, we won’t stop pursuing them. FBI New York Cyber Crime agents and our law enforcement partners will search out suspects in these cases, even reaching internationally, to stop the next victims from losing their money.”
According to the allegations in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
Between 2014 and 2016, OPARA and Adindu participated in Business Email Compromise scams (“BEC scams”) targeting thousands of victims around the world, including in the United States. As part of the BEC scams, emails were sent to employees of various companies directing that funds be transferred to specified bank accounts. The emails purported to be from supervisors at those companies or third party vendors that did business with those companies. The emails, however, were not legitimate. Rather, they were either from email accounts with a domain name that was very similar to a legitimate domain name, or the metadata in the emails had been modified so that the emails appeared as if they were from legitimate email addresses. After victims complied with the fraudulent wiring instructions, the transferred funds were quickly withdrawn or moved into different bank accounts. In total, the BEC scams attempted to defraud millions of dollars from victims.
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OPARA, 29, of Lagos, Nigeria, is charged in an Indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty.
Mr. Berman praised the investigative work of the FBI. Mr. Berman also thanked Oath’s E-Crime Investigations Team, the National Prosecuting Authority for South Africa, the South African Police Service, the United States Marshals Service, and the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, and noted that the investigation is continuing.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew K. Chan and Daniel Loss are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.