Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Jonathan D. Larsen, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”), announced that MUFTAU ADAMU, a/k/a “Muftau Adams,” a/k/a “Muftau Iddrissu,” pled guilty today to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a fraud scheme based in the Republic of Ghana (“Ghana”) involving the theft of over $10 million through business email compromises and romance scams that targeted the elderly from at least in or about 2014 through in or about 2018. ADAMU is the fifth defendant to plead guilty in the case. Four other defendants – TOUREY AHMED RUFAI, a/k/a “Joe Thompson,” a/k/a “Joe Terry,” a/k/a “Rufai A Tourey,” a/k/a “Ahmed Rufai Tourey,” PRINCE NANA AGGREY, ABDUL RASHID MASOUD, and MUBARAK BATURI, a/k/a “Eben Karsah,” were arrested in 2018 and also pled guilty earlier this year. RUFAI, AGGREY, and BATURI pled guilty on January 9, January 28, and February 8, 2019, respectively, to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. MASOUD pled guilty on January 18, 2019, to one count of receiving stolen property. ADAMU pled guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “These five defendants admitted to participating in a conspiracy that involved stealing millions of dollars from U.S. businesses and individuals across the United States and laundering that money to their co-conspirators in Ghana through a network of bank accounts in the Bronx, many of which were opened using fake names and businesses. The conspiracy’s commission of fraud through business email compromises and the targeting of elderly victims through romance scams is particularly egregious. These defendants now await sentencing for their crimes.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “There’s often a misconception that financial schemes, such as those detailed in this case, are easy to spot. This is especially true for companies with a high level of awareness about business email compromises, and those individuals who are caught off guard by a scammer willing to capitalize on their trust and compassion. This fraud alone involved the alleged theft of more than $10 million, proving there’s often a way around the general safeguards put in place by businesses and individuals alike. Today’s announcement is a good reminder for all to stay alert and remember, if something doesn’t feel right, chances are it’s the wrong thing to do.”
IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen said: “Every defendant in today’s announcement shares one trait in common – greed. This desire for money drove them to prey upon the vulnerable in our society. Thanks to the financial expertise and diligence of IRS-CI special agents, who worked side-by-side with our law enforcement partners to uncover these schemes, these criminals are off the street and will now face the consequences of their actions.”
According to allegations in the Complaints and the Indictment filed in the case:
Between 2014 and 2018, ADAMU, RUFAI, AGGREY, MASOUD, and BATURI were members of a criminal enterprise (the “Enterprise”) based in Ghana that committed a series of business email compromises and romance scams against individuals and businesses located across the United States, including in the Southern District of New York.
The objective of the Enterprise’s business email compromise fraud scheme was to trick and deceive businesses into wiring funds into accounts controlled by the Enterprise. First, members of the Enterprise created email accounts with slight variations of email accounts used by employees of a victim company or third parties engaged in business with a company, to “spoof” or impersonate those employees or third parties. These fake email accounts were specifically designed to trick other employees of the company with access to the company’s finances into thinking the fake email accounts were authentic. The fake email accounts were used to send instructions to wire money to certain bank accounts and also included fake authorization letters for the wire transfers that contained forged signatures of company employees. By using this method of deception, the Enterprise sought to trick the victims into transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to bank accounts the victims believed were under the control of legitimate recipients of the funds as part of normal business operations, when in fact the bank accounts were under the control of members of the Enterprise, including ADAMU, RUFAI, AGGREY, MASOUD, and BATURI.
The Enterprise conducted the romance scams by using electronic messages sent via email, text messaging, or online dating websites that deluded the victims, many of whom were vulnerable men and women over the age of 60 who lived alone, into believing the victims were in romantic relationships, when in fact the correspondents were members of the Enterprise using fake identities. Once members of the Enterprise had gained the trust of the victims using the fake identity, they used false pretenses, such as a shipment of gold or receiving a portion of an investment, to cause the victims to wire money to bank accounts the victims believed were controlled by their romantic interests, when in fact the bank accounts were controlled by members of the Enterprise. At times, the members of the Enterprise also used false pretenses to cause the victims to receive funds into the victims’ bank accounts, which, unbeknownst to the victims, were fraud proceeds, and to transfer those funds to accounts under the control of members of the Enterprise. The members of the Enterprise, posing as the romantic interests of the victims, also introduced the victims to other individuals purporting to be, for example, consultants or lawyers, who then used false pretenses to cause the victims to wire money to bank accounts controlled by members of the Enterprise.
ADAMU, RUFAI, AGGREY, MASOUD, BATURI, and their co-conspirators received or otherwise directed the receipt of over $10 million in fraud proceeds from victims of the Enterprise in bank accounts that they controlled in the Bronx, New York. Some of these bank accounts were opened using fake names, stolen identities, or shell companies in order to avoid detection and hide the true identities of the members of the Enterprise controlling those accounts. Once the defendants received the fraud proceeds in bank accounts under their control, the defendants withdrew, transported, and laundered those fraud proceeds to other members of the Enterprise, including those located in Ghana.
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ADAMU, 30, RUFAI, 33, AGGREY, 43, and BATURI, 29, all of the Bronx, New York, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. MASOUD, 36, of the Bronx, New York, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years.
The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
ADAMU is scheduled to be sentenced on June 7, 2019, at 10:30 a.m. RUFAI is scheduled to be sentenced on April 12, 2019, at 11:00 a.m. MASOUD is scheduled to be sentenced on April 19, 2019, at 11:00 a.m. BATURI and AGGREY are scheduled to be sentenced on May 10, 2019, at 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., respectively. Each of the defendants will be sentenced by Judge Cote.
Any businesses or individuals who believe they may have been the victim of a business email compromise or a romance scam or have information regarding such crimes should file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (“IC3”) at https://www.ic3.gov or contact their local FBI office.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI and IRS-CI. Mr. Berman also thanked U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Ghana’s Economic and Organised Crime Office, and the FBI Legal Attaché in Accra, Ghana, for their helpful assistance with the investigation.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Sagar K. Ravi and Andrew D. Beaty are in charge of the prosecution.