Eighty people face federal charges for their participation in a "massive" Los Angeles-based email scam and money laundering network that defrauded victims out of millions of dollars, the United States Attorney’s Office in California said Thursday.
The group used romance scams, schemes targeting the elderly and business email compromise scams to defraud their victims, according to a 252-count federal grand jury indictment.
Some victims lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to the schemes, and many of them were elderly, according to federal officials.
Authorities say 14 people were arrested across the U.S. Thursday, including 11 in Los Angeles. Two people connected to the scheme were already in custody on different charges, and another was arrested earlier this week.
Most of the other defendants are in Nigeria, federal officials said.
The lead defendants, Valentine Iro, 31, of Carson, and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 38, of Gardena, both Nigerian citizens, set up bank and money-service accounts that received funds obtained fraudulently by co-conspirators around the globe, according to a news release.
Iro and Igbokwe, who essentially operated as brokers, oversaw the extensive money-laundering network and transferred at least $6 million that victims sent under false pretenses, according to the indictment.
In exchange for a cut of the money, they set up accounts with fake business names that mirrored names of legitimate companies, and members also filed fake business name statements with the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder’s Office, authorities said.
The money was then withdrawn and sent overseas using illicit money exchangers, two of whom are Jerry Ikogho, 50, of Carson, and Adegoke Moses Ogungbe, 34, of Fontana, federal officials said. Ogungbe was among those arrested Thursday.
In total, the group tried to steal at least $40 million from individuals, businesses and law firms in the United States and across the globe.
All 80 defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money and aggravated identity theft. Some also face substantive fraud and money laundering charges, according to the news release.
Izuchukwu Kingsley Umejesi, 30, of Los Angeles, is among six members of the network who are fugitives being sought by authorities, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
At news conference Thursday, officials displayed the photos of 16 people suspected of being part of the fraud group in Los Angeles. Two of them were not yet in custody.
“Billions of dollars are lost annually, and we urge citizens to be aware of these sophisticated financial schemes to protect themselves or their businesses from becoming unsuspecting victims," said Paul Delacourt of the FBI’s Los Angeles office.