ST. GEORGE — A federal grand jury returned a 10-count indictment earlier this month charging eight individuals, all living in Utah, in connection with a fraud scheme targeting older widowed women.
The indictment alleges that over the course of about two years, the suspects defrauded dozens of victims out of more than $6 million, and then laundered the money using accounts the group controlled.
According to the indictment, the defendants used social media and social gaming applications to target widows, ranging in age from 52-76, by creating false identities to either befriend potential victims or to feign romantic interest before eventually pressuring them into sending money.
The indictment also alleges the defendants engaged in a series of transactions to disguise where the funds originated from, often sending significant sums of money overseas, hindering the investigation.
The suspects would create a fake personality on a social media website or dating application and then befriend a woman through that website to convince her that they had some urgent financial need.
The fake profiles included a businessman in Europe, a high ranking United States military officer, a successful Utah businessman, an individual in Sweden under house arrest and an engineer working as a subcontractor for a large oil company in Oman, Jordan.
The defendants would tell the women various stories, including one about being a U.S. military member stranded overseas. Some women were pitched loan or investment opportunities while others were told of a business that urgently needed equipment.
One woman was contacted by a defendant who said he was living in Germany and provided photos of a warehouse with piping saying he was involved in a business supplying pipe for a sewer in Turkey. He then convinced the woman to invest in his company, claiming she could make more than $600,000 in the venture. In one month, the women sent the defendant more than $365,000 in checks and wire transfers, the indictment says.
Another 74-year-old woman sent more than $140,000 to the defendants under the ruse they were high-ranking military personnel claiming to have a “portfolio” they needed released that was being held by customs officials. The woman was instructed to send the funds to various addresses, including one in Vineyard, Utah.
Once the scam was set up the women were provided with bank account information to deposit the funds that were then transferred to an account overseas, or they transferred the funds to each other, cashed it out or used it for personal expenses.
Eight individuals were charged in the indictment, including Jeffersonking Anyanwu, 25, 21-year-old Daniel Negedu, Onoriode Kenneth Adigbolo, 31, Chukwudi Kingsley Kalu, 28, and Godsent Nwanganga, 24, who were all Nigerian nationals living in Orem. Also indicted was 27-year-old David Maduagu who was also Nigerian and living in Taylorsville. Two individuals living in West Valley City — 38-year-old Nigerian national Richard Ukorebi and 20-year-old Adrianna Sotelo were also indicted.
All defendants were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, three counts of mail fraud and one count of money laundering conspiracy while seven of the defendants were also charged with one count of money laundering.
The maximum penalty for each of the first four counts in the indictment is 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, which is roughly double the amount stolen. For each count of money laundering or conspiracy, the penalty is 10 years in federal prison and $250, 000, or double the laundered amount.
All of the defendants remain in federal custody or are under supervision while Kalu remains at large.
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