Two California men were found guilty by a jury today of federal criminal charges for participating in an extensive, long-lasting, multimillion-dollar conspiracy – much of it committed by Nigerian nationals – that perpetrated a wide variety of frauds, including business email compromise (BEC) fraud, romance scams, elder fraud and fraud using malware.
George Ugochukwu Egwumba, 47, of Cypress, and Princewell Arinze Duru, 33, of Sacramento, were found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Egwumba was found guilty of one count of aggravated identity theft. Duru was found guilty of one count of wire fraud and one count of aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft.
According to evidence presented at their seven-day trial, members of the conspiracy – many of whom were based in Nigeria – used middlemen to connect with their fellow co-conspirators located in the United States. The U.S.-based middlemen assisted in receiving and laundering the proceeds of the frauds either through U.S. bank accounts, money transmitting services such as Western Union or MoneyGram, or cryptocurrency.
In exchange, the middlemen and those who assisted with the laundering of illicit proceeds received a percentage of the fraudulently obtained funds.
At the center of the conspiracy were Valentine Iro, 33, of Carson, Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 41, of Gardena – both Nigerian citizens – and Chuks Eroha, 41, who is believed to have fled to Nigeria in 2017, shortly after the FBI executed a search warrant in this case. This trio of middlemen connected the fraudsters with the money launderers, sometimes with other middlemen in between, and often used the same bank accounts for laundering funds. Iro and Igbokwe have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in this case.
Egwumba acted as another middleman, receiving bank account information from Iro and Eroha to pass to other fraudsters, and also worked to commit fraud himself by using malware and other cybercrime tools. Egwumba exchanged text messages with Iro and Eroha, in which he asked for and received bank account information that could be used to receive stolen money.
LokiBot and NanoCore remote access trojan malware and other cybercrime tools were found on Egwumba’s computers, along with messages in which he discussed using these tools to attempt to commit fraud.
Duru helped Igbokwe and others in receiving and laundering the fraudulently obtained money, both by opening fraudulent business bank accounts and using money transmitting services and cryptocurrency wallets.
Duru registered a fraudulent business in Sacramento County and then used that company to open two business bank accounts at different banks. Duru gave the bank account information to Igbokwe so it could be used to receive fraud proceeds. One victim was deceived into depositing approximately $25,600 into one of Duru’s business bank accounts.
The conspiracy involved the laundering of at least $6 million in fraudulently obtained funds and the attempted theft of at least an additional $40 million.
United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner scheduled an October 17 hearing for these defendants, at which time both will face a statutory maximum sentence of 22 years in federal prison.
So far, prosecutors have secured 19 guilty pleas in this case. Additional defendants have been arrested in Nigeria, and others are believed to be at large.
The FBI investigated this matter. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) provided substantial assistance during the investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Sue Bai and Victoria Degtyareva of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section are prosecuting this case.
The FBI in 2017 issued a report on the rise of BEC schemes, and published a recap of 2018’s Operation WireWire, which was an international effort to disrupt international BEC scams. An FBI public service announcement that warns of the dangers of BEC schemes encourages businesses to “trust but verify.”