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Ten defendants have been indicted on federal charges of running an “advance fee” scheme that promised victims millions of dollars in inheritances, but only if they paid money up front to facilitate the transfer of the funds.
Three of the defendants allegedly involved in the scheme, which took in more than $1.5 million, were arraigned on March 7 in United States District Court. All three pleaded not guilty and were ordered to stand trial later this year.
The lead defendant in the case, Claudio Uche Dibe, 25 year-old Nigerian national, pleaded not guilty last month and was ordered held without bond.
Dibe allegedly orchestrated the sending of spam e-mails to thousands of potential victims. The senders of the e-mails falsely claimed to have control of millions of dollars in inheritance money in Nigeria, and they falsely told victims they would receive inheritance money if the victims paid advance fees for “taxes” or “documentation”, according to court documents. Dibe and his associates allegedly claimed to be attorneys, bankers, diplomats or other government officials, all of which was designed to convince victims they were dealing with legitimate professionals.
The indictment alleges that Dibe and his associates lured victims by initially demanding relatively small amounts of money. Once the victims paid the modest amounts, they were asked to wire increasingly larger amounts — as much as $35,000, according to the court documents.
The scam, which is also known as a “Nigerian 419 scam” after the section of the Nigerian criminal code that deals with fraud, allegedly bilked at least two dozen victims, most of whom were elderly, out of approximately $1.5 million.
The other defendants arraigned on March 7 include Bright Amesi, 25, of Gardena; Briceson Loving, 25, of Lawndale; and Erika Fletcher, 24, of Inglewood. Additional defendants include Ezenwa “Larry” Ihenachor, 28, of Gardena; Devon London, 22, of Los Angeles; Ellis Allen, 26, of Los Angeles; Wynterrose Rogers, 25, of Brooklyn, New York; Lanisha Andrews, 25, of Brooklyn, New York; and Veronica Littlejohn, 43, of Gardena.
The investigation was initiated by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration after one of the suspects allegedly impersonated an IRS agent to convince a victim to pay fictitious taxes. The charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and each count of wire fraud, carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
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