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Nigerian national in Houston sentenced for role in fraud scheme

In Austin today, a federal judge sentenced Akhabue Ehis Onoimoimilin, aka “David Harrison,” a 29-year-old Nigerian national residing in Houston, to 87 months of imprisonment for his participation in a money laundering conspiracy that swindled more than $2.2 million from victims using Business Email Compromise (BEC) and romance scams.

In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ordered that Onoimoimilin pay $865,210.78 in restitution to his victims and be placed on supervised release for two years after his prison term.  Judge Pitman also ordered a money judgment against the defendant in the amount of $50,605 for the proceeds he received from the scheme.

In a BEC scheme, scammers target businesses and individuals making wire transfer payments, especially those with access to company finances. The scammers trick the employees into making wire transfer payments to bank accounts thought to belong to trusted partners – except the money ends up in accounts controlled by the fraudsters. Sometimes the scammers use computer intrusion techniques to alter legitimate payment request emails, changing the recipient bank accounts. Sometimes they send spoofed emails from email addresses similar to the real email accounts used by trusted partners.

In romance scams, conspirators often located outside the U.S. review established online dating sites, targeting victims who appear lonely based upon their profiles.  The fraudsters create fake profiles and exploit the emotional vulnerabilities of the victims.  Once an emotionally dependent relationship is established, the fraudsters create various crises and ruses, such as an emergency medical need that must be paid to allow the conspirator to travel to meet the victim in person and purportedly requiring the immediate transfer of funds.  These schemes are often emotionally and fiscally harmful, as the duration of the “relationship” can span months and years.  They often end only when the victim drains his or her resources and can no longer send funds to the conspirators.

On February 2, 2021, Onoimoimilin pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, admitting that beginning prior to June 2015, he used a fraudulent foreign passport in the name of David Harrison to open bank accounts in Austin and Houston.  Onoimoimilin used these financial accounts to receive, launder and distribute wire transfers to coconspirators illegally receiving proceeds of BEC and romance schemes.  For his efforts, Onoimoimilin collected between 10% and 15% of more than $420,000 in fraudulently obtained funds.

“These morally reprehensible schemes deprive people of their hard-earned money and even their entire life savings and retirement funds, leaving humiliation and financial ruin behind,” said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff.  “Our office will continue to vigorously prosecute those who conspire to prey on vulnerable victims in this manner.”

“The types of fraud committed by Mr. Onoimoimilin not only have lasting ramifications for the affected victims, but also threaten the integrity of our country’s financial systems,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Tim Tubbs of the Homeland Security Investigation’s San Antonio Division. “While today’s sentence is a decisive victory for the victims, the overall fight against fraud continues. HSI will do everything in its power to bring other cyber criminals to justice and recover ill-gotten gains for those victimized.”

HSI conducted this investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Keith Henneke,  Michael C. Galdo and Robert Almonte II prosecuted this case.