An FBI probe into a Nigerian romance scam wrapped up Friday with the final suspect in the scheme being sentenced to prison for his part in a conspiracy that saw victims lose thousands of dollars to scammers abroad.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell on Friday sentenced Afeez Olajide Adebara, 36, to four years in prison in connection with the scam, which prosecutors said involved elderly women in Oklahoma and across the nation.
In addition to the prison time, Frizzell ordered Adebara to pay $500,740 in restitution to three victims.
“Afeez Adebara led a group of money launderers who bilked unsuspecting victims out of their hard-earned retirement and savings accounts as part of a Nigerian romance scam,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson. “This con artist and his cohorts have been brought to justice thanks to the work of the FBI and federal prosecutors Babasijibomi Moore and Chris Nassar.”
A federal grand jury in Tulsa indicted Adebara, whose aliases included “Sam Ade” and “Alan Altman,” on Oct. 10, 2019, along with six other named suspects and three unnamed people.
The indictment alleged that Adebara and the nine others conspired to commit money laundering as far back as 2017 as part of a scheme that involved the use of online dating sites and social media platforms to fleece unsuspecting elderly women.
During the sentencing hearing held in Tulsa federal court, Frizzell noted that Adebara acted as an intermediary, laundering funds here for “individuals engaged in the romance fraud scam.”
Prosecutors said the scammers would build rapport with their victims before telling them they had encountered a financial crisis of some sort as a means to plead for money and property from the victims.
In some cases the fraudsters told the victims that they needed money to help them return from outside the United States.
The group would open checking accounts using fake identification to deposit and launder funds sent to them through the scam, prosecutors said.
The scammers then used the funds to purchase luxury vehicles and to purchase and export salvaged vehicles and car parts overseas, usually to Nigeria.
The victims were said to be living in Pryor, as well as other in Florida and Ohio, with some of the accused living in Norman and attending school at the University of Oklahoma.
Former U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said when the indictments were announced that “sadly, experience tells us that these victims will never see their money again.”
While victims reported losses totaling $2.5 million, ranging from $15,000 to $760,000 each, Adebara was ordered to pay $500,740 in restitution.
He could have faced up to 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering on Nov. 30.
John Russell, Adebara’s attorney, argued for a shorter prison term for his client, arguing that the government had granted others charged in the scheme disproportionately lighter sentences.
But Moore, a trial attorney for the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division’s fraud section, told the judge that most of the others had limited knowledge of the entire scheme. Also, Moore noted that Adebara’s cooperation didn’t come until later.
“He intentionally lied to us,” Moore said, referring to Adebara during early questioning, adding that the former Norman resident “runs various fraudulent schemes.”
After completing his prison term, Adebara must serve three years of supervised release.
He has been in custody since his arrest in November 2019.
Others indicted in the scheme and their sentences are:
Oluwaseun John Ogundele, 32, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; 33 months’ imprisonment and restitution totaling $649,294.23.
Joshua Nnandom Ditep, 26, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit structuring currency transactions; five months’ imprisonment followed by five months of home confinement and restitution totaling $110,001.45.
Paul Usoro, 26, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; six months’ imprisonment and $56,183.80 restitution.
Chibuzo Godwin Obiefuna Jr., 28, pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud; two years of supervised release and $10,100 restitution.
Jamiu Ibukun Adedeji, 25, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to delay or destroy mail; time served in jail and no restitution.
Tobiloba Kehinde, 29, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; four months’ imprisonment and $25,920 restitution.