Olugbenga Lawal, a Nigerian national previously residing in Indianapolis, Indiana, has been convicted of Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering in a federal court trial. The conviction comes as a result of Lawal’s involvement in a Nigerian-based criminal organization that conducted internet-based fraud schemes, including romance fraud and business email compromises, and laundered the proceeds. The organization primarily targeted elderly victims who had developed relationships with individuals they met online. Lawal played a significant role in the operation by opening multiple bank accounts to receive the illegal funds generated by his co-conspirators. In total, the bank accounts involved in the money laundering scheme received over $7 million between January 2019 and June 2020. Lawal faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, along with other potential consequences such as fines and restitution. This successful conviction serves as a reminder of the ongoing efforts to combat online fraud schemes and protect individuals and businesses from financial harm.
Conviction of Olugbenga Lawal
Background of the case
Olugbenga Lawal, previously of Indianapolis, Indiana, was convicted on August 10, 2023, of Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering following a 4-day federal trial. The case involves a Nigerian-based criminal organization that targeted individuals and businesses in the United States through internet-based fraud schemes. The organization primarily engaged in romance fraud and business email compromises and then laundered the proceeds of these illegal activities.
Evidence presented at trial
During the trial, evidence was presented that established Lawal’s involvement in the criminal organization. It was revealed that Lawal opened multiple bank accounts in his own name and under a purported business entity to receive the funds generated through the fraud schemes. These funds were obtained both from victims directly and from other money launderers working on behalf of the criminal organization. The evidence also showed that Lawal used the laundered proceeds to purchase cars to be sold in Nigeria.
Lawal’s involvement in the criminal organization
Lawal was found to be an active participant in the Nigerian-based criminal organization. He played a key role in facilitating the fraud schemes and money laundering activities. By opening multiple bank accounts, Lawal enabled the organization to receive and transfer large sums of money. His involvement in these illegal activities contributed to the extensive financial losses suffered by victims and businesses across the United States.
Targeting of elderly victims
Of particular concern in this case is the targeting of elderly victims by the criminal organization. The organization preyed on vulnerable individuals, often exploiting their emotions through romance fraud schemes. By posing as potential romantic partners, they gained the trust of elderly victims and convinced them to transfer money. This deliberate targeting of the elderly adds an additional layer of harm to the already devastating financial losses experienced by the victims.
Opening of multiple bank accounts
One of the key elements of the money laundering operation was the opening of multiple bank accounts by Lawal. These accounts were used to receive and distribute the illicit funds obtained through the fraud schemes. By utilizing multiple accounts, Lawal and his co-conspirators were able to effectively conceal the true origin and destination of the funds, making detection and tracing more difficult for law enforcement agencies.
Fraud proceeds used to buy cars
Lawal used the proceeds from the fraud schemes to purchase cars that would be shipped to Nigeria for sale. This conversion of illicit funds into physical assets allowed the criminal organization to further distance the money from its illegal origins. By investing the proceeds in tangible assets, they aimed to legitimize their ill-gotten gains and maximize their profits.
Amount of money laundered
Between January 2019 and June 2020, bank accounts used by Lawal and his co-conspirators received over $7 million in funds associated with the fraud schemes. These funds were primarily traced back to individuals and businesses that were victimized by the criminal organization. The substantial amount of money laundered highlights the scale and impact of the operation on the victims and the economy as a whole.
Impact on victims and businesses
The online fraud schemes orchestrated by Lawal and his co-conspirators had severe consequences for the victims and businesses involved. Elderly individuals lost their retirement savings, and American businesses suffered significant financial losses, often amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The emotional toll on the victims cannot be understated, as they were not only deceived but also financially devastated by the criminal organization.
Statement from U.S. Attorney Weiss
U.S. Attorney Weiss emphasized the seriousness of the fraud schemes committed by Lawal and his co-conspirators. He condemned their actions, which drained senior citizens of their retirement savings and caused substantial financial harm to American businesses. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and law enforcement partners remain committed to investigating and prosecuting those who engage in online fraud schemes, ensuring that they are held accountable for their actions and that hardworking Americans are protected.
FBI’s warning to Americans
In light of the increasing prevalence of romance scams and business email compromise schemes, the FBI issued a warning to Americans. They urged individuals to educate themselves on how to identify and prevent falling victim to these types of fraud. The FBI emphasized that these scams have become more prevalent in recent years, causing significant financial losses and emotional distress. By raising awareness and providing guidance, the FBI hopes to prevent further victimization and dismantle criminal organizations involved in these fraudulent activities.
Penalties and Sentencing
Maximum penalty Lawal faces
As a result of his conviction for Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering, Lawal faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. In addition to imprisonment, he may also be subject to three years of supervised release. The court will also impose a fine, which can amount to $500,000 or twice the value of the criminally derived property, whichever is greater. Lawal is also facing forfeiture of any assets obtained through his participation in the fraud schemes. The severity of these penalties reflects the gravity of the crimes committed and aims to deter others from engaging in similar illegal activities.
Determining the sentence and restitution
The federal district court judge responsible for Lawal’s sentencing will consider various factors in determining the appropriate sentence and restitution amount. These factors include the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide a framework for calculating sentences based on the severity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. The judge will also take into account other statutory factors that may be relevant to the case. Restitution will be determined based on the financial losses suffered by the victims, with the aim of providing some measure of compensation and recovery for their losses.
Investigation and Prosecution
Agencies involved in the investigation
The investigation into the criminal organization involved in the fraud schemes and money laundering activities was a collaborative effort by multiple agencies. The FBI played a central role, with the Baltimore Field Office’s Wilmington Resident Agency leading the investigation. The FBI Indianapolis Field Office also provided assistance, underscoring the nationwide scope of the criminal organization’s activities. The joint efforts of these agencies were instrumental in identifying and apprehending Lawal and his co-conspirators.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jesse Wenger and Meredith Ruggles of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware led the prosecution of the case. They were supported by Trial Attorneys Mary K. Daly and Michael Grady from the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section. Former Trial Attorney Madeleine Case also contributed to the prosecution of the case. The experienced attorneys involved in the case ensured that the evidence was comprehensively presented and that the defendants were held accountable for their actions.
Copy of press release and court documents
A copy of the press release announcing Lawal’s conviction and related court documents can be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware. Interested individuals can access additional information and related court documents through the website of the District Court for the District of Delaware or by searching for Case No. 22-cr-11-MN on PACER, the public access to court electronic records system.
Pennsylvania Man’s Fraud Scheme
In a separate case, a Pennsylvania man was sentenced to two years in federal prison for his participation in a nationwide fraud scheme. The scheme involved fraudulent activities similar to those carried out by the Nigerian-based criminal organization led by Lawal. The case highlights the widespread nature of these fraud schemes and the need for continued vigilance and enforcement to combat them effectively.
New Jersey Man’s Money Laundering Conspiracy
Another recent case involves a New Jersey man who was indicted for his involvement in a money laundering conspiracy scheme. The scheme, similar to Lawal’s criminal operation, aimed to launder funds obtained through various illicit activities. By identifying and prosecuting individuals involved in money laundering, law enforcement agencies can disrupt the financial networks that support these criminal activities.
Former University of Delaware Student’s Stalking and Cares Act Fraud
In yet another case, a former University of Delaware student was extradited from Germany and charged with stalking and fraud related to the CARES Act. This case demonstrates the broad range of fraud schemes that individuals may engage in, exploiting different avenues to perpetrate their illegal activities. Through effective investigation and prosecution, law enforcement agencies can dismantle these schemes and protect the public from further harm.
District of Delaware main office
The main office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware is located at 1313 N Market Street, PO Box 2046, Wilmington, DE 19801. This office serves as the primary point of contact for inquiries and information related to the case and other matters within its jurisdiction.
Phone and fax numbers
The main office can be reached by telephone at (302) 573-6277. The office’s fax line is (302) 573-6220. These contact numbers provide direct access to the office’s personnel who can address questions and provide assistance as needed.
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