PARKVILLE, MD—A federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging three defendants on federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and aggravated identity theft.
Noel Chimezuru Agoha, 37, of Baltimore; Sessieu Ange Oulai, 34, of Parkville; and Kelechi Arthur Ntibunka, 32, of Essex, are all facing federal charges.
The indictment was returned on March 22, 2021, and was unsealed on Thursday. Agoha and Ntibunka were arrested yesterday and had their initial appearances on Thursday. At Thursday’s hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth P. Gesner ordered that Agoha and Ntibunka be detained pending a detention hearing scheduled on May 12, 2021. Oulai is currently detained on unrelated state charges and will have an initial appearance on the federal charges at a later date.
The indictment was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; Special Agent in Charge Edwin Guard of the Washington Field Office of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service; and Commissioner Michael Harrison of the Baltimore Police Department.
According to the three-count indictment, from August 2016 to December 2018, the conspirators conspired with others to execute a business email compromise scam (“BEC” scam) in which the defendants sent deceptive emails to victim businesses posing as clients or representatives of companies with whom the victims had ongoing business to induce money from victims. The parties being impersonated were also victimized by the BEC scam because the object of the fraud was to intercept payments intended for these parties and/or to deprive these parties of money to which they were entitled.
As part of the scheme, “drop accounts” were opened with financial institutions and controlled by the defendants and their co-conspirators, in order to receive money from victims of criminal fraud schemes, including the BEC scam, allegedly perpetrated by the defendants and their conspirators. During the course of the conspiracy, Agoha transmitted the identity of at least one BEC victim to a co-conspirator.
The indictment alleges that the conspirators created fraudulent email accounts that included or abbreviated the names of the BEC scam victims, or accessed the BEC victims’ email accounts without authorization, in order to send fraudulent emails impersonating the victims and to receive information and funds without the victims’ knowledge or authorization. Conspirators sent emails and made phone calls to the BEC victims requesting and instructing the victims to make electronic transfers and payments of money into the drop accounts, without the knowledge or authorization of the victims being impersonated. Agoha, Oulai, Ntibunka, and other conspirators allegedly monitored drop account activity (deposits, transfers, and balances), relayed information, and provided instruction about transactions to co-conspirators via text messages. In total, the defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly received, or attempted to receive, more than $1.1 million in proceeds from BEC scams.
The indictment further alleges that from May 2016 to July 2018, Agoha conspired with others to execute a dating scam. As detailed in the indictment, members of the conspiracy communicated with individual victims on dating websites and created a false pretense of a romantic relationship with the victims to coax the victims to send money. The conspirators allegedly used common dating scam tactics, including claiming fictious financial hardships and crises in order to persuade victims to transfer funds to the drop accounts. As part of the conspiracy, Agoha allegedly provided drop account information to co-conspirators to relay to dating victims including routing numbers, account numbers, and the name of the account holder. The indictment alleges that Agoha and his co-conspirators accrued more than $1.2 million in dating scam proceeds.
Finally, the indictment alleges that Agoha, Oulai, and Ntibunka conspired to launder proceeds from the dating and BEC scams in order to conceal the source of the funds. Specifically, the defendants allegedly negotiated payments for their roles in conducting drop account transactions, transferred and disbursed money received from the scams into other accounts, withdrew cash, and negotiated bank checks made payable to themselves and others.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting financial institutions and a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering. In addition, Agoha faces a mandatory sentence of two years in federal prison, consecutive to any other sentence imposed, for aggravated identity theft. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.