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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Six Individuals Charged in $7 Million International Investment Scam



Charges were unsealed today in Houston, Texas, against six individuals for their alleged participation in an elaborate international advance fee and money laundering scheme.  The scheme allegedly involved the impersonation of Branch Banking & Trust (BB&T) and JPMorgan Chase (Chase) executives, the fabrication of U.S. government documents, the creation of fraudulent investment agreements in the name of BB&T and Chase, and the purchase of luxury vehicles to launder the proceeds of the scheme.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office and Inspector General Steve A. Linick for the U.S. Department of State made the announcement.

Uju Okigbo, 48, of Richmond, Texas; Chioma Okafor, 28, of Houston, Texas; Marita Ranalan Underwood, 61, of Manila, Philippines; John Christian Rutledge, 64, of Yaphank, New York; and Osa May Martin, 68, of Carthage, Missouri, were charged in an indictment unsealed today in the Southern District of Texas.  All five defendants were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.  Okigbo and Okafor were also charged with one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, as well as two counts each of wire fraud and two counts each of concealment money laundering.  Okigbo is also charged with three counts of engaging in transactions with proceeds of specified unlawful activity, and one count of aggravated identity theft for impersonating a U.S. banking executive.  Underwood, Rutledge and Martin are also charged with one count of conspiracy to wrongfully use government seals.

Okigbo was already in custody as of today.  Martin made her initial appearance this afternoon in front of a U.S. magistrate judge in Springfield, Missouri, and Rutledge is scheduled to make his initial appearance.

A sixth individual, Tiffany Sourjohn, 47, of Miami, Oklahoma, was charged by an information with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wrongful use of government seals, which was also unsealed today.  Sourjohn made her initial appearance this morning and entered a guilty plea to the information in front of Senior U.S. District Court Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. of the Southern District of Texas.

According to the charging documents, the scheme involved fraudulent offers of investment funding by perpetrators primarily living in Nigeria who impersonated U.S. bank officials and financial consultants over the Internet and over the phone.   Victims in various countries were deceived into believing they would receive millions of dollars of investment funding as part of joint ventures with U.S. banks, usually BB&T or Chase.  The perpetrators utilized false domain names to make it appear that senders of emails were actually affiliated with BB&T or Chase.  To convince victims that the opportunities were authentic, the perpetrators recruited U.S. citizens to pose as bank “representatives” at in-person meetings with victims around the world, and, if occurring abroad, utilized sham visits to the local U.S. embassy or consulate and fabricated U.S. government documents to make the victims believe the U.S. government was sponsoring the investment agreements.  The victims were then allegedly induced to pay tens of thousands, and often hundreds of thousands, of dollars to U.S.-based bank accounts on the belief that such payments were necessary to effectuate their investment agreements.

According to the charging documents, to ensure the proceeds made it back to Nigeria, after victims wired in funds, money movers who controlled the U.S. bank accounts liquidated the proceeds through outgoing wire transfers to exporters, cash withdrawals and purchases of vehicles, including luxury brands such as Land Rover and Mercedes Benz, which were then shipped to Nigeria.  According to the charging documents, Okigbo and Okafor were primarily money movers in the scheme, while Underwood, Rutledge, Martin and Sourjohn were representatives.

The scheme allegedly resulted in losses of more than $7 million from victims in more than 20 countries.  To date, a house in Richmond, a 2014 Land Rover Range Rover, and approximately $200,000 in cash, all directly traceable to victims’ payments, have been seized.

The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The case was investigated by the FBI and Department of State Office of Inspector General.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney William E. Johnston of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Suzanne Elmilady of the Southern District of Texas.  Forfeiture is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristine Rollinson of the Southern District of Texas.

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