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One defendant pleaded guilty on March 26 in an international fraud scheme that preyed on elderly Americans, and the lead defendant in the case was extradited from Spain yeterday in connection with the same scheme.
Ezennia Peter Neboh, 48, of Madrid, Spain, made his initial appearance in Miami yesterday to face federal charges. Neboh, and his co-defendants, Kennedy Ikponmwosa, 51, and Prince Amos Okey Ezemma, 49, also of Madrid; and Iheanyichukwu Jonathan Abraham, 44, Emmanuel Samuel, 39, and Jerry Chucks Ozor, 43, of London, were previously charged in the Southern District of Florida with conspiracy to commit mail fraud as well as counts of mail fraud and wire fraud. Samuel pleaded guilty March 26 in Miami to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
According to court documents, the defendants allegedly operated an inheritance fraud scheme. As part of that scheme, they sent personalized letters to elderly consumers in the United States over the course of more than five years. The letters falsely claimed that the sender was a representative of a bank in Spain and that the recipient was entitled to receive a multimillion-dollar inheritance left for the recipient by a family member who purportedly had died years before in Spain. According to the indictment, the defendants told a series of lies to consumers including that, before they could receive their purported inheritance, they were required to send money for delivery fees, taxes, and payments to avoid questioning from government authorities. The defendants collected money sent in response to the fraudulent letters through a complex web of U.S.-based former victims, whom the defendants convinced to receive money and forward to the defendants or persons associated with them. According to the indictment, victims who sent money never received any purported inheritance funds.
“Schemes that prey on the elderly are particularly insidious,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch will pursue and prosecute transnational criminals who defraud U.S. consumers, wherever they are located. I thank the Kingdom of Spain, including the Spanish National Police and the Ministry of Justice, for their tireless efforts in assisting U.S. authorities to find and arrest these individuals so that they may face charges here in the United States.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a long tradition of protecting citizens from these types of schemes and bringing those responsible to justice,” said Postal Inspector in Charge Juan A. Vargas for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Miami Division. “This extradition and guilty plea are a testament of the dedicated partnership between the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, to protect our citizens from these scams.”
“We are one step closer to ensuring that those who conned elderly victims for pure financial greed are brought to justice,” said Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown of HSI Arizona. “The recent extradition of one defendant and the guilty plea of another defendant involved in this inheritance fraud scheme demonstrates the commitment of HSI and our law enforcement partners to target offenders wherever they may live and ensure that those offenders answer for their crimes.”
According to court documents, Samuel admitted to defrauding over $6 million from more than 400 victims, many of whom he knew were elderly or otherwise vulnerable. He is scheduled to be sentenced by the Honorable Kathleen M. Williams on June 13, 2023, and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.
The Consumer Protection Branch, USPIS, and HSI are investigating the case.
Senior Trial Attorney Phil Toomajian and Trial Attorneys Josh Rothman and Brianna Gardner of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department's Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, Europol, the Spanish National Police, the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, and the Portuguese Judicial Police all provided critical assistance.
The Department urges individuals to be on the lookout for these types of schemes. An inheritance scam is a form of an imposter scam in which fraudsters pretend to be someone they are not, often a lawyer, banker, or foreign official. These fraudsters will try to get people excited about a large windfall and may use legitimate-looking legal documents as part of the scam. Be wary of unexpected contact from individuals offering a large inheritance. Do not send money or provide information to anyone you do not know. Seek advice from a trusted individual or an independent professional if you are in doubt.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has experienced financial fraud, experienced professionals are standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This U.S. Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, can provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting is the first step. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET. English, Spanish and other languages are available.
More information about the Department’s efforts to help American seniors is available at its Elder Justice Initiative webpage. For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or at 877-FTC-HELP. The Department of Justice provides a variety of resources relating to elder fraud victimization through its Office for Victims of Crime, which can be reached at https://www.ovc.gov.
An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This article was originally published on Department of Justice.