A 29-year-old Nigerian man whose email scams aimed to defraud businesspeople from Singapore to Switzerland out of millions of dollars was sentenced to five years in a US federal prison.
The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S. Newman, announced on Tuesday, September 11.
“Onyekachi Emmanuel Opara attempted to dupe thousands of victims into transferring money to him and his co-defendant in a phony email scheme,” said Geoffrey Berman.
Opara, 29, and a partner were arrested in South Africa in December 2016 and extradited to the US from Johannesburg in January of this year.
According to the New York FBI’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrimes Unit, he allegedly cooked up business email scams that targeted thousands of companies worldwide.
In these scams, Opara and fellow conspirators pretended to be supervisors at the target companies or third-party vendors, and emailed company employees requesting payments or information.
The emails, however, were sent from accounts with domain names very similar to those of the companies or vendors, or accounts whose metadata had been changed so it seemed like the emails were coming from a familiar address.
Once victims transferred funds, investigators say Opara quickly sucked them away to other bank accounts controlled by him and his partners. Investigators estimate that he attempted to steal $25 million in this way.
In a separate scam, Opara created a dating profile, posing as a young, attractive woman called “Barbara.”
Striking up relationships with men online, “Barbara” would convince them to send money overseas to accounts Opara controlled.
One victim transferred $600,000 to “Barbara”–money which landed in the bank accounts of Opara’s co-conspirators.
In addition to his five-year sentence, Opara has been ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution.
“The global reach of our office and the FBI ensured that Opara will serve time in the United States for his crimes,” said Berman.
Read the full press release below….
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ONYEKACHI EMMANUEL OPARA was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court to 60 months in prison based upon OPARA’s participation in fraudulent business email compromise scams that targeted thousands of victims in the United States and around the world. Through these scams, OPARA and his co-conspirators attempted to defraud victims of over $25 million. On April 11, 2018, OPARA pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty, who imposed today’s sentence.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “From halfway around the world, Onyekachi Emmanuel Opara ran a global email scam business that victimized thousands of people out of millions of dollars. The global reach of our Office and the FBI ensured that Opara will serve time in the United States for his crimes.”
According to the allegations in the Indictment to which OPARA pled guilty and statements made at the plea and sentencing proceedings:
Between 2014 and 2016, OPARA and his co-defendant, David Chukwuneke Adindu (“Adindu”), participated in multiple business email compromise (“BEC”) scams that targeted thousands of victims around the world, including in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, and Singapore. OPARA sent bogus emails to employees of the victim companies directing that funds be transferred to specified bank accounts. The emails purported to be from supervisors at those companies or from third party vendors with whom the companies did business. In reality, the emails were either sent from email accounts with domain names very similar to those of the companies and vendors, or the metadata for the emails was modified to make it appear as if the emails had been sent from legitimate email addresses. After victims transferred the funds as directed in the bogus emails, the funds were quickly withdrawn or transferred to other bank accounts controlled by scheme participants. In total, the BEC scam participants attempted to steal more than $25 million from victims around the world.
In furtherance of the BEC scams, OPARA created accounts on dating websites and entered into online romantic relationships with individuals in the United States by portraying himself as a young attractive woman named “Barbara.” “Barbara” would then instruct these individuals in the United States to send their money overseas and/or to receive money from BEC scams and forward the proceeds to other scheme participants located overseas. For example, one victim with whom OPARA struck up a romantic relationship sent over $600,000 of the victim’s own money to bank accounts controlled by scheme participants at OPARA’s direction. OPARA also attempted to recruit at least 14 other individuals via dating websites to receive funds from BEC scams into their bank accounts and then transfer the proceeds to overseas bank accounts.
OPARA was arrested on December 22, 2016, in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was extradited to the Southern District of New York on January 26, 2018.
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In addition to the prison term, OPARA, 30, of Lagos, Nigeria, was sentenced to two years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution.
On June 20, 2017, Adindu pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit identity theft. On December 14, 2017, Judge Crotty sentenced Adindu to 41 months in prison and ordered him to pay approximately $1.4 million in restitution.
Mr. Berman praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Berman also thanked Oath’s E-Crime Investigations Team, the National Prosecuting Authority for South Africa, the South African Police Service, and the United States Marshals Service. Mr. Berman noted that the investigation is ongoing.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew K. Chan and Daniel Loss are in charge of the prosecution.