Ghana-based $55-million cyber fraud scam bust

AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER

A joint operation by three US law enforcement agencies have led to the arrest of 6 members of a cyber crimes gang involved in a $55-million money laundering scheme and seized luxury vehicles including two Rolls Royce Cullinans, a Bentley Continental GT as well as a Mercedes Benz G63 AMG.

The FBI said the six were arrested in multiple states across the US for laundering proceeds from fraud schemes, targeting victims across the US by a Ghana-based criminal enterprise 

Those arrested by the FBI are Farouk Appiedu (35), Fred Asante (35), Celvin Freeman (47), Lord Aning (28), Sadick Edusei Kiss (24) and Faisal Ali aka Clarence Graveley (34). They were arrested following a joint operation by the FBI, the US Attorney for New York and US department of Inland Revenue Service. If convicted, they face prison sentences of up to 20 years.

 “The defendants laundered over $50 Million, which primarily consisted of proceeds of fraud schemes from business email compromises, romance scams targeting elderly, and fraudulent small business loans for COVID-19 Relief,” a joint statement from the three law enforcement agencies.

According to the indictment, for the past seven years, Appideu, Asante, Freeman and Anning controlled more than 45 bank accounts that had deposits that totaled over approximately $55 million during that time period.  

The charge sheet said a vast majority of the deposits consisted of large wire transfers and cheque or cash deposits from various U.S.-based individuals and entities that were victims of fraud schemes of the enterprise, or payments for vehicles, food products, and other goods sold by the four that were purchased using fraud proceeds. 

 As part of the investigation of Appideu, the US government has seized and is seeking the forfeiture of four luxury cars purchased, at least in part, with fraud proceeds, including two 2019 Rolls Royce Cullinans, a 2020 Bentley Continental GT, and one 2020 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG.   

This is how operations of the suspected criminal enterprise were explained in the statement: “Appiedu, Asante, Freeman and Aning  received fraud proceeds from victims of the enterprise in dozens of business bank accounts that they controlled in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia.  The business bank accounts were opened in the names of companies formed by the defendants that were purportedly involved in, among other things, automobile sales, food imports and exports, and freight trucking and shipping.  Once Appiedu, Asante, Freeman and Aning  received fraud proceeds in bank accounts under their control, they withdrew, transported, and laundered those fraud proceeds to other members of the Enterprise abroad. 

“ The defendants primarily laundered the fraud proceeds through their businesses by using the proceeds to purchase automobiles, food products, and other goods from the U.S.-based suppliers and distributors of such products and shipping those products to Ghana and elsewhere.  The defendants’ transactions had the appearance of legitimate business transactions when, in fact, the products had been purchased using the proceeds of fraud schemes.  This trade-based money laundering scheme was designed to obscure the origin of the fraud proceeds as well as the identity of the ultimate beneficiaries of these schemes.

“Kissi received fraud proceeds from victims of the enterprise in bank accounts that he controlled that were located in the Bronx, New York and elsewhere.  Once he received the fraud proceeds in bank accounts under his control, Kissi withdrew, transported, and laundered those fraud proceeds to other members of the enterprise located in Ghana. 

‘Ali received fraud proceeds from victims of the enterprise into a series of at least thirteen bank accounts at six different banks, which Ali controlled in the Bronx, New York.  Ali used the name and identity of another person to open several of these bank accounts in order to conceal the proceeds of the fraud scheme.  Once Ali received the fraud proceeds in bank accounts under his control, he withdrew, transported, and laundered those fraud proceeds to other members of the Enterprise.”

According to the joint statement, Freeman and Ali were arrested yesterday in New Jersey, Asante and Aning were apprehended in Virginia, Appiedu was already in jail, having been arrested  on October 18 in New York, and the last suspect, Kissi was arrested on February 5 in Fargo, North Dakota. 

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “The fraud schemes alleged that these defendants facilitated were lucrative, diverse, and most of all, callous. As alleged, they engaged in email spoofing, duping elderly online daters into wiring them money, and applying for government-funded Coronavirus relief funds earmarked for the benefit of small businesses affected by the pandemic. Thanks to the determination of the IRS and FBI, these defendants face serious prison time, and their next online profiles could potentially appear in a place where they’ll be unable to catfish anymore – the website for the Bureau of Prisons. 

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. said:  “The scams we allege in this investigation include romance scams targeting the elderly, business e-mail compromise scams, and even fraudulent covid-19 relief loans.  In many of these and similar fraud cases, victims are reluctant to come forward because they fear embarrassment or reputational damage.  Some may even believe the perpetrators are beyond our reach because they often live abroad.  These arrests and indictments should serve as a reminder that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are here to help you and bring these bands of criminals to justice.”

IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen said:  “The arrests of the alleged ringleaders of this more than $50 million scheme today dealt a death blow to the vast criminal activity in which the defendants were engaged, including elderly scams, COVID-19 fraud, money laundering, among others. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to aggressively pursue those who profit from illegal activity and ensure they are brought to justice.”

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