A Nigerian fraudster, Ifeanyi Eke, also known as Luther Mulbah Doley, has been sentenced to 40 months imprisonment for his role in a multimillion-dollar business email compromise (BEC) scheme. Eke is responsible for 35 victims who sustained combined losses of over $2.7 million.
Fraudulent BEC Scheme
From around 2016 through to mid-2018, a gang of fraudsters engaged in a fraudulent business email compromise scheme (BEC). They convinced dozens of victims into wiring payments to bank accounts controlled by the cybercriminals.
The criminal scheme was quite sophisticated. First, they researched their victims to build intelligence on how an organization and individuals within that company work and communicate. In this way, they could familiarize themselves with the wording, invoice patterns and trusted relationships within the company.
Meanwhile, they set-up shell companies and opened fake bank accounts at various banks using false identities. Next, they sent spoofed emails to their victims, pretending to be individuals and companies the victims knew and trusted. The emails contained fake invoices with instructions to wire funds intended for third parties to accounts controlled by the fraudsters.
Charges Against Four Defendants
Following an investigation by the FBI, the Southern District of New York indicted four men for their involvement in the Nigeria-based BEC scheme. Ifeanyi Eke and Cyril Ashu were arrested in Atlanta, Georgia, in May 2019. Joshua Ikejimba was apprehended shortly after in Houston, Texas. The fourth defendant, Chinedu Ironuah, also of Houston, remains a charged fugitive.
The charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. One of the fraudsters, Cyril Ashu, was also charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years imprisonment.
The operation was part of a much larger investigation carried out over a four-month period, resulting in hundreds of arrests in the US and overseas. In 2019 and 2020, arrests were also carried out in Nigeria, Turkey, Ghana, France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and the UK. Law enforcement also seized nearly $3.7 million. However, the total loss is alleged to be many times higher.
Dozens of Victims
Together, the four men defrauded dozens of domestic and foreign victims of millions of dollars. Victims listed in the original indictment include a foreign-based healthcare company, a foreign-based manufacturing company, and an intergovernmental organization located in New York.
Following each money transfer, the gang of fraudsters quickly withdrew, transferred or laundered the money from their accounts. They also used fraud proceeds to purchase cashier checks. These checks were addressed to the fraudsters, one of their aliases or to one of their shell companies. The fraudsters then cashed the checks at various cashing facilities, to avoid suspicion.
For two years, the four men used no less than 17 aliases between them, backed up with fake identity papers shipped from Nigeria. The largest single haul was from an intergovernmental organization, which turned out to be the United Nations. This victim wired $188,815 into Luthur Mulbah Doley’s account. Doley is the alias used by Eke.
Ifeanyi Eke’s Role and Conviction
According to the Department of Justice’s press release, 34-year old Ifeanyi Eke played an important role in the fraud. Eke personally received wire transfers from several victims in bank accounts that he opened and controlled. In addition, he managed and supervised other fraudsters participating in the scheme. He helped set up accounts, received and communicated wire transfer information, and coordinated the purchase of cashier checks.
In total, Eke is responsible for 35 victims who sustained combined actual losses totaling approximately $2.7 million. The man pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 40 months imprisonment and a 3-year-period of supervised release. Eke was further ordered to forfeit $365,205 and pay restitution to his victims to the amount of $2,691,908.30.
Eke’s lawyer described the Nigerian citizen, who resided in the US on a temporary work visa, as a “caring father” and “first-time offender” who was pulled into the BEC scheme by Ashu and Ironuah. Eke was living in Ashu’s basement at the time. The prosecutor, however, did not buy any of it. They described the crime as “serious and pernicious”, “meticulously carried out” and “concealed for at least two years”.
Eke’s co-conspirator, Joshua Ikejimba was sentenced in August 2020 to 24 months’ imprisonment and three years of supervised release. He is also required to forfeit $1,250,766.03 and to pay restitution to the amount of $1,238,748.93. Cyril Ashu’s case is ongoing, while Chinedu Ironuah is still at large.