Five Nigerians, one of them extradited from Canada and three Americans have been indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for their role in a fraudulent “sweepstakes” or lotto scam with an intended loss in excess of $300 million.
The Nigerian extradited from Canada on Thursday is known as Harry Cole and he has several aliases, according to a statement by the Justice Department.
The 50 year-old Nigerian, normally resident in Canada, is known as Akintomide Ayoola Bolu, John King, Big Bro and Egbon.
He will now face federal charges for his alleged role.
A federal grand jury indictment, returned in September 2018, charges Cole with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud (Sweepstakes) and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Each count upon conviction calls for up to 20 years in federal prison.
Cole, who remains in federal custody, is one of eight defendants charged in connection with the scheme.
The others include: Nigerian Akintola Akinmadeyemi; Americans Joel Calvin and Clarence Barefield (aka CJ), both resident in Austin and Mesquite, TX, resident Donna Lundy.
Others are Nigerian citizens and Canadian residents Emmanuel Olawale Ajayi (aka Wale, aka Walata), Tony Dada Akinbobola (aka Lawrence D Awoniyi, aka Boss Tony, aka Toyin) and Bolaji Akinwunmi Oyewole (aka BJ, aka Beejay).
According to the indictment, the defendants carried out their sweepstakes scheme from 2012 to 2016.
Cole allegedly purchased lists from Lundy of elderly potential victims and their addresses. He and other conspirators based in the Toronto, Ontario Canada metropolitan area sent packages containing fraudulent sweepstakes information to conspirators residing in the U.S.
The packages contained thousands of mailers, which U.S.-based conspirators sent to victims notifying them that they had won a sweepstakes. Each mailer included a fraudulent check issued in the name of the victim, usually in the amount of $8,000, and a pre-addressed envelope.
Victims were instructed to deposit the check into their bank account, immediately withdraw between $5,000 and $7,000 dollars in cash or money orders and send the money to a “sweepstakes representative” to facilitate the victim collecting his or her prize.
By the time the victim was notified by the bank that the deposited check was fraudulent, the cash or money order had been sent by the victim and received by the defendants or conspirators.
The intended loss from this scheme was over $300 million, with an actual loss of more than $900,000.
The indictment also alleges that from June 2015 through June 2016, Emmanuel Ajayi led a Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) scheme in which over 1,200 fraudulent Income Tax Returns were filed using stolen Personal Identifying Information (PII) requesting $25 million in tax refunds.
Ajayi used bank accounts involved in the sweepstakes scheme to receive refunds and funnel the money to conspirators in the U.S. An IRS analysis determined that this scheme resulted in the actual loss of approximately $3.4 million paid from the U.S. Treasury.
In order to acquire the money generated by the Sweepstakes and SIRF schemes, the conspirators operated a money laundering conspiracy in the U.S. That conspiracy employed knowing and unknowing participants to conduct financial transactions with the goals of moving the proceeds from both fraudulent schemes outside of the U.S. without detection by law enforcement.
Defendants Akinbobola, Ajayi and Oyewole are considered fugitives.
On March 9, 2020, Akinmadeyemi was sentenced to ten years in federal prison. On May 27, 2020, Barefield was sentenced to eight years in federal prison. Both were ordered to pay, jointly and severally, $111,870.25 in restitution.
Defendants Calvin and Lundy, who pleaded guilty to the money laundering conspiracy charge, are scheduled for sentencing in Austin on March 9, 2021, before U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel.
U.S. Attorney John F. Bash; Acting Special Agent in Charge Roderick Benson, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Houston Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), San Antonio; and, Inspector in Charge Adrian Gonzalez, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Houston Division, announced Harry Cole’s extradition on Friday.
“If you defraud Americans, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. The United States government will work tirelessly to find you, extradite you, and hold you accountable for your crimes,” stated U.S. Attorney Bash.
“Today’s extradition of Harry Cole demonstrates the power of the American judicial system,” IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge Benton. “Despite the fact that Cole was living in Canada, special agents were able to track him because of our strong relationships with our international law enforcement agencies and bring him to justice.”
“HSI is committed to using our broad authority and global presence to bring international fugitives to justice,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Folden. “Today’s extradition of Harry Cole demonstrates that HSI and our international law enforcement partners will be diligent in our efforts to locate and hold accountable those individuals who defraud U.S. citizens.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is charged with defending the nation’s mail system from illegal use, no matter where those crimes originate,” said USPIS Inspector in Charge Gonzalez. “This scheme targeted one of our country’s most vulnerable populations, the elderly. Postal Inspectors will continue to work tirelessly with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to investigate these crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice.”