A federal court in Portland, Oregon, has charged Efeturi Ariawhorai and Ikenna Nwajiaku, two Nigerian nationals, for stealing $6.2 million from 15 public and private organisations in the United States.
The United States Department of Justice released a statement containing the charges on Monday.
Ariawhorai, also known as Efeturi Simeon, is a 35-year-old dual citizen of Nigeria and Vanuatu. The DOJ believes Ariawhorai most recently resided in the United Arab Emirates. Nwajiaku is 41 years old and he lives around Lagos.
Both men have been charged in an 11-count indictment with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
The DOJ has said that both Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku are fugitives. Although Italian authorities arrested Ariawhorai on November 25, 2021, he fled house arrest before the US completed his extradition to the District of Oregon.
“Beginning in June 2019 and continuing until January 2021, Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku conspired with one another and others known and unknown to defraud various public and private entities located throughout the U.S., including numerous school districts, universities, colleges, and hospitals,” the DOJ statement read in part.
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“As part of their scheme, Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku would contact organizations by email; impersonate employees of the targeted organization or professionals from other entities doing business with the target organization, such as construction companies; and convince the organizations to send payments to bank accounts controlled by third parties acting on Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku’s behalf.”
Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku used virtual private networks (VPNs), compromised servers and fake names. They registered email addresses and internet domain names mimicking real companies to trick their victims.
Between June 2019 and January 2021, Ariawhorai and Nwajiaku contacted 20 unsuspecting organisations. They successfully swindled 15 of these organisations of a combined $6.2 million.
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“The level of greed it takes to steal from schools and hospitals, especially during the height of a global pandemic, is beyond disturbing,” Kieran Ramsey, the Special Agent in charge of the investigation, said.
“Through quick action from many of these victims, the FBI, with our Recovery, Asset Team, was able to freeze funds and return a majority of the stolen money. In fact, we were able to recover the total loss of nearly $3 million for a victim in Oregon and keep that money out of the hands of criminals.”
In the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud are punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and three years supervised release. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by up to two years in federal prison and one year of supervised release per count of conviction.