SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Three Utah residents plead guilty to their participation in a money laundering ring that defrauded widows of millions of dollars, according to the United States Attorney’s Office District of Utah.
David Oguoguo Okeke, 30, of Vineyard, Utah, and his codefendant Justin Akubueze, 30, were each sentenced to 54 months in prison and 36 months of supervised release. Another codefendant, Abiemwense Valentine Obanor, 32, received 74 months in prison and 36 months of supervised release.
Court documents say all three are foreign nationals from Nigeria and were living in Utah at the time of their crimes.
According to the District of Utah, the three were part of a four-person operation that primarily targeted widows. The three created online profiles pretending to be United States soldiers, international businessmen, or other “seemingly attractive” profiles, including impersonating celebrity singer-songwriter and actor Donnie Wahlberg.
The three, along with their alleged co-conspirators, then used those profiles to develop relationships with widows and take their money by having them transfer the money into bank accounts set up under fake names.
According to court documents, Okeke and his codefendants would claim false pretenses such as a son or daughter needing money for school, a loan to purchase equipment to complete a contract, investment opportunities, or needing money to help leave a combat zone.
Once they had the money in their own accounts, court documents say Okeke, Akubueze, and Obanor, used the money to make personal purchases.
In 2019, eight of their associates were charged with similar crimes in a different case. The charges prompted Akubueze and Obanor to leave Vineyard and flee the country. The two have since been extradited to the United States to face the charges against them.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to prosecute fraudsters who take advantage of victims, many of whom are elderly on a fixed income and lose money intended to carry them throughout the rest of their life,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, Trina A. Higgins. “Taking advantage of our most vulnerable population is unacceptable and with our law enforcement partners we are committed to investigating these crimes.”
In addition to their prison time, Okeke was ordered to pay over $2.2 million in restitution. Akubueze and Obanor were ordered to pay over $200,000 in restitution jointly with Okeke.
Okeke will also be turned over to the Federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation proceedings following his release.