Norcross man gets 25-year sentence for stealing nearly $10M in online scams

Credit: File photo

Credit: File photo

Defendant used large network to deceive victims with romance, business schemes

A Gwinnett County man has been sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for a nearly $10 million conspiracy scheme that defrauded both businesses and individuals through online deception, including romance scams, officials said.

Elvis Eghosa Ogiekpolor, 46, of Norcross, was convicted on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Ryan K. Buchanan said in a news release. Ogiekpolor built a network of online fraudsters who used romance scams, business email compromise scams and other tactics to extract millions of dollars from a variety of victims, then launder that money in Georgia.

In addition to Ogiekpolor, five of his co-conspirators, all women, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, Buchanan said. In a later hearing, a federal judge will determine the amount of restitution Ogiekpolor will be directed to repay his victims.

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According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 13 victims of romance scams run by Ogiekpolor’s network testified at his eight-day trial, representing a “small number of such victims.” In romance scams, fraudsters use a fake online persona to develop a romantic relationship with a victim, eventually convincing them to send money without meeting the person offline. The scams often target vulnerable people of means, such as retired widows and widowers, Buchanan said.

In one victim’s case, she wired $32,000 to one of Ogiekpolor’s accounts because she believed her online boyfriend needed to replace a part on his oil rig but his bank account was frozen, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The woman borrowed against her retirement savings to send that amount and was forced to refinance her home to provide the cash.

In another case, a woman sent nearly $70,000 to one of Ogiekpolor’s accounts because she believed a man she met on eHarmony needed money to pay for multiple different invoices while his bank account was frozen.

The business email compromise scams carried out by Ogiekpolor’s network usually involved spoof emails sent to an employee at a company that fooled the employee into making a payment to what they believed was one of their longstanding vendors. The emails would be designed to appear as if they came from a legitimate company, but the payment would be sent to an account controlled by Ogiekpolor. Payments often amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, Buchanan said.

To launder the money coming in from the various schemes, Ogiekpolor coordinated with at least eight people known as “money mules” to set up a dozen fake companies in Georgia and open more than 50 bank accounts in those companies’ names between October 2018 and August 2020. If banks closed accounts due to fraud concerns, Ogiekpolor directed them to open new accounts with different banks, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Six of the money mules testified against Ogiekpolor at trial, Buchanan said. During the course of the case against Ogiekpolor, five of his metro Atlanta co-conspirators pleaded guilty: Vere Whyte, 35, of Stone Mountain; Kutina Crawford, 49, of Lithonia; Ebony Parks, 28, of Jonesboro; and Tiffany Gaines, 42, and Tamara Gaines, 48, both of Conyers.

“There is no way we can make the victims of Ogiekpolor and this network whole again, but we hope this sentence will at least give them solace that people are being held accountable,” FBI Atlanta representative Keri Farley said.