Reposted from http://losangeles.fbi.gov/dojpressrel/pressrel10/la012610a.htm
LOS ANGELES—A Nigerian national who operated a money-transfer business in Chino has been sentenced to 97 months in federal prison for his role in a scheme that bilked hundreds of victims out of more than $1.5 million in a scam that had schemers sending bogus checks to victims and falsely telling them they had won a sweepstakes or another lie to induce them to negotiate the fraudulent checks.
Alvin Chiemezie Asieru, 39, who resided in Chino prior to his arrests last March, was sentenced Monday by United States District Judge John F. Walter, who also ordered Asieru to pay full restitution to his victims.
Asieru pleaded guilty last year to one count of mail fraud, admitting that he participated in an international telemarketing scheme that defrauded almost 500 victims from across the United States. The scheme involving Asieru is a variation of a scam now commonly seen where fraudulent checks are sent to victims with false claims that they had for some reason received a windfall. Asieru’s scheme in particular involved sending bogus checks to victims, telling them that they had won a contest, had been chosen to participate in a promotion, or were being offered employment as “secret shoppers.” The victims were instructed to deposit the checks, wire most of the funds through MoneyGram, and report the MoneyGram transaction number to someone associated with the scheme. Armed with the transaction number, Asieru was able to collect the proceeds of the wire transfer through a MoneyGram terminal at his Chino business, SABIC Group. Asieru then shared the proceeds with co-conspirators in Ontario, Canada. Asieru also transferred over $680,000 of the proceeds to various banks in Nigeria. The victims later learned that the checks they had deposited into their bank accounts were fraudulent and that they were responsible for the money they had now lost.
As part of an investigation into MoneyGram transfers sent from United States consumers to Canada, Canadian authorities determined that the overwhelming majority of wire transactions involving more than $1,000 are the proceeds of fraud involving various scams and Internet purchases. The investigation identified several MoneyGram operators as being involving in a majority of the suspect transactions, including SABIC Group.
A number of Asieru’s victims learned that the MoneyGram transfers had been picked up in Chino, which prompted the Chino Police Department to open an investigation. In several instances involving bogus checks and wire transfers, MoneyGram advised the police that the money was picked up at SABIC Group within 30 minutes of the wire transfer. The Chino Police also learned that MoneyGram received 53 complaints of fraud against SABIC Group in 2008, with losses totaling approximately $103,500.
In sentencing papers, federal prosecutors argued that Asieru not only caused financial losses to his victims, but also caused law-abiding victims to be stigmatized with destroyed credit and what appeared to be criminal conduct. One victim discussed in prosecutors’ sentencing papers was arrested and spent a night in jail for passing the bad check sent as part of Asieru’s scam, an indignity that was noted by Judge Walter during yesterday’s sentencing hearing.
The case against Asieru was investigated by the Chino Police Department, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.