A Kansas City, Missouri, man pleaded guilty in federal court this week to participating in a romance fraud scheme that bilked victims across the United States and overseas of nearly $900,000.
Ronayerin K. Ogolor, 50, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Nigeria, pleaded guilty before U.S. Chief District Judge Beth Phillips to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Ogolor, who was arrested at Kansas City International Airport on Oct. 19, 2018, before he boarded a plane to Frankfurt, Germany, remains in federal custody.
By pleading guilty today, Ogolor admitted that he participated in a conspiracy since 2013 that targeted people, some of them elderly, in search of companionship or romance through online websites such as Facebook, ChristianMingle.com, or Hangout.com. Ogolor defrauded his victims of $878,489 in total. Under the terms of today’s plea agreement, Ogolor must forfeit that amount in a money judgment to the government.
The perpetrators of the romance scams created several profiles on online dating sites. Conspirators then contacted men and women throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, with whom they cultivated a sense of affection and often romance. Having established relationships with the victims, the perpetrators of the romance scams ultimately requested money for hospital fees, travel fees, “customs expenses,” “gold import taxes,” or investment opportunities. Conspirators directed the victims to wire transfer or deposit money into various bank accounts, including accounts established and maintained by Ogolor. Often after the victims transferred money into the specified accounts, conspirators claimed more money was needed, “to release the package” or “to pay customs expenses” on money or gold.
On other occasions, conspirators fraudulently obtained checks through business email compromise, and had the victims deposit the checks into their accounts and wire and deposit money into various accounts, including accounts established and maintained by Ogolor. In a business email compromise, the conspirators hack into a business email account, and then send an email from what appears to be an employee with authority to approve payments, instructing that a check be disbursed in the victim’s name and sent to the victim. By using victims to deposit the checks and distribute the money, the conspirators distanced themselves from the business email hacking and fraud.
In furtherance of the scheme, Ogolor opened several bank accounts in his name and in the names of sham businesses. The romance fraud victims wired and deposited their money and money from counterfeit or fraudulently obtained checks into Ogolor’s accounts. Soon after receiving the fraudulently obtained wires or deposits, Ogolor wired money to co-conspirators and/or withdrew the money in cash.
Court documents refer to 13 victims (in Alabama, Ohio, Washington, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, California, and Italy) who each sent tens of thousands of dollars to Ogolor. One victim (a widow in Indiana who received a friend request on Facebook) believed a co-conspirator was a widower working on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana; she lost a total of $450,000 to Ogolor and others. Another victim in Texas, who believed a co-conspirator was a widower and U.S. Army general deployed in Afghanistan, lost at least $300,000.
Under federal statutes, Ogolor is subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen D. Mahoney. It was investigated by the FBI, the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).