Federal prosecutors have accused 10 people of fleecing $1.5 million out of victims throughout the US with an advanced fee scam that promised lavish inheritances if they paid money up front to facilitate the transfers.
The alleged ringleader of the group was Claudio Uche Dibe, 25, of Gardena, California, prosecutors said. He was extradited last month from Canada, where he fled in 2009 after learning he was under investigation. He is charged with 15 counts of wire fraud for his part of the operation, which prosecutors said involved sending spam to thousands of potential victims.
Feds also charged Bright Amesi, 25, of Gardena, and Briceson Loving, 25, of Lawndale. They were each charged with 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Dibe, Amesi and Loving appeared in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday and entered pleas of not guilty. Seven additional defendants living in Southern California and New York City, were also indicted on 10 counts of wire fraud each.
Four of them have pleaded not guilty and the other three are scheduled to be arraigned next week.
The defendants are accused of running a classic Nigerian 419 scheme, in which email senders pose as attorneys, diplomats, and government officials who are overseeing the disbursement of millions of dollars in inheritances. The emails claim the recipients are the distant relatives of wealthy people who have recently died. They say that all the recipient has to do to receive the money is to pay small costs up front to get the process started.
The defendants allegedly asked for small amounts of money initially and once they are paid, the defendants demanded increasingly larger amounts, as much as $35,000, prosecutors said.
According to prosecutors, one of the accused scammers wrote in an email that one victim "is insisting that he does not have more money, though I believe he will be able to come up with money .... I believe that ... he will pay big money, which is what we are all after."
Dibe is being held without bond.