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$30 million scheme to launder money stolen from elderly, lonely, others cracked in Atlanta

David Pendered
Richard B. Russell Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse More than $30 million was cheated out of unwary unwary respondents to internet romance sites, retirement sites, and business service pitches that bilked money out of respondents, according to indictments handed down in Atlanta. Credit: justice.gov

By David Pendered

More than $30 million was cheated from the elderly, the lonely and unwary others in a international money laundering scheme based in Atlanta cracked through the effort of more than 30 law enforcement agencies across the country, according to a statement from the U.S. District Attorney in Atlanta.

Byung J. “BJay” Pak

Byung J. “BJay” Pak

Some victims lost their life savings, according to Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta.

An unidentified number of foreign nationals were indicted. They will be placed into removal proceedings once upon the completion of any sentence following conviction, according to Steven Baisel, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service, Atlanta Field Office.

The scams cheated victims with fraudulent internet romance schemes, retirement account schemes, and business email compromise schemes that trick recipients into transferring money into an account controlled by the scammers.

One unidentified retiree was scammed out of about $288,000, according to a statement released March 13 by the office of U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. The statement doesn’t indicate the proportion of the retiree’s wealth that was taken in a case that involves with one count of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.

The indictment alleges the defendant created a bank account in the name of the victim of a retirement scam. The account was used to deposit approximately $288,000 in funds fraudulently withdrawn from the victim’s retirement account.

The defendant is a 29-year-old Stone Mountain man who has six aliases. The real-life Darius Sowah Okang is also known as Michael J. Casey, a/k/a Richard Resser, a/k/a Thomas Vaden, a/k/a Michael Lawson, a/k/a Matthew Reddington, a/k/a Michael Little, according to the statement.

According to the statement released by Pak’s office, this is how the scam worked:

Richard B. Russell Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse

More than $30 million was cheated out of unwary unwary respondents to internet romance sites, retirement sites, and business service pitches that bilked money out of respondents, according to indictments handed down in Atlanta. Credit: justice.gov

  • “The defendants served as money launderers for other individuals throughout the world who conducted cyber-enabled fraud, including business email compromise schemes, romance scams, and retirement account scams, targeted at companies and individuals across the United States….
  • “The defendants and co-conspirators facilitated [business enterprise compromise] schemes, romance scams, and retirement account scams by receiving and distributing fraudulent funds throughout the United States and the world.
  • “Over the course of the conspiracy, the defendants and their co-conspirators laundered over $30 million in fraud proceeds.
  • “The defendants created multiple sham companies that did not have physical premises, earn legitimate income, or pay wages to employees. In turn, the defendants opened business bank accounts at multiple financial institutions to facilitate receipt of the fraudulent money.
  • “The defendants also opened personal bank accounts to receive fraudulent funds, often using false identities and victims’ identities. After funds were deposited into the defendants’ bank accounts, the money was quickly withdrawn from the accounts and circulated among the defendants.”

Authorities indicted 23 individuals on a charge of money laundering conspiracy. Most defendants have Georgia addresses, though others hail from Texas, Missouri and Colorado. One is listed as a resident of Nigeria.

Nicknames abound – Chubby, or Desire Elorm Tamakloe, 25, of Smyrna; B-More, or Francesco Benjamin, 30, of Atlanta; Skinny, or Jonathan Kojo Agbemafle, 26, of Kansas City, Missouri; Onyx, or Joshua Roberts, 28, of Houston, Texas; and Face, or Stephen Abbu Jenkins, 53, of Atlanta – who also uses the names Steven Abbu Jenkins, Steven Jenkins, and Steve Jenkins.

An additional 17 defendants were indicted on two related cases charging various counts of bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering, and conspiracies to commit these offenses, according to the statement.

The list of law enforcement agencies involved crosses the country. The lead entities are the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Department of Labor; Office of Inspector General; U.S. Secret Service; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

Additional federal, state and local agencies involved in the investigation include:

  • Department of Labor;
  • Employee Benefits Security Administration;
  • U.S. Postal Inspection Service;
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms;
  • Drug Enforcement Administration;
  • State of Georgia, Office of Inspector General;
  • Atlanta Police Department;
  • Smyrna Police Department;
  • Henry County Police Department;
  • Gwinnett County Police Department;
  • DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department;
  • Chamblee Police Department;
  • Dunwoody Police Department;
  • Cobb County Police Department;
  • McDonough Police Department;
  • Carrollton Police Department;
  • Sandy Springs Police Department;
  • New York City Police Department;
  • Houston Police Department;
  • Kent and Bellevue Police Departments in Washington;
  • Newport Beach Police Department;
  • Orange County Sheriff’s Department, San Francisco Police Department;
  • Upland Police Departments in California;
  • Radnor Township Pennsylvania Police Department;
  • York County South Carolina Sheriff’s Department;
  • Bloomington Indiana Police Department;
  • Arlington County Virginia Police Department;
  • Wells Maine Police Department;
  • Schaumburg Illinois Police Department;
  • Salt Lake City Utah Unified Police District;
  • Charlotte County Florida Sheriff’s Office.

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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