International cyber scheme included email fraud of Bellingham company

Getty Images

Two men were convicted Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on charges stemming from each of their roles in an international cyber fraud scheme that funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent funds on behalf of a criminal organization. Included among their crimes was email fraud of a Bellingham land title company in 2016 that resulted in the dispersal of approximately $60,000.

Olufolajimi Abegunde, 31, a citizen of Nigeria living in Atlanta, and Javier Luis Ramos-Alonso, 29, a citizen of Mexico living in Seaside, Calif., were found to have participated in a criminal organization whose members spoofed emails and created fake online dating profiles to trick victims into sending money to bogus bank accounts, according to a U.S. Department of Justice media release.

The victims’ money was then laundered and wired out of the United States to various destinations, including West Africa, the release said.

Five other individuals pleaded guilty to the scheme, the release said, and three additional foreign nationals are awaiting extradition to the U.S. to face trial. Several others are still at large.

Abegunde, who had a MBA from Texas A&M, conducted black-market currency exchanges during the conspiracy, the release said, using a complicated network of third-party bank accounts to disguise his illegal actions.

He played a key role, along with Ramos-Alsonso, in laundering approximately $60,000 in an Oct. 3, 3016, business email compromise of a Bellingham land title company, which was not named in the release. A portion of the funds were deposited or attempted to be deposited into accounts controlled by Abegunde.

Business email compromises typically target employees with access to company finances and use social media to trick them into making transactions to bank accounts.

In addition to his financial activities, the release said Abegunde also committed marriage fraud, marrying a U.S. service member so he could get immigration and health care benefits, even though he continued to live with a prior wife while his service member wife was stationed in South Korea.

While incarcerated and awaiting trial for his financial conspiracies, Abegunde also contested a divorce from his “fake spouse” and reportedly engaged in witness tampering by sending a self-written motion to dismiss to his fake wife with his former attorney’s name on it in an effort to deceive her not into testifying against him.

Sentencing for Abegunde and Ramos0-Alonso is scheduled for June 21.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.