OKLAHOMA CITY – Three Nigerians convicted of participating in an internet romance scam involving several victims throughout the United States have been sentenced to prison and ordered to pay more than $4.6 million in restitution.
Ken Ejimifor Ezeah, 38, of Houston, Texas, was sentenced in 2017 to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty.
Akunna Baiyina Ejiofor, 36, also of Houston, was convicted at trial of 20 felonies: conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and 18 counts of wire fraud. She was sentenced in June to seven years in federal prison.
Ezeah and Ejiofor were ordered, collectively and individually, to pay $4,678,302 in restitution to the victims.
Nnamdi Franklin O jimba, 36, of Chicago, Ill., was acquitted of the wire fraud and identity theft counts, but was convicted in August 2019 of the conspiracy charge.
U.S. Western District of Oklahoma Chief Judge Timothy DeGiusti sentenced O jimba to serve 102 months (eight and a half years) in federal prison. O jimba also was ordered to pay a maximum of $3,428,302 in restitution; his amount was less than the two other co-conspirators because he didn’t join the scheme until after them, court records indicate.
O jimba is appealing his sentence, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals extended the deadline for his attorney to submit that document to January 15, 2021.
TRIO CONSPIRED TO DEFRAUD SEVERAL WIDOWS, DIVORCÉES
An affidavit submitted by an FBI agent alleged the trio conspired from May 2014 un- til January 2016 to defraud several women, including an Oklahoma City woman who was bilked out of $1,001,000; a woman in Michigan who was swindled out of $215,000; a woman who was cheated out of $1.1 million and another who lost $704,455; a Texas woman who was taken for $300,000; a South Carolina woman who lost $345,000; plus women from Georgia and Colorado.
The indictment alleged that the scheme involved using false profiles – particularly “Edward Peter Duffey – to open accounts on online dating websites and then courting victims, typically elderly widows or divorcées, by pretending to be successful financial advisers or affiliated with charitable causes. The fraudster who called himself Duffey said he was a native of Manchester, England, was “a wealthy retired widower,” and claimed to be a friend of the woman who then chaired the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Ezeah was “the unquestioned leader” of the conspiracy, according to O jimba’s attorney. Ejiofor told the court that Ezeah gave her pre-paid debit cards with which to establish fake ac- counts on ChristianMingle. com, Match.com, OurTime.com and Zoosk. She also said that a friend of Ezeah’s whom she knew only as “Franklin,” used the pseudonym of Edward Peter Duffey “when dealing with the victims.”
Over time, through supposedly romantic relationships, the three conspirators persuaded their victims to share personal information about their finances and then encouraged the victims to wire them money on the pretext of managing their investments. Instead, the trio kept the money for personal use.
The conspirators wooed wealthy women for weeks and months, records reflect. “Those who had money or assets were cultivated with flowers, endless sweet talk and big promises via ’phone calls, text messages, emails and the like,” the FBI agent wrote in his affidavit.
The Oklahoma City woman told the FBI that the man who pursued her identified himself as Duffey but quit communicating with her after she wired more than $1 million to a bank in London that he recommended.
“Targets who turned out to have little or no money or assets were quickly dropped,” Ojimba’s attorney related.
The federal investigation was launched in mid-June 2015 when the Oklahoma City woman advised the FBI that she had been the victim of “a romance scheme perpetuated by Edward Peter Duffey,” whom she met on the Christian Mingle dating website.