7 arrested for running online romance, business schemes from Africa: NJ officials

New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. — Seven men were arrested in connection to running online romance and business schemes overseas for several years from South Africa, New Jersey authorities announced Wednesday.

Perry Osagiede, 52; Enorense Izevbigie, 45; Franklyn Edosa Osagiede, 37; Osariemen Eric Clement, 35; Collins Owhofasa Otughwor, 37; and Musa Mudashiru, 33; who are all originally from Nigeria, were charged by superseding indictment with wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, spanning from 2011 to 2021.

Perry Osagiede, Franklyn Osagiede, Clement, and Izevbigie are also charged with wire fraud. Perry Osagiede, Franklyn Osagiede, and Otughwor are charged with aggravated identity theft, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Toritseju Gabriel Otubu, 41, also originally from Nigeria, was also charged by separate indictment with wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering conspiracy, spanning from 2016 to 2021.

An eighth man, who was not identified, remains at large.

Of the eight men, seven are leaders of the Cape Town Zone of the Neo Black Movement of Africa, also known as “Black Axe,” according to Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig. The eighth man conspired with a Black Axe leader.

According to officials, the suspects worked together from Cape Town, South Africa and engaged in a widespread internet fraud that involved romance scams and advance fee schemes for several years.

They used social media accounts, online dating sites and voice-over-internet protocol phone numbers to find and talk to victims in the United States, including in New Jersey. 

The suspects’ romance scam victims believed they were in romantic relationships with the person using the alias and sent money and items to them overseas, including to South Africa, according to the documents filed in the cases. 

The conspirators would then use the victims’ bank accounts to transfer money to them. During several instances, they convinced victims to open financial accounts in the United States that the suspects would be able to use themselves.

They also worked to launder money from business email compromise schemes and use business entities to disguise the illegal nature of funds. 

“Americans are too often victimized by criminal organizations located abroad who use the internet to deceive those victims, defraud them of money, and, many times, persuade the victims to wittingly or unwittingly assist in perpetuating the fraudulent schemes,” Acting U.S. Attorney Honig said.  “The public should be on guard against schemes like these. And, more importantly, anyone thinking of engaging in this kind of criminal conduct should understand that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our partners will find them and bring them to justice, no matter where they are.”

Those arrested had their initial appearances in South Africa and are awaiting extradition to the United States.

Anyone who believes they may be a victim may visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/blackaxe for information about the case, including a questionnaire for victims to fill out and submit.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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