Instagram influencer Hushpuppi jailed for stealing millions

A Nigerian man who flaunted his luxurious crime-funded lifestyle on social media and had links to North Korean hackers has been sent behind bars in the US.

The court in Los Angeles has sentenced a fraudster known online as Ray Hushpuppi to 135 months, or more than 11 years, in federal prison for conspiring to launder tens of millions of dollars from international online scams.

Hushpuppi, whose real name is Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, was also ordered by Judge Otis D Wright to pay $1,732,841 in restitution to two fraud victims.

Abbas had 2.8 million followers on Instagram before his account was deactivated. He shared pictures of posing in designer clothes in front of expensive cars and private jets. The fraudster’s lavish lifestyle ended when he was arrested in 2020 in Dubai.

Abbas targeted American and international victims, becoming “one of the most prolific money launderers in the world,” Donald Alway, the assistant director in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Los Angeles Field Office, said in a Department of Justice (DoJ) document on Monday.

Social media leverage

Abbas pleaded guilty to money laundering last year, admitting he was involved in an elaborate scheme to steal more than $1.1 million from a businessperson attempting to finance the construction of a school for children in Qatar.

“The defendants allegedly faked the financing of a Qatari school by playing the roles of bank officials and creating a bogus website in a scheme that also bribed a foreign official to keep the elaborate pretense going after the victim was tipped off,” then-acting US Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said at the time.

Hushpuppi flaunted his wealth online. Image by Instagram/Hushpuppi

As part of a plea deal, Abbas also admitted to several other cyber and business email compromise schemes that cumulatively amounted to more than $24 million in losses, according to DoJ. He did not act alone but played a leading role in crimes by leveraging his fame and social media following.

“His celebrity status and ability to make connections seeped into legitimate organizations and led to several spin-off schemes in the US and abroad,” Wilkinson said in a DoJ statement last year.

North Korean connection

In 2019, Abbas tried to launder the equivalent of $13 million a gang of North Korean hackers stole from a bank in Malta, an island in the Mediterranean. Most – but not all – of the stolen funds were recovered.

The crimes committed by Abbas “financially ruined scores of victims and provided assistance to the North Korean regime,” Alway said in Monday’s court document.

The DoJ linked the heist in Malta to a larger conspiracy by North Korean state actors that sought to steal and extort more than $1.3 billion in cash and cryptocurrency from financial institutions and businesses worldwide.

Three individuals were charged over the conspiracy last year. They live in North Korea but traveled to China and Russia for work, according to an indictment by the DoJ.

The indictment expanded on a 2018 case brought against one of the defendants in relation to a 2014 Sony cyberattack by the North Korean regime. It marked the first time the US charged a Pyongyang operative.

The attackers demanded Sony withdraw The Interview, its then-upcoming comedy about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, a North Korean dictator. The individual behind the attack was also linked to the creation of the WannaCry ransomware.

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