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Nigerians extradited to US to face email scam charges

Three Nigerian men have been extradited from the UK to the US to face charges of conducting business email compromise (BEC) schemes that targeted universities in three states and cost the victims around $5 million.

John Adeagbo, 43, Donald Echeazu, 40, and Olabanji Egbinola, 42, stand accused of multiple charges including wire fraud, identity theft, and money laundering, in what the US Department of Justice (DoJ) says was a cybercriminal campaign that targeted universities and other organizations in North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

Adeagbo and Echeazu are accused of using fake email addresses to pose as a construction company between 2016 and 2017 to defraud a university in North Carolina of just under $2 million. The two allegedly persuaded the university to wire them the money after duping it into believing they were a legitimate contractor.

“Adeagbo and Echeazu conspired with other individuals to obtain information about significant construction projects occurring throughout the United States, including an ongoing multimillion-dollar project at the victim university,” said the DoJ, announcing the extradition.

“To execute the scheme, the defendants allegedly registered a domain name similar to that of the legitimate construction company in charge of the university’s project and created an email address that closely resembled that of an employee of the construction company.”

The defendants then allegedly laundered the stolen money through financial investment schemes to disguise the criminal source of their funds.

Multiple alleged victims

Egbinola is accused of employing just the same tactic in Virginia in 2018, hoodwinking a university there into wiring him close to $500,000, after using “a fraudulent email account that incorporated the name of a construction company that had a large, ongoing contract with the university.”

Texas was also allegedly targeted by Adeagbo between 2016 and 2018, who “conspired with others to participate in cyber-enabled business email compromises to steal more than $3 million from victims [...] including local government entities, construction companies, and a Houston-area college.”

“The indictment alleges Adeagbo and his co-conspirators registered domain names that looked similar to legitimate companies,” said the DoJ. “The conspirators allegedly sent emails to clients or customers of the companies they impersonated and deceived those customers into sending wire payments to bank accounts they controlled.”

All three men are thought to have had accomplices in their alleged crimes, although the DoJ did not specify who they were.

The accused face years in prison if found guilty, though no trial date has been set. Wire fraud and money laundering each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years, and these terms can be imposed consecutively.

Adeagbo, Egbinola, and Echeazu were arrested in the UK in 2020 after the FBI investigated the case, leading to an appeal being lodged with British authorities. An extradition order was processed the following year, which the three defendants attempted to appeal. This was overturned by the UK High Court last month, leading to their eventual transfer to the US, to stand trial in the three states where they are accused of committing the crimes.

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