Two Nigerian fraudsters, whose global £2.7m scam had deadly consequences for one family they mercilessly ripped off, were jailed today.
Police identified a total of thirteen victims all over the world, who each lost an average of £207,000, after the duo convinced them they were due an Australian lottery pay-out, inheritance, investment benefit or were sold non-existent heavy plant machinery.
Obinnam Nwokolo, 37, of 20 Chesworth Close, Erith, who amassed a valuable property portfolio in the UK and Nigeria, received six years and four months and Uchechhukwu Onuoha, 40, of Aspen Green, Erith, who entered this country on a student visa, received five years and two months.
Both pleaded guilty at Croydon Crown Court to conspiracy to defraud between October 1, 2008 and September 15 last year.
One of their victims, Betty McClellan, 62, of Hyde Park, Los Angeles was shot dead by her husband Hersey McClellan, 63, who then shot himself on June 20, 2010 after she wired £264,000 — blowing the couple’s hard-earned pension.
She transferred the sums to accounts controlled by fellow Nigerians Sergius Ene, 44, of 111 Rushden Gardens, Ilford and Osas Odia, 33, of 15 Windrush Court, Chichester Wharf, Erith, who both admitted conspiring to launder criminal property.
Ene, who received sixteen months in March for a £27,000 Euromilions lottery scam on an 83 year-old Northampton pensioner, was jailed for two years and eight months. for laundering £342,400.
The accountant, a former Haringey Council housing benefit officer, drove a Mercedes with a personalised ‘ENE’ number plate. He is currently appealing deportation and it was revealed the mother of his three children entered into a sham marriage with a French citizen of African origin just to stay in the UK.
Student Odia, who laundered £149,000, was deported in 2005 as an illegal overstayer after a forged passport conviction, but is now a permanent resident after marrying a UK national. He will be sentenced on February 11 so he can complete a management degree.
Victims were telephoned, emailed or written to by Nwokolo and Onuoha, who between them spent at least £22,500 on stationary supplies as they convinced the dupes to pay for admin fees, insurance, certificates and other charges to release funds due to them.
Some victims paid money to a bogus charity claiming to assist West African refugees, and one even paid for a non-existent U.S. Army General to ship his trunk of belongings from Afghanistan to Australia.
'These monies were placed in a series of bank accounts and laundered,' said prosecutor Mr. Andrew Evans. 'The fraud was carried out on an international scale.'
Mrs McClellan was convinced she had won $2.8m on the Australian lottery and sent £264,000 to cover taxes and admin costs to release the win.
'When her husband discovered she had lost all of their pension savings he shot her dead and then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide,' added Mr. Evans. Their bodies were found by their son.
An Indiana farmer, believing he had a claim on a £14.9m inheritance, lost over £339,000 and a Venezuelan businessman lost £163,000 buying a mobile crane Nwokolo and father-of-two Onuoha advertised for sale on a Spanish website.
A Bristol woman lost £312,000 chasing a £1.8m Australian lottery win and found herself arrested after paying the counterfeit £158,000 cheque the defendants sent her into her account.
'She was buying a new home and intended to settle the balance from the winnings she was expecting.
'She is now living in sheltered accommodation and feels vulnerable and extremely embarrassed and her family have lost their inheritance.'
Father-of-three Nwokolo even bought three 1,350 per-hour letter-folding machines to increase the volume of mail shots and his home contained lists with details of thousands of individuals and businesses.
Onuoha had a pile of 593 scam letters ready for postage when police raided the home he rented off Nwokolo and officers also found a prepared ‘script’ he used when duping victims over the phone.
'It is difficult to think of a larger advance free fraud than this,' announced Judge Jeremy Gold QC.
'It is on an enormous scale.
'Thousands of emails and letters were sent out across the world promising money from non-existent relatives from inheritances or non-existence lottery wins.
'You preyed on the naivety or generosity of people to extract large amounts of money from them with devastating effects on their personal lives.
'I regard this fraud as one that falls into the most serious category of advanced fee fraud, targeting vulnerable victims.'
Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation proceedings will follow.