Man Used Car Dealership to Launder $1 Million in Romance Scam Proceeds

This story is a doozy that starts with a used car dealership. One Massachusetts man decided to assist some scammers in Nigeria with a used car dealership to help launder money made in nefarious ways. This included romance scams, unemployment fraud, and other schemes, but the FBI was already hot on his tail.

This used car dealership was the vessel to launder funds through

Man used car dealership to launder money
A used car dealership in the United Kingdom | Steven Miric/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

According to the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts, this story started outside Boston. Augustine Osemwegie pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering after whipping up a scheme using his used car dealership. Osemwegie took advantage of having a used car dealership and knowledge of vehicle auctions to launder funds from various schemes. Ejad Auto Sales operated out of Fall River, Massachusetts.

Osemwegie used the dealership to hide funds he received from romance scams, pandemic unemployment fraud, and other fraudulent schemes. He accepted various proceeds from his customers and took a percentage of the money for his “fees” for laundering the money for others.

Then he would use the money to buy used cars at auctions, which he said were for his customers. Osemwegie would ship the vehicles out of the country, frequently to Nigeria, and re-sell the cars for profit. The complete FBI affidavit is available here.

Osemwegie had cooked up quite the scheme with the used car dealership where he got 10% of the proceeds

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Someone caught on to the scheme and decided to report Osemwegie to the Department of Justice. In September 2020, Osemwegie spoke to an undercover agent. Throughout these recorded calls and meetings, Osemwegie agreed to accept the fraudulent proceeds from the agent. After that, he would transfer the money out of the country and use it to purchase a used luxury sedan.

“The proceeds from the sales in Nigeria were then paid out to other co-conspirators, allowing those involved in the conspiracy to circumvent detection and regulation of their funds transfer by the banking system.”

FBI Affidavit | Case 1:21-mj-04302-DHH

For the most part, Osemwegie would receive the funds from one scammer, buy a car, and return the money to the scammers, less a 10% fee for his services.

This type of financial fraud or money laundering is punishable by up to 20 years in prison for each charge. That includes three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Eventually, Osemwegie pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.

The value of the vehicles exceeded $1 million when all was said and done

The FBI affidavit says that Osemwegie had various bank accounts in his name or his family’s names. He would also use fake passports to open bank accounts that the proceeds could be placed into without detection. He would then transfer the funds from Massachusetts to Nigeria, where he had a variety of co-conspirators to help. These co-conspirators would receive the funds and charge a 15% fee.

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Ejad Auto Sales exported 183 vehicles from the U.S. to Nigeria. Two cars went to Cotonou, Benin. The total value of the exported cars was $1,117,320, making the average price of the used cars around $6,105. Between October 2018 and June 2020, Osemwegie used his name to export 33 vehicles to Nigeria. The total value of these vehicles was $163,055, making the average $4,941.

As reported by Chase Bank, some of the totals from Ejad Auto Sales fraudulent scheme include $120,000 in purchases at automotive auctions or export costs. More than $57,000 in cash was deposited, and more than $35,000 in money orders were deposited. Augustine Osemwegie awaits sentencing for his guilty plea.

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