Friday, June 7, 2024

Nigerian international fugitive captured by FBI, jailed 51 months in U.S. for wire fraud, money laundering

Nlemchi escaped from his monitoring system and fled to Mexico, then to Brazil, then back to his home in Nigeria. Nlemchi was an international fugitive for more than five years.

• June 7, 2024
Uchenna Nlemchi and FBI agents
Uchenna Nlemchi and FBI agents

A Nigerian national was sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay $524,000 in restitution and a money judgment in the amount of $868,295 for his role in a hybrid romance scam and business email compromise scheme.

There is no parole in the federal system.

According to court documents, the scheme began in July 2015 when a co-conspirator initiated a romance scam with a 56-year-old widow in New Mexico using the alias “Sean Bartlett.” The co-conspirator convinced the victim that he was an engineer working on lucrative oil contracts and promised to marry the victim but instructed her to send him money for supposed business expenses.

On September 13, 2015, Uchenna Nlemchi opened a personal bank account at Amegy Bank in his own name. Sixteen days later, Nlemchi opened a fraudulent business bank account at the same bank in the name of the non-existent “Jay Auto & Machine Parts,” listing himself as the sole owner.

Following the co-conspirator’s instructions over the next few months, the victim made several transfers into accounts controlled by Nlemchi totaling over $375,000 from her retirement savings and a home equity loan. This included wiring $45,000 on October 7th to another person’s account, before sending $35,000 directly to the “Jay Auto & Machine Parts” account on October 9th, the same day the other person wired $44,000 into that account. 

On October 22nd, the victim transferred $125,346 from her and her late husband’s IRA accounts into Nlemchi’s “Jay Auto & Machine Parts” bank account. Then on December 7th, she took out a $170,000 home equity loan and immediately transferred the full amount to that account.

Separately in late 2015, a German citizen attempting to purchase a Miami condo received fraudulent wire instructions after a hacker compromised her attorney’s email. The German victim then wired money intended for the condo purchase to the New Mexico victim’s account. A co-conspirator then instructed the New Mexico victim to forward over $200,000 of those funds to Nlemchi’s accounts.

Nlemchi rapidly withdrew and transferred globally over $868,000 that was deposited into the “Jay Auto & Machine Parts” account from the New Mexico victim and other fraud proceeds. Nlemchi abandoned the fraudulent accounts on February 29, 2016, as bank investigators closed in.

At the time, Nlemchi was in the United States on a student visa and attended Texas Southern University. He was arrested in Houston, Texas in 2017 and released on electronic monitoring in the third-party custody of his wife and ordered to surrender his passport. 

Nlemchi escaped from his monitoring system and fled to Mexico, then to Brazil, then back to his home in Nigeria. Nlemchi was an international fugitive for more than five years until his arrest in Hungary in 2023.

Nlemchi pleaded guilty in federal court to one count each of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in February 2024.

After completing his term of imprisonment, Nlemchi will be required to serve 3 years of supervised release and will be subject to deportation proceedings.

U.S. Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez and Raul Bujanda, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Albuquerque Field Office, made the announcement today.

The Albuquerque Division of the FBI investigated this case with assistance from the Albuquerque Police Department during the extradition process. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Peña is prosecuting the case.

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