When a Biloxi woman reported she’d been scammed by someone she met on the internet, a federal agents in Gulfport launched a probe.
It turned into a complex global investigation of romance scams, re-shipping scams, work-at-at home scams, identity theft, financial fraud, bank fraud and the takeover of credit-card accounts. Also, mail fraud, wire fraud and theft of government funds.
As a result, a federal jury in Gulfport on Wednesday convicted three Nigerian nationals of multiple fraud crimes that could put two of them behind bars for the rest of their lives. The three had been extradited from South Africa in July 2015 to face charges along with 18 others indicted.
Rasaq Aderoju Raheem, 31 faces up to 115 years in prison.
Oladimeji Seun Ayelotan, 30, faces up to 95 years in prison.
Femi Alexander Mewase, 45, faces up to 25 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden will sentence them May 24.
Homeland Security Investigations agends from Gulfport were among those who helped in a videotaped raid in South Africa that led to numerous arrests in December 2015.
Men found victims online
According to trial testimony, the men began identifying and soliciting possible victims as early as 2001 through online dating websites and offers of work-at-home jobs, said a news release from the U.S. Justice Department.
In some crimes, the men used fake names to romance victims into helping them commit crimes and to become victims. Their victims believed they would be helping them by shipping and receiving electronics and other items that were bought with the stolen or compromised credit cards, bank information and personal identifying numbers, the release said.
Victims also were asked to deposit checks that turned out to be counterfeit and to withdraw money from bogus pre-paid debit cards loaded by money from stolen credit cards. They also were asked to transfer money by wire, U.S. mail and express delivery services.
Biloxi woman a victim of romance scam
Homeland Security Investigations in Gulfport became involved in October 2011 after a Biloxi woman reported she had met a man online and thought she’d been the victim of a romance scam. She had received a package in the mail and was asked to re-ship merchandise to an address in Pretoria, South Africa, court papers show. And she received a bogus $3,000 check.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service joined HSI in its investigation as help unfolded from numerous agencies including Interpol and the South Africa Police Service.
Eleven defendants have pleaded guilty in the case. Seven are from Nigeria. Others are from South Africa, New York, Wisconsin and California. Some, including a Los Angeles woman, have already been sentenced. A second California woman awaits trial.
One defendent, Sesan Olumide Farin, died at the Pearl River County jail before his trial. Officials said he died of natural causes.
The latest trial was prosecuted by Justice Department trial attorneys Conor Mulroe and Peter Roman and Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams of the Southern District of Mississippi.