Houston man sentenced to 7 years for attempted $2 million romance scam

The Nigerian national also must pay back nearly $900,000 to victims, a judge ordered.
(Getty Images)

A U.S. federal judge sentenced a Nigerian national to 87 months in prison for his role in trying to steal more than $2 million from victims via romance scams and spoofed email requests for wire transfer payments.

The judge on Wednesday also ordered Akhabue Ehis Onoimoimilin, who lives in Houston, to pay back nearly $900,000 to victims of the money laundering scheme to which he pleaded guilty.

The indictment in the case indicates that Onoimoimilin and a co-defendant, whose name is redacted, caused $1.7 million in actual losses from the scheme. Onoimoimilin’s role involved opening bank accounts in the name of “David Harrison” to launder money for co-conspirators. Law enforcement identified more than $400,000 in attempted losses in the accounts, for which Onoimoimilin received 10 to 15% of the funds.

Onoimoimilin opened the accounts in 2015, according to prosecutors. The indictment offers few details on the romance and business email compromise (BEC) scams themselves.


While ransomware has consumed much of the attention focused on cybercriminals with a series of prominent attacks on Colonial Pipeline, JBS and Kaseya customers, BEC attacks still routinely top the list of most financially damaging cyber-enabled thefts reported to the FBI.

In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center tallied $1.8 billion in BEC losses reported to the bureau, compared to $29.1 million for ransomware — although neither figure reflects losses where victims didn’t come to the FBI.

Romance and confidence scams, both of which involve gaining a victim’s trust via deception to swindle them out of money, accounted for $600 million in losses reported to the bureau in 2020.

“The types of fraud committed by Mr. Onoimoimilin not only have lasting ramifications for the affected victims, but also threaten the integrity of our country’s financial systems,” said Tim Tubbs, acting special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigation’s San Antonio Division, part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency.

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