According to U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins’ office, a Fall River car dealership was used to launder money from romance scams and unemployment fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Augustine Osemwegie, 54, pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.
“Osemwegie used its car dealership, vehicle auctions and international car transportation to launder and pass on the proceeds of romance scams, pandemic unemployment fraud and other fraudulent schemes,” the office said in a statement. communicated.
Osemwegie was the president of Ejad Auto Sales in Fall River. His children and family members are listed in court documents as other employees, including the CEO, director and treasurer.
In a previous plea deal, another unnamed person agreed to speak to investigators and described a fraud and money laundering business she was part of, which included Osemwegie, according to court documents.
The person told officials that people would open bank accounts “to receive the proceeds of various frauds.”
“Sometimes they used accounts in their own name, and sometimes they used accounts opened with fake IDs, including fake passports,” court documents say.
They would then use Osemwegie to transfer the proceeds from Massachusetts to Nigeria, according to court documents.
The person told officials that they would then take the money from accounts they controlled, collect a fee for themselves, and give the remaining proceeds to Osemwegie for their fee.
Osemwegie, officials said, “transferred money to Nigeria by shipping cars”.
“Osemwegie used the cash proceeds given to him by CW-1 and others to purchase vehicles at various used car auctions in Massachusetts and elsewhere, and then shipped the vehicles to Nigeria,” it says. court documents.
Between November 8, 2018 and August 13, 2021, Ejad Auto Sales exported 1,832 vehicles from the United States to Nigeria and two vehicles to Cotonou, Benin, for a total of approximately $1,117,320, according to court documents. . Osemwegie also exported 33 vehicles under its name from the United States to Nigeria for a total of around $163,055.
“There was no evidence of funds coming in from Nigeria that could represent the proceeds of the sale of the vehicles shipped to Nigeria,” the court documents say.
Under the plea deal, the person introduced an undercover agent called “Shola” to Osemwegie.
The two connected on Whatsapp and told Osemwegie that he “expected money to come in and wanted Osemwegie’s help to send money to bitcoin or an account. offshore”.
The two eventually met at a Five Guys in Peabody.
During the conversation, Osemwegie said “he had more than ten people giving him money and he would buy a $25,000 car the next day.” He also said he has had questions from Nigerian law enforcement in the past when it came to large sums of money, according to court records.
The undercover agent told Osemwegie that his money came from unemployment and payroll protection scams and that he “wanted to transfer $13,000 to Bitcoin or an account in Canada.”
Osemwegie then called a friend about Bitcoin, according to court documents.
“Ultimately, Osemwegie agreed to a 20% fee, noting that he would have to give the friend he called some of the proceeds to help him send the Bitcoin,” the court documents state.
He then changed the Bitcoin deal to a controlled account in Canada and increased his percentage to 30%, officials said.
On September 21, 2020, a screenshot showed the transmission of a $10,000 transfer from the Ejad Auto Sales TD Bank account to the account in Canada, officials said. Osemwegie was on the “car dealership” list and it was for a 2012 Lexus RX350.
Osemwegie was arrested on August 26, 2021 and signed the plea agreement on April 12.
The penalty for money laundering is up to 20 years in prison, three years of probation and a fine of $250,000. Osemwegie is to be sentenced on August 3.