Six Ghanaians Arrested in the U.S. over $50M Romance, COVID-19 Relief Scam

Six Ghanaians have been arrested in the US over their roles in a fraud and money laundering conspiracy totalling more than $50m.

According to a statement by the US Department of Justice, Farouk Appiedu, 35; Fred Asante, 35; Celvin Freeman, 47; Lord Aning, 28; Sadick Edusei Kissi, 24; and Faisal Ali a.k.a “Clarence Graveley,” 34, were ringleaders in “romance scams targeting the elderly, business e-mail compromise scams, and even fraudulent Covid-19 relief loans.”

Freeman and Ali were arrested on Wednesday, 17 February 2021, while Appiedu was previously arrested in Queens, New York on October 18, 2020 and Kissi nabbed in Fargo, North Dakota on February 5, 2020.

Four of the accused – Appiedu, Asante, Freeman, and Aning  – had between them controlled more than 45 bank accounts in which more than $50m had been deposited between 2013 and 2020.

The quartet allegedly received fraud proceeds from victims in the bank accounts that they controlled in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. 

A vast majority of the deposits consisted of large wire transfers and cheque or cash deposits from various US-based individuals and entities, the statement added.

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Four luxury vehicles – two 2019 Rolls Royce Cullinans, one 2020 Bentley Continental GT, and one 2020 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG – suspected to have been purchased with the proceeds of fraud were seized during investigation.

According to the statement, Appiedu, Asante, Freeman, and Aning were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of receipt of stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Kissi was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of receipt of stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. 

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Ali was charged in a criminal complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of making false statements to a bank, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney, Audrey Strauss, said the six accused “next online profiles could potentially appear in a place where they’ll be unable to catfish anymore – the website for the Bureau of Prisons.”

He noted that the six accused facilitated fraud schemes that “were lucrative, diverse, and most of all, callous, adding “as alleged, they engaged in email spoofing, duping elderly online daters into wiring them money, and applying for government-funded Coronavirus relief funds earmarked for the benefit of small businesses affected by the pandemic.”

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On his part, FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr said many of the victims are reluctant to come forward because they fear embarrassment or reputational damage.

He said: “These arrests and indictments should serve as a reminder that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are here to help you and bring these bands of criminals to justice.”

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