Several accused leaders of a Nigerian syndicate that victimized countless Americans through online romance scams were seized in Cape Town and will be brought to the United States to face prosecution, federal authorities said.
The leaders of the Cape Town Zone of the Neo Black Movement of Africa and a co-conspirator are charged with pulling the scams on hundreds of thousands of victims -- some widowed or divorced -- for at least the past 10 years.
From at least 2011 through 2021, leaders of the Mafia-styled organization -- better known as “Black Axe” -- conspired with others to con lonely Americans looking for love into sending them money, Acting U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Rachael A. Honig said Wednesday.
Some victims lost their life savings or pensions. Others found themselves involved in other types of scams.
The scammers found them on dating sites and other social media groups, then used various aliases and bogus tales of woe to reel the victims in, Honig said.
"Many of these fraudulent narratives involved claims that an individual was traveling to South Africa for work and needed money or other items of value following a series of unfortunate and unforeseen events, often involving a construction site or problems with a crane," she said.
Thinking they were in a romantic relationship at last, the victims wired money and shipped valuable items overseas, the U.S. attorney said.
WERE YOU VICTIMIZED BY A ROMANCE SCAM? If so, you can find information and a questionnaire at: JusticeDepartment/BlackAxe
"Sometimes, when victims expressed hesitation in sending money, the conspirators used manipulative tactics to coerce the payments, including by threatening to distribute personally sensitive photographs," she said.
In some cases, the conspirators convinced victims to open accounts in the US to which they had access, the U.S. attorney said. The defendants used those accounts to launder money from not only the romance scams but other schemes, as well, Honig said.
The Neo-Black Movement of Africa emerged on university campuses in Nigeria in the 1970s, championing the liberation of Blacks around the world. It quickly became a cult involved in transnational crime, however, the South African government said.
Authorities in South Africa say the group has worked closely with the Italian organized-crime syndicate Camorra, trafficking drugs and women sold into prostitution. Authorities in Italy arrested several Black Axe members earlier this year.
A judge in South Africa ordered the seven defendants seized during early-morning raids on Tuesday held for extradition to the United States, Honig said Wednesday.
Among them is the syndicate's founder, Perry “Lord Sutan Abubakar de 1st" Osagiede, 52, who also functions as its "zonal head' along with Enorense “Richy Izevbigie” Izevbigie, 45, she said.
Honig identified the other defendants, also all from Nigeria, as:
- Franklyn “Lord Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela” Edosa Osagiede, 37;
- Osariemen Eric "Lord Adekunle Ajasi” Clement, 35;
- Collins “Lord Jesse Makoko" Owhofasa Otughwor, 37;
- Musa “Lord Oba Akenzua” Mudashiru, 33;
- Toritseju Gabriel “Andy Richards”Otubu, 41.
Charges against them include wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering, in addition to aggravated ID theft.
Honig credited special agents of the FBI and the FBI Legal Attaché Office at the United States Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, as well as special agents of the U.S. States Secret Service with the investigation leading to the charges.
She also thanked the South African Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI) HAWKS, the South African Police Service, the South African National Prosecuting Authority & Asset Forfeiture Unit, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for the Republic of South Africa, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs and Interpol for their "valuable assistance."
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