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Crypto scammer sentenced to 8 years in prison for fraud scheme

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Residential skyscraper buildings beyond luxury villas on the waterfront of the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.

Christopher Pike | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A United Arab Emirates resident and Nigerian citizen was sentenced to 8 years in federal prison for orchestrating a multi-million dollar fraud scheme that victimized businesses across the U.S., Illinois federal prosecutors said.

Olaekan Jacob Ponle was extradited from the UAE into the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July 2020, where he remained until pleading guilty to a single wire fraud count earlier this year, the Justice Department said in a Tuesday press release.

Ponle worked with a network of scammers to masquerade as corporate entities using phishing emails. The scammers duped employees into sending money on behalf of their “employers,” who were really scammers.

Ponle, better known as Woodberry, was a minor celebrity in his home country of Nigeria thanks to his profligate displays of wealth on social media.

Ponle relied on a network of “mules” to receive the funds and convert them into Bitcoin that he received. The Nigerian citizen used the proceeds of his scam to purchase ultra-high-end vehicles, including a Rolls Royce Cullinan and a Lamborghini Urus.

Ponle will forfeit those items, collectively valued at over $1 million, and pay more than $8 million in restitution to victim companies. Ponle had already forfeited 151 bitcoin, valued at over $4.5 million as of Wednesday.

Ponle was prosecuted despite the lack of an extradition treaty between the UAE and the United States. Federal officials at the DOJ’S Office of International Affairs worked with their UAE counterparties to secure Ponle’s rendition.

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