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Utah-based social media fraud scheme took $6M from widows, feds say

One 75-year-old woman sent $356,000 to a “German businessman” believing he was investing her money in a pipe supplier for a sewer system in Turkey.

Ten people face 66 total criminal charges for allegedly stealing people’s identity to commit thousands of dollars in bank fraud. Shutterstock

SALT LAKE CITY — One 75-year-old woman sent $356,000 to a “German businessman,” believing he was investing her money in a pipe supplier for a sewer system in Turkey.

A 74-year-old woman sent $140,150 to a “U.S. military general” to help him release a “portfolio” that was stuck in customs.

Federal authorities say the two women were among dozens of older women that a Utah-based social media fraud scheme took for more than $6 million over two years. A federal grand jury returned a 10-count superseding indictment Wednesday against eight people living in Utah, including seven Nigerian nationals.

The seven men and one woman used social media and dating apps to target widows. They created false identities to befriend potential victims, feigned romantic interest and eventually pressured them to send them money, according to the indictment.

Federal prosecutors also allege that they disguised the origin of the funds in a series of transactions, often sending large amounts of money overseas.

In the case of the 75-year-old woman, identified in court documents as C.S., the indictment alleges she was contacted on social media by someone using the profile “Aaron.Brain.” He claimed to be a businessman living in Germany who was involved in a company supplying pipe for a sewer in Turkey. He sent her photographs of industrial pipes in a warehouse.

“Aaron.Brain” told the victim she could make $600,000 in his business venture. He convinced C.S. to send 10 checks totalling $275,000 and make five wire transfers totalling $81,000 between April 2, 2018, and May 17, 2018, according to the indictment.

Another defendant pretended to be a high-ranking officer at Fort Bragg deployed overseas. He claimed to have a “portfolio” that was restricted due to customs fees and needed help to get it released, according to the indictment. He convinced 74-year-old N.W. to send checks totaling $140,150 made out to several of defendants. One of the mailing addresses was in Vineyard in Utah County.

The phony profiles also included a successful Utah businessman, a person in Sweden under house arrest and an engineer working as a subcontractor for a large oil company working in Oman, according to the indictment.

The alleged schemes include telling women that a U.S. military member was stranded overseas, pitching loans or investment opportunities, and describing an urgent business need to buy equipment. Victims were provided with bank account information, and once the money was in the accounts, members of the group transferred it to each other and to overseas accounts, withdrew cash or paid personal expenses, prosecutors say.

Charged in the indictment are Jeffersonking Anyanwu, 25, Daniel Negedu, 21, Onoriode Kenneth Adigbolo, 31, Chukwudi Kingsley Kalu, 28, and Godsent Nwanganga, 24, all of Orem; David Maduagu, 27, of Taylorsville, and Richard Ukorebi, 38, and Adrianna Sotelo, 20, both of West Valley City.

All eight are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, three counts of mail fraud, and one count of money laundering conspiracy. Anyanwu, Negedu, Adigbolo, Kalu, Ukorebi, Nwanganga and Sotelo are also each charged with one count of money laundering.

Anyanwu, Negedu and Adigbolo were initially charged in May. The pleaded not guilty but will remain in custody pending resolution of the case.

Ukorebi, Maduagu, and Sotelo were previously charged by criminal complaint and arrested. Ukorebi and Maduagu were ordered detained pending trial. Sotelo is released on supervision pending trial. Nwanganga is incarcerated on unrelated charges. Kalu remains at large, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.