Osarhieme Uyi Obaygbona, 32, of Atlanta, Georgia, was convicted last week of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit identity theft, and conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to protected computers, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
The jury returned the guilty verdict against Obaygbona following a one-week trial before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini in Newark federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and the evidence at trial:
Phishing attacks use fraudulent web pages that mimic the legitimate web pages of ecommerce companies such as banks and payroll processors. Internet scammers trick unwitting customers of those companies into visiting the fake web pages and providing confidential personal and financial information, including names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, mothers’ maiden names, and online account user names and passwords (“stolen identifiers”). The stolen identifiers are then used to make unauthorized withdrawals from victim accounts.
Obaygbona, Marvin Hill, and Alphonsus Osuala were provided with stolen identifiers by Waya Nwaki, who received them from Karlis Karklins, a Latvian national who worked with defendant Charles Umeh Chidi and others to deploy phishing websites across the Internet.
Obaygbona, Nwaki, Hill, Osuala, and others used the stolen identifiers to make unauthorized withdrawals from victims’ accounts. Some of the stolen identifiers were used to create fake driver’s licenses, with which conspirators could impersonate victims at bank branches. The scheme also used the stolen identifiers to gain access to the victims’ online accounts, where Obaygbona, Nwaki, and Hill could view victim signatures on check images and then forge checks and withdrawal slips in furtherance of fraudulent withdrawals.
In a second variation of the scheme, Karklins used stolen identifiers to gain access to payroll accounts at ADP, the New Jersey-based payroll processor. Karklins and others added fake employees to victim companies’ payrolls and then caused paychecks to be issued to those fake employees.
Karklins, Nwaki, Hill, and others then withdrew the fraudulent payroll amounts using both stolen identifiers and unwitting intermediaries (“mules”). As part of the scheme, more than $300,000 in fraudulent payroll was wired to defendant Olaniyi Jones, a Nigerian national who impersonated a European woman interested in romantic relationships to dupe mules into wiring the proceeds of the scheme overseas.
Chase Bank, Bank of America, ADP, and Branch Bank & Trust Co. lost a total of $1.5 million to the fraud ring.
Nwaki and Hill have both pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing before Judge Martini. Osuala is in custody on unrelated federal charges in Georgia. Jones is detained in Nigeria pending extradition. Karklins and Chidi are at large.
The counts for which Obaygbona was convicted carry a maximum total penalty of 50 years in prison and fines of $1 million, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is currently scheduled for October 17, 2012.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward in Newark, with the investigation leading to the verdict. He also thanked special agents of the FBI’s Atlanta Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Lamkin; and the Alpharetta, Georgia Police Department, under the direction of Director of Public Safety Gary George, for their assistance in the investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher J. Kelly of the Economic Crimes Unit and Andrew S. Pak of the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Section.