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Maryland Man Pleads Guilty to Role in Romance Fraud Scheme

Published By
U.S. Attorney's Office
Published Date

HUNTINGTON W.Va. – A Maryland man pleaded guilty today to receipt of stolen money, for his role in a scheme that defrauded more than 200 victims, many of them elderly, of at least $2.5 million.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Oluwabamishe Awolesi, also known as Oluwabamise Johnson, 29, of Beltsville, Maryland, admitted that one victim of the scheme transferred a total of $90,000 into Awolesi’s checking account in September 2018. He kept $12,000 of the total and forwarded the rest to others involved in the scheme.

Awolesi lived in Huntington during his involvement in the scheme. Three indictments targeting the scheme allege that from 2016 to 2020, multiple defendants participated in a series of romance and other online scams designed to coerce vulnerable victims into sending money to various bank accounts controlled by them. The indictments describe romance scams as online schemes that target individuals looking for romantic partners, friendship, and other close personal and business relationships on dating websites and other social media platforms. Members of the fraud and money laundering conspiracy created profiles using fictitious names, locations, and images which allowed them to cultivate relationships with the victims. To carry out the schemes alleged in the indictments, victims were often led to believe that they were in relationships with U.S. residents working abroad. However, the investigation revealed that the individuals the victims viewed as their romantic partners were false personas created by members of the fraud and money laundering conspiracies.

At the early stages of the romance scams, the fraudsters frequently requested relatively small gifts, such as gift cards and cell phones from their victims. As the relationships continued, they requested increasingly larger sums of money from their victims. Mr. Awolesi opened bank accounts and received the proceeds of the romance scams through those accounts. Members of the fraud and money laundering conspiracy also occasionally used cryptocurrency and celebrity meet-and-greet scams to obtain money from their victims.

Awolesi, a citizen of Nigeria and the United States, is scheduled to be sentenced on September 19, 2022, and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,00 fine. As part of  his plea, Awolesi agreed to pay $90,000 in restitution.

The cases are the result of a long-term investigation that spanned approximately two years. United States Attorney Will Thompson made today’s announcement and commended the investigative work of the United States Secret Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG), the West Virginia State Police, and the South Charleston Police Department.

United States District Judge Robert C. Chambers presided over the hearing. Assistant United States Attorneys Kathleen Robeson and R. Gregory McVey are prosecuting the case.

If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).  This U.S. Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim, and identifying relevant next steps.  Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis.  Reporting is the first step.  Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses.  The hotline is staffed 10am-6pm Eastern Time, Monday-Friday. English, Spanish, and other languages are available.  

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. Related court documents and information can be found on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:21-cr-68.