HOUSTON — A total of 11 people in multiple states are now in custody on charges filed in two separate business email compromise prosecutions in the southern counties of Texas and New York, U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani announced.
The two-count Texas indictment charges five: Bolaji Okunnu, 29, and Philip Ogbeide Jr., 33, both of Houston; Ayodegi Okunnu, 24, Austin; and Victor Rubio Jr., 26, and Bougar Robert Linares Soto, 41, both of Los Angeles, California. Okunnu and Ogbeide made their first appearance before U.S. Magistrate Peter Bray in Houston this afternoon.
Six others — all of whom live in the Houston area — face charges in the New York indictment and are also expected to appear today. More information about this case will follow later.
All are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.
The charges revealed today relate to alleged schemes that caused millions of losses to victims who were tricked into sending money to those charged under the scheme.
The costs mainly arise from compromising business email regulations. Conspirators allegedly impersonated legitimate companies and fraudulently diverted money from victims’ bank accounts to accounts they controlled. According to the allegations, they gained access to corporate email accounts and spoofed email addresses to trick victims into believing they were making legitimate payments.
The Texas allegations included an alleged scheme that fraudulently diverted payments intended for a vendor who had provided electrical and mechanical services to a New Jersey township. According to the indictments, conspirators accessed the email account of one of the seller’s employees. They then used that email account to request payment for services that were charged for sending to a new bank account that did not belong to the seller.
The New Jersey City Council was allegedly tricked into transferring $287,236 to a fraudulent bank account that Rubio opened instead of actually paying the seller. The allegations further allege that conspirators laundered the money in a manner designed to conceal the source, ownership and control of the money by quickly transferring the money from Rubio’s account to other bank accounts they controlled. They then incrementally withdrew the fraud proceeds into cash.
If convicted, those charged in Texas each face up to 20 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $250,000.
The FBI conducted the investigation with valuable assistance from the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office and New Jersey’s Edison Police Department. Assistant US Attorneys Belinda Beek and Thomas Carter are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is a formal charge of criminal conduct, not evidence. A suspect is presumed innocent unless he has been convicted under due process of law.