U.S. Department of Justice Announces Sentencing in Business Email Compromise Scheme Involving Bitcoin

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U.S. Department of Justice Announces Sentencing in Business Email Compromise Scheme Involving Bitcoin

Last week, the Department of Justice announced that Olalekan Jacob Ponle, a UAE resident, was sentenced to more than 8-years in prison for orchestrating an $8 million cyber fraud scheme targeting several U.S. businesses in Chicago, New York, California and elsewhere. 

According to court documents, Ponle and his co-conspirators engaged in numerous business email compromise schemes in which they used phishing links to gain unauthorized access to email accounts and then created false instructions directing employees of the victim companies to wire money to bank accounts opened by money mules at Ponle’s direction. The fraudulent emails often claimed to be from the company or a known business contact and were nearly identical to prior legitimate emails sent over the company’s email account.  After unwitting employees wired money, in some cases millions of dollars, to the bank accounts, Ponle instructed the money mules to convert the proceeds to Bitcoin and send them to him.

Ponle is a Nigerian national who was arrested in June 2020 by law enforcement in the UAE.  He was subsequently expelled from the UAE into the custody of the FBI eventually pleading guilty to a wire fraud charge. 

As part of the sentencing Ponle was ordered to pay more than $8.03 million in restitution to the victim companies and forfeit numerous luxury items purchased with proceeds traceable to the fraud scheme, including a Rolls Royce Cullinan, Lamborghini Urus, Mercedes-Benz G-Class AMG G55, and Rolex and Patek Philippe watches.  Ponle previously forfeited to the government 151 bitcoin, which were also derived from proceeds traceable to the fraud scheme.

“The defendant committed a series of significant BEC frauds, causing millions of dollars in losses and tens of millions of dollars in attempted losses to victim companies,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Melody Wells. “BEC schemes like defendant’s are a common and economically damaging form of financial crime run by individuals and criminal organizations all over the world.”

This case is the result of a global investigation by the FBI’s Chicago Field Office and the United State’s Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois and the extradition is the result of international cooperation between the DOJ's Office of International Affairs and the Dubai, UAE Police Department.

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