Memphis/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on May 02, 2024
Georgia Resident Sentenced to 5 Years for Nationwide Online Romance Scams, Co-Conspirators Await Trial and Sentencing in TennesseeSource: Unsplash/Tingey Injury Law Firm

A Nigerian national who called Georgia home is now staring down a five-year stint behind bars for a series of online romance scams operating across the US, including targets in Western Tennessee. Efe Egbowawa, aged 40, fell from cyber Casanova to a convicted con artist, sentenced for laundering money as part of a conspiracy utilizing dating sites to deceive victims into sending cash to bogus companies and agents. The news of Egbowawa's sentencing was delivered today by Kevin G. Ritz, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, as per a Justice Department release.

Caught up in the romance racket, Egbowawa, along with Igocha Mac-Okor, 40, another Nigerian citizen residing in the Atlanta area, and Kay Ozegbe, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Atlanta — were all indicted by a federal grand jury on June 29, 2023. The trio has been implicated in deep-running deceit, spinning a digitally deceptive web of relationships with unwary victims from 2017 through November 2021, leveraging social media, gaming apps, and other internet platforms. The court heard how these fraudsters quickly formed online connections, then turned the tables on their victims, milking them for money through various wired and mailed means.

This elaborate scam roped in love-seeking individuals, as the scammers adopted aliases for initiating supposed friendships, or more often, whirlwind online romances. After snaring their prey, scam calls for "emergency financial assistance" began, with each act of compliance by the victim being met with demands for heftier financial aid. The roles within this conspiracy varied, as some served as the faceless "handlers," who groomed victims, while their counterparts played the part of "money mules," shuffling the ill-gotten gains through layers of accounts and shell corporations to veil the cash's criminal origins.

Justice was served when, on April 17, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker slapped Egbowawa with a 60-month federal prison sentence. Co-conspirator Ozegbe pled guilty to the money laundering charge on January 29 and awaits sentencing come May 24, 2024. Mac-Okor, meanwhile, is poised for trial on August 5, 2024. These developments unfolded under the watchful eye of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Memphis Field Office and the United States Postal Investigation Service, who pursued the case.

The takedown was a team effort, with a nod of gratitude from United States Attorney Kevin Ritz directed to Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Smith. Smith spearheaded the prosecution of this case while law enforcement partners were lauded for their rigorous role in reeling in the romance scammers, reflecting a resolve to root out and rectify schemes that exploit human connection for financial fraud.