Federal judge sentences Nigerian national for internet fraud, false tax return schemes in the Ozarks
A judge sentenced a Nigerian national who lived in St. Robert, Mo. was for his role in a large fraud conspiracy that used various internet scams to defraud victims.
Segun Prosper Otaru, 27, was sentenced by U.S. Chief District Judge Beth Phillips to four years and three months in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Otaru to pay $25,056 in restitution, and to forfeit the same amount to the government.
Otaru is a Nigerian citizen and a legal permanent resident of the United States. According to court documents, Otaru entered the United States in April 2013, under apparently fraudulent pretenses; contrary to the requirements of his student visa, he did not even begin his studies in the United States. The year after entering the United States, Otaru obtained lawful permanent status through marriage to a citizen.
On May 2, 2019, Otaru pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of aiding and abetting the theft of public money. According to court documents, over the course of his five years in the United States, Otaru used 13 aliases and multiple bank accounts opened under false identities in order to move funds and perpetrate various frauds as a part of an organized crime network.
Otaru admitted that, at least as early as 2016, he participated in a scheme to defraud people through various scams, such as posting internet advertisements on sites such as Craigslist.com for goods, services, and rental accommodations. Conspirators sought to induce individuals responding to the advertisements to pay for the goods and services, which they had no intention to provide.
For example, conspirators used existing pictures and descriptions of properties found from legitimate websites to create fraudulent Craigslist postings under properties for rent. When victims responded to the advertisement, conspirators instructed them to send a deposit in order to hold the property.
Conspirators also defrauded business wholesalers by tricking them into wiring funds into accounts they controlled as purported “shipping fees” for merchandise they purchased using stolen credit card numbers. After using a stolen credit card number to purchase items from the victim businesses, conspirators claimed the merchandise needed to be shipped to a foreign country. Conspirators insisted on using their own shipper and instructed victims to charge the full amounts for the merchandise plus shipping fees to the stolen credit card numbers. They instructed victims to send the shipping fees to “their shipper” at the provided bank account maintained by the conspirators, including Otaru’s accounts.
Otaru also participated in a scheme to submit false and fraudulent federal income tax returns in order to receive refunds. Conspirators used stolen identities to file returns that listed false employers, wages, and employment taxes paid. At least 167 false and fraudulent federal income tax returns were designated for deposit to seven different bank accounts controlled by Otaru and another person. These 167 federal tax returns requested refunds totaling approximately $644,280. They actually received at least $24,356 in fraudulently-obtained tax refunds.
Otaru opened and maintained a series of bank accounts – some in his own name and in the names of various aliases. In order to open bank accounts using false names, Otaru obtained from his co-conspirators false identification documents, usually counterfeit passports and drivers’ licenses, purportedly issued by nations in Africa, such as Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. The false passports contained forged and counterfeit United States visas, as false evidence of the bearer’s evidence of authorized stay and employment in the United States.
Periodically, Mr. Otaru received shipments from Africa in which false identification documents were concealed.
In April 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized a package sent to Otaru from Nigeria that was manifested as “local body scrub.” In addition to a container of soap, the package contained four counterfeit passports (purportedly issued by Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) with four corresponding foreign driver’s licenses. All documents displayed Otaru’s picture but bore different names. All documents were fraudulent, and the passports further contained counterfeit United States visas.
In August 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized a package sent to Otaru from Nigeria that was manifested as “native suite and sandals.” Hidden in the soles of the sandals were four counterfeit passports (purportedly issued by Nigeria, Gambia, South Africa, and Liberia) with four corresponding foreign driver’s licenses. All documents displayed Otaru’s picture, but bore different names. All documents were fraudulent, and the passports further contained counterfeit United States visas.
Otaru also possessed and used a fraudulent Kenyan passport and two fraudulent Nigerian passports.
Otaru kept some of the funds obtained from the schemes for his own use. He transferred some of the funds to co-conspirators in the United States and in other countries. He sometime laundered proceeds of the various frauds by purchasing vehicles and shipping them overseas to co-conspirators in Africa through his business, Big-O-Motors.
Court documents note that following Otaru’s release from incarceration, it is expected that he will be removed from the United States.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Mohlhenrich. It was investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, and IRS-Criminal Investigation.