After months of adjournment , a United States court in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, sentenced popular internet fraudster, Ramon Olorunwa Abbas popularly known as Hushpuppi to over 135 months – over 11 years — in federal prison.
The US District Judge Otis D. Wright II ordered the 40-year-old convict to pay $1,732,841 in restitution to two fraud victims, according to a statement sent by the court to Channels Television on Monday.
The judge said Hushpuppi conspired to launder tens of millions of dollars through online scams and flaunted his luxurious, crime-funded lifestyle on social media.
He pleaded guilty in April 2021 to one count of conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 10 months after he was arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), in June 2020.
Hushpuppi has remained in US federal custody since his expulsion from the UAE.
“Abbas bragged on social media about his lavish lifestyle – a lifestyle funded by his involvement in transnational fraud and money laundering conspiracies targeting victims around the world,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada.
“Money laundering and business email compromise scams are a massive international crime problem, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement and international partners to identify and prosecute those involved, wherever they may be.”
Before its eventual ruling on Monday, the court postponed Hushpuppi’s sentencing date at least five times in 2022 alone. Hushpuppi was initially scheduled for sentencing on February 14 but it was moved to July 11 and to September 21 before it was postponed to November 3 and finally to November 7.
It had been reported last week that he had been sentenced to jail but it wasn’t until Monday that he was officially sentenced.
Operation Top Dog
Hushpuppi targeted both American and international victims to become one of the most prolific money launderers in the world, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said.
The FBI, which investigated the case as part of Operation Top Dog, also said Hushpuppi “financially ruined scores of victims and provided assistance to the North Korean regime”.
The investigation found that Abbas conspired with Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, a convicted money launderer, to launder funds derived from various crimes, including bank cyber-heists, business email compromise (BEC) schemes and other online frauds.
BEC schemes typically involve gaining unauthorised access to a business email account and attempting to trick a victim business into making an unauthorized wire transfer.
According to the findings, in January 2019, Hushpuppi conspired with Alaumary to launder funds stolen from a bank in Malta by providing account information for banks in Romania and Bulgaria. The United States has charged North Korean hackers with committing the bank cyber-heist in Malta, and alleged that those funds were destined for the North Korean government. Abbas has admitted that the intended loss with respect to the Maltese bank was approximately $14.7 million.
In May 2019, he conspired with Alaumary to launder millions of pounds stolen from a professional soccer club in the United Kingdom as well as a British company. In connection with that scheme, Abbas provided Alaumary with details for a bank account in Mexico that “could handle millions and not block,” according to court documents.
Hushpuppi also fraudulently induced a New York-based law firm in October 2019 to transfer approximately $922,857 to an account that a co-conspirator controlled under someone else’s name.
Alaumary was charged separately and pleaded guilty in November 2020 to one count of conspiracy to engage in money laundering. He is serving a 140-month federal prison sentence and was ordered to pay more than $30 million in restitution.
Hushpuppi also admitted in his plea agreement to conspiring with others to defraud an individual in Qatar who sought a loan of $15 million to build a school.
At the sentencing hearing on Monday, Judge Wright ordered Hushpuppi to pay $922,857 in restitution to the law firm victim and $809,983 in restitution to the businessperson in Qatar.
He and another conspirator duped the businessperson into paying approximately $330,000 to fund an “investor’s account” to facilitate the loan.
He specifically directed the victim to send $100,000 to a bank account controlled by a co-conspirator, and $230,000 to the bank account of a luxury watch seller.
After the victim paid the money into the bank account, he used those funds for his personal benefit, including purchasing a $230,000 Richard Mille RM11-03 watch, which he arranged to have brought to him from New York to Dubai. The watch was frequently seen on his wrist on his now-defunct Instagram account, often with the hashtag #RichardMille.
Approximately $50,000 of proceeds from the scheme were used to fraudulently acquire a St. Christopher (St. Kitts) and Nevis citizenship and a passport for Abbas through a sham marriage to a St. Kitts citizen.
In January and February 2020, Hushpuppi and another conspirator corresponded with the victim businessperson, attempting to fraudulently induce a further payment of $575,000 in purported taxes to release the $15 million loan. In February 2020, the victim sent approximately $299,983 to Kenyan bank accounts specified by another conspirator. In March 2020, he fraudulently induced the victim to send another $180,000 to U.S.-based bank accounts; those funds were subsequently laundered with assistance from several co-conspirators.
“By his own admission, during just an 18-month period defendant conspired to launder over $300 million,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “While much of this intended loss did not ultimately materialize, [Abbas’] willingness and ability to participate in large-scale money laundering highlights the seriousness of his criminal conduct.”
The FBI thanked the government of the United Arab Emirates and the Dubai Police Department for their substantial assistance in this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Khaldoun Shobaki of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section prosecuted the case with substantial assistance from the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.
As part of its investigations into the case, the FBI had indicted a Nigerian police officer DCP Abba Kyari, who was the Head of the Inspector General of the Police’s Intelligence Response Team at the time of the indictment. Mr Kyari denied the fraud allegations and has fought attempts by the Nigerian government to have him extradited to the US to face charges.
In August this year, Federal High Court in Abuja dismissed a suit by the Federal Government seeking to extradite him on the grounds that the suit is incompetent, lacked merit, and was instituted in bad faith.
Justice Inyang Ekwo insisted that the current administration has no basis to file the extradition request having commenced trial in a case filed against the embattled Deputy Commissioner of Police by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
Kyari was arrested by the National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in February for alleged drug-related offenses. The NDLEA has since arraigned the suspended deputy police commissioner. He is remanded at the Kuje prison in Abuja, pending the outcome of the trial.