The Nigerian Email Scammer Who Stole Millions From Premier League Club, NY Law Firm, Banks
Saturday - 04/07/2020 07:55
Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, who went by the name Ray Hushpuppi, made no secret of his extraordinary wealth.
On an Instagram account with 2.3 million followers, he posted photos of himself dripping in high-end watches, wearing robes with his name emblazoned on the back, and driving a $300,000 Mercedes or a white Rolls Royce Cullinan with the hashtag #AllMine.
He took private jets to Paris, shopped at Gucci and Louis Vuitton, and indulged in cakes depicting himself surrounded by Fendi bags. His address was 1706 Palazzo Versace in Dubai.
On Snapchat, under the username “hushpuppi5,” he called himself “The Billionaire Gucci Master!!!”
Abbas claimed to be a real estate developer. But his wealth was instead the result of running elaborate email scams and hacking schemes, U.S. federal prosecutors argue—a rare example of a Nigerian email scam that actually fooled major companies into handing over millions.
“The FBI’s investigation has revealed that Abbas finances this opulent lifestyle through crime,” FBI Special Agent Andrew Innocenti wrote in a lengthy arrest affidavit, filed in the District Court for the Central District of California on Thursday.
Abbas, 37, was arrested when he arrived in Chicago from Dubai on Thursday night. He faces criminal charges for being the leader of a transnational network that allegedly conspired to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through email scams and other schemes, some of which targeted a New York law firm, a foreign bank and an English Premier League soccer club.
Abbas and a small group of co-conspirators allegedly had a network of “money mules” that they used to carry out the email scams and then launder money through a slew of foreign bank accounts. The group would usually hack into a business’ email account and either block or redirect emails, according to the FBI. They would then use the hacked email account to trick a victim or a company into sending money to them, often changing bank transfer information by just one or two numbers.
However, when one member was arrested in October, 2019, shortly after a New York law firm was duped into wiring almost $1 million, investigators obtained a search warrant to go through his iPhone and found messages that blew open the inner workings of the group.
Abbas had allegedly tricked one of the law firm’s paralegals into wiring $922,857, intended for a client’s real estate refinancing, to a Chase Bank account controlled by Abbas. The paralegal emailed a Citizens Bank email address to verify instructions for the wire transfer but it was a spoof email address set up by Abbas.
About half the amount was instantly wired to a Canadian bank account and images of the wire transfer were shared between the group.
“Did the big hit?” one group member texted, according to excerpts in the affidavit. “Yessir,” another replied.
In another instance, a foreign bank was defrauded $14.7 million in Feb. 2019 when the group gained access to the bank’s computer network and sent fake SWIFT messages—utilizing software used by financial institutions to sends payment orders to each other.
One co-conspirator texted Abbas to ask if he had any bank accounts that could take large amounts of the stolen money. Abbas responded with the details for Romanian, Bulgarian and U.S. bank accounts.
In one text message, the co-conspirator wrote: “my guy also deleted history logs at the bank so they won’t even c the transaction.”
But the following day, the cyber-heist hit the news and the transfers didn’t reach Abbas’ Romanian account.
“Today they noticed and pressed a recall on it , it might show and block or never show,” the co-conspirator texted Abbas. “Look it hit the news.”
Abbas replied: “damn.”
The pair appeared undeterred. “Next one is in few weeks will let U know when it’s ready. to bad they caught on or it would been a nice payout,” he wrote to Abbas.
In March, the group discussed how they could launder £100 million (about $124 million) from an unnamed English Premier League Club but it’s not clear what happened to the money.
At one point, the group were making $1 million to $5 million through a scam once or twice a week.
“This was a challenging case, one that spanned international boundaries, traditional financial systems and the digital sphere,” said Jesse Baker, a Secret Service agent in the Los Angles Field Office.
Abbas was expelled from the United Arab Emirates, for reasons that were unclear, and is expected to be transferred from Chicago to Los Angeles in the coming weeks. He did not yet have a lawyer appointed.