A 49-year old Kansas City man has been charged in federal court with participating in a romance fraud scheme that bilked victims across the United States and overseas of nearly $900,000.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says that 49-year old Ronayerin K. Ogolor, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Nigeria, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, MO on Friday, Oct. 19.

The federal criminal complaint alleges that Ogolor participated in a conspiracy since 2014 that targeted people, some of them elderly, in search of companionship or romance through online websites such as Facebook, ChristianMingle.com, or Hangout.com. Ogolor allegedly defrauded his victims of $878,489 in total.

On October 19, the FBI reportedly learned that Ogolor had purchased a plane ticket to Frankfurt, Germany, the day before and would be leaving that afternoon. Agents arrested Ogolor at Kansas City International Airport before he boarded his plane. Ogolor remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the federal criminal complaint, the perpetrators of the romance scams created several profiles on online dating sites. Conspirators then allegedly contacted men and women throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, with whom they cultivated a sense of affection and often romance.

Having established relationships with the victims, the affidavit says, the perpetrators of the romance scams ultimately requested money for hospital fees, travel fees, ‘customs expenses,’ ‘gold import taxes,’ or investment opportunities. Conspirators directed the victims to wire transfer or deposit money into various bank accounts, including accounts established and maintained by Ogolor. Often after the victims transferred money into the specified accounts, conspirators claimed more money was needed, ‘to release the package’ or ‘to pay customs expenses’ on money or gold.

The affidavit says that on other occasions conspirators fraudulently obtained checks through business email compromise, and had the victims deposit the checks into their accounts and wire and deposit money into various accounts, including accounts established and maintained by Ogolor. In a business email compromise, the conspirators hack into a business email account, and then send an email from what appears to be an employee with authority to approve payments, instructing that a check be disbursed in the victim’s name and sent to the victim. By using victims to deposit the checks and distribute the money, the conspirators distanced themselves from the business email hacking and fraud.

Ogolor’s victims lived outside Missouri. The affidavit specifically refers to 13 victims who each sent tens of thousands of dollars to Ogolor. One victim (a widow in Indiana who received a friend request on Facebook) believed a co-conspirator was a widower working on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana; she sent a total of $450,000 to Ogolor. Another victim in Texas, who believed a co-conspirator was a widower and U.S. Army general deployed in Afghanistan, lost at least $300,000. The affidavit also refers to victims in Alabama, Ohio, Washington, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, California, and Italy.

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