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US Prosecutors Slap Celebrity Crypto Scammer With Eight-Year Prison Term

2 mins
Updated by Michael Washburn
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Federal prosecutors in Illinois have sentenced a Nigerian crypto scammer to eight years in federal prison for masterminding a multi-million dollar fraud scheme. As in many instances, the conspirators used cryptocurrency wallets to hide and store the proceeds of their crimes.

Olalekan Jacob Ponle, who underwent extradition from the United Arab Emirates, where he was resident, was found guilty of victimizing businesses across America, according to a Department of Justice statement. Ponle, who also used the aliases “Mr. Woodberry,” and “Mark Kain,” used email phishing scams to ensnare victims.

Millions Sent to Crypto Scammer’s Wallet

Ponle and his co-conspirators deceived employees of targeted companies with false instructions. Then prompted them to wire money to bank accounts controlled by money mules.

Source: MrWoodberry/Twitter

The fraudulent emails mimicked legitimate ones from the company or known contacts. The victims suffered over $8.03 million in actual losses and more than $51.3 million in intended losses. The scam fell hardest on companies in several states.

“Mr. Woodberry” and his associates are known to have targeted businesses in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New York, Illinois, and California.

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Ponle instructed the money mules to convert the proceeds of their crimes to Bitcoin (BTC), and then transfer it to a wallet under his control.

The 31-year-old “Woodberry” was something of a social media celebrity in his home country of Nigeria, where he became well known for his extravagant displays of wealth and luxury goods. It’s now clearer what propped up such an extravagant lifestyle.

On July 11, US District Judge Robert W. Gettleman sentenced Ponle to eight years and four months in federal prison.

Gettleman also ordered Ponle to pay more than $8.03 million in restitution to the victimized companies and hand over luxury items bought with the proceeds. The government had previously taken control of 151 bitcoin linked to the crimes.

Crypto Crime Decreased in the First Two Quarters

Using cryptocurrency to hide your illicit gains is a phenomenon law enforcement sees more and more. However, in its recent mid-year report, Chainalysis noted a 65% decrease in illicit crypto flows and a $3.3 billion drop in proceeds from scams year-to-date.

Additionally, Chainalysis found a rise in the transfer of illegal money to impersonation scams. One of the few areas of crypto crime that saw growth in the past six months.

The UAE, where Ponle resided, was quick to deport the scammer to the United States, despite the lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries.

Once known as a gangster’s paradise, the Gulf state has redoubled its efforts to stop looking cozy with international crime. On Wednesday, the UAE signed another extradition agreement with Turkey to smooth the path to deporting foreign criminals.

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Josh Adams
Josh is a reporter at BeInCrypto. He first worked as a journalist over a decade ago, initially covering music before moving into politics and current affairs. Josh first owned Bitcoin in 2014 and has followed the space ever since. He is particularly interested in Web3 adoption, policy and regulation, CBDCs, privacy, and the future of the metaverse.