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Orem man sentenced in romance fraud scheme targeting widows, divorcees

An Orem man is the fifth and latest defendant to be sentenced in connection with a romance fraud scheme that bilked millions from widows and divorcees.

An Orem man is the fifth and latest defendant to be sentenced in connection with a romance fraud scheme that bilked millions from widows and divorcees. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — An Orem man is the latest to be sentenced to prison in connection with a romance fraud scheme involving hundreds of victims.

Jeffersonking Anyanwu, 34, was sentenced late last month to 63 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering last June, court records state. Anyanwu was originally facing five other charges relating to money laundering and fraud, but they were dropped as part of a plea agreement.

Anyanwu was one of eight Utahns accused of taking part in a romance scam operation where he and others would bilk money from victims and launder the money. The initial indictment — which involved only three people, including Anyanwu — was filed in May 2019. A superseding indictment, which expanded the charges to include the eight people, was filed in September 2019.

The scheme netted over $8.4 million from over 350 victims, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office of Utah.

Anyanwu would work with people in America and Nigeria to create social media profiles, then would target "widows, divorcees or women in troubled marriages," according to a statement from federal prosecutors. The online profiles would appear to be men between the ages of 55 and 65, and the scammers would meet people over social media, dating websites or online games. Prosecutors say Anyanwu used over 20 accounts to further the scheme.

The scammers posed as people with different reasons to be overseas. Some scammers used the names of real military generals, while others posed as businessmen working on oil rigs or building pipelines. They would tell the victims they were romantically interested or intended to marry them once they returned to the United States.

Prosecutors say the scammers posing as military members would tell victims they could not leave their foreign stations and travel unless the women gave them money. The scammers posing as businessmen would tell victims they couldn't leave until finishing their project, and the victims should invest money into the project, describing it as a safe investment.

Other times, the scammers would pose as celebrities. Victims were encouraged to send funds in order to secure spots for a celebrity meet-and-greet, the celebrity's charity or to help the celebrity whose money was tied up in a divorce, the statement says.

The scammers would use bank accounts in the United States in order to prevent victims from getting suspicious. A superseding indictment filed in September 2019 indicates the money would then be transferred to accounts at the First City Monument Bank in Nigeria.

Anyanwu is the fifth defendant to be sentenced in connection with the scheme, and he has received the longest sentence. Others who have pleaded guilty in connection with the fraud scheme include:

  • Onoriode Kenneth Adigbolo: sentenced to three years in federal prison.
  • Daniel Negedu: sentenced to 51 months in federal prison.
  • Richard Bassey Ukorebi: sentenced to 51 months in federal prison.
  • David Maduagu: sentenced to 26 months in prison.
  • Adriana Sotelo: sentenced to one year of home confinement.

The first four defendants listed are jointly responsible for $8.4 million in restitution, the U.S. Attorney's Office says. Two others charged as part of the scheme — Chukwudi Kingsley Kalu and Godsent Nwanganga — still have cases pending as of Wednesday.

Court records in Anyanwu's case also show that prosecutors are seeking to seize a Houston, Texas, home in a gated community, though a third party has petitioned to challenge the forfeiture. Anyanwu's court records also indicate that once he is released from prison, he will be remanded to the custody of the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation proceedings.

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Jacob Scholl joined as a reporter in 2021. He covers northern Utah communities, federal courts and technology.


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