Charlotte Man Found Guilty For Operating As Money Mule In $2 Million Business Email Compromise Scheme
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A federal jury convicted Chukwudi Michael Okwara, 40, of Charlotte, for his involvement in a Business Email Compromise (BEC) scheme that defrauded at least six companies of approximately $2 million. William T. Stetzer, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced today that Okwara had been convicted at trial of 27 counts of money laundering, false statements to banks, and aggravated identity theft.
A business email compromise scheme, or BEC, is a sophisticated scam, often targeting businesses involved in wire transfer payments. The fraud is carried out by compromising and/or “spoofing” legitimate business email accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques, to cause employees of the victim company (or other individuals involved in legitimate business transactions) to transfer funds to accounts controlled by scammers.
According to trial evidence, witness testimony and documents filed with the court, beginning in November 2018, Okwara, who also goes by “Collins Bird” and “Larry Eugene Coleman,” used fake documents to open multiple money mule bank accounts. Money mule bank accounts are accounts used by fraudsters as a pass-through means of moving fraudulently obtained funds. As trial evidence established, Okwara used the money mule accounts to receive and launder the proceeds of BEC scams perpetrated on at least six victim companies totaling $2 million. According to evidence presented at trial, the money mule accounts opened by Okwara were initially funded with relatively small deposits. Victims of the BEC schemes located throughout the United States were then tricked by scammers to wire large amounts of funds into these accounts. Within days of receipt of the fraudulent wires, Okwara used false and stolen identities and conducted financial transactions with the fraudulently obtained proceeds in order to conceal their origins, including to make large cash withdrawals, purchase official checks, and send wires to other bank accounts under his control.
Okwara’s money laundering convictions carry a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $500,000 fine per count; the five counts of conducting financial transactions with illegal proceeds carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine per count; the two counts of submitting false documents to banks carry a maximum prison term of 30 years and a $1,000,000 fine per count; and the two counts of aggravated identity theft carry a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison, per count, to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed.
Okwara is currently in federal custody. A sentencing date has not been set.
In making today’s announcement, Acting U.S. Attorney Stetzer commended the investigating efforts of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Warren and Mark T. Odulio, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, are prosecuting the case.
Department of Justice
Office of the U.S. Attorney
Western District of North Carolina