A fraudster nicknamed ‘Fizzy’ because of his love of champagne has been jailed for eight years for conning vulnerable pensioners out of their life savings.
Frank Onyeachonam ran the UK end of global lottery scam that was orchestrated from his native Nigeria for seven years to fund his lavish millionaire’s lifestyle. It involved hundreds of perpetrators in several countries, detectives say.
In the UK, 38-year-old Onyeachonam conned pensioners out of sums from £2,000 to £600,000, deliberately targeting his victims because they were potentially vulnerable to his tactics.
While he bled them of their life savings, Onyeachonam enjoyed a life of fast cars, champagne and designer clothes.
Pictures he posted on Facebook show he spent the cash on Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Armani designer clothes, Rolex watches, Porsches and Maseratis. He even stuck wads of what look like £50 notes in his Buzz Lightyear toy.
Onyeachonam, of Canning Town, east London, was found guilty at the Old Bailey of conspiracy to defraud following a three-week trial.
Lawrencia Emenyonu, 38, and Bernard Armah, 51, both of Wood Green, north London, were also found guilty of money laundering. All three denied the charges.
Emenyonu was jailed for 18 months while her partner Armah received an eight-month term.
Judge Rebecca Poulet QC, said there had been ‘some very serious outcomes’ for the victims ca ught up in the scam.
She told married father-of-two Onyeachonam: ‘I judge your culpability to be very high. This was a very well thought out operation, sophisticated in both its planning and its operation.
‘Mr Onyeachonam, you targeted these individuals because they were elderly and likely to agree and be tricked by this scam.’
This was demonstrated in the fraudster’s own notes in which he described them as ‘crippled, old or poor’, she said.
The harm that was caused to these people could not just be calculated in financial terms but also on the ‘dreadful impact ‘ on their lives, mental capacity and relationships with loved-ones.
The judge went on: ‘You contested the case in the face of powerful evidence. You demonstrated the arrogance that you must have carried with you throughout this fraud by continuing after you knew that the police had raided your premises.’
The ruse – known as an ‘advance fee’ fraud – saw Onyeachonam send victims emails claiming they had won millions of pounds on a non-existent Australian lottery and requesting a charge to release their winnings.
Investigators traced 14 victims – mainly from the U.S. but including one from Britain – who were defrauded of a total of around £900,000.
But detectives believe this is the ‘tip of the iceberg’ with evidence suggesting there may have been as many as 400 victims and the sum may be as high as £30 million.
Onyeachonam was seen as the key figure in the UK but police suspect a criminal network was in place in several countries around the world. Authorities found an alleged co-conspirator abroad had an email containing the details of more than 100,000 potential victims.
The defendant was thought to have started working on the scam almost immediately after he arrived in the UK from Nigeria in 2005, and was said to have carried on into 2012 while he was on bail following his arrest the year before.
His crimes were uncovered in a three-year operation led by the National Crime Agency with assistance from the Postal Inspection Service and Internal Revenue Service in the US.
When they raided his luxury apartment in Canary Wharf police discovered an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of evidence pointing to an advanced fee scam.
Among 200 exhibits were notebooks containing the names, addresses, cash tallies and other personal details relating to 406 people. Police estimate that the fraud is likely to have run to at least £5 million and possibly as high as £30 million if all those in the notebooks suffered losses.
Steve Brown, senior officer in the NCA’s cyber crime unit, said the majority of Onyeachonam’s victims were from America.
He is thought to have selected his targets from a database known among fraudsters as a ‘suckers list’, which includes people who are believed to be susceptible to the tactics.
Mr Brown said: ‘Victims were sent an email from an alias used by Onyeachonam saying they had won an Australian lottery. They would be directed to ring him and he would say ‘if you send me money I will then release your lottery funds’.’
The lottery ‘winnings’ ranged from £2 million to £9 million and once they sent on cash victims were ‘hooked’ into the ‘unrelenting’ scam, he said.
He added: ‘Once they’ve got their claws into someone they won’t stop. As long as they keep sending them money they will keep going until there’s nothing left.’
Onyeachonam, 38, of Canning Town, east London, was found guilty at the Old Bailey of conspiracy to defraud
Using the alias Dr Jeff Lloyds, Onyeachonam built up a rapport with his victims and continued extracting money from some for as long as seven years.
In order to make the required payments several victims took out high interest loans, forcing them to come out of retirement to repay the debts.
Some of those exploited by Onyeachonam suffered the added trauma of falling under suspicion themselves as they were used as ‘pawns’ in the criminal network to launder the proceeds of the fraud by sending on money from other victims or setting up business accounts.
Mr Brown said the scam had made a ‘mental wreck’ of victims, ‘hammering’ their life’s savings, forcing them to lose their homes and leaving them isolated from their friends and families.
Emails showed victims pleaded with Onyeachonam to send them money to pay for healthcare, while some died before he could be brought to justice.
The British victim was left with debts of £90,000 and was forced to sell her home, move into rented accommodation and return to work in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy.
An American victim lost her dream home and she no longer speaks to her sister or friend. She described how the scam made her feel like she had been ‘raped over and over again’.
While he left a trail of destitution and devastation in his wake, Onyeachonam enjoyed the high life from the fruits of his deception.
Mr Brown said he lived a ‘cash rich’ lifestyle, earning the nickname ‘Fizzy’ for his taste for expensive champagne. Photographs show him surrounded by cash and bubbly in nightclubs.
His car collection included Porsches and Maseratis while his Thames-side flat was full of luxury brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton when it was searched by police.
Onyeachonam was the key figure as far as the ‘UK nexus’ was concerned but detectives believe this was part of an international enterprise.
The alleged mastermind or ‘chairman’ of the network is based in Nigerian capital Lagos and he is currently under investigation by authorities there.
Asked how many people were working on the global scam, Mr Brown said: ‘Name a country and there seems to be a connection. It’s been almost impossible for us to track everybody down. They’ve all got responsibility for their own country.’
The prosecution has moved for a confiscation hearing for Onyeachonam.
Culled from DailyMail