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10 Southern Californians Face Federal Charges In Email Scam

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Ten people face federal charges in an “advance fee” Nigerian E-mail scam, in which elderly victims in Southern California and elsewhere were conned out of more than $1.5 million.

Senders of the e-mails falsely claimed to have control of millions of dollars in inheritance money in Nigeria and told victims they would receive a portion of the money if they paid advance fees for “taxes” or “documentation,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The lead defendant in the case – Claudio Uche Dibe, 25, of Gardena – was extradited from Canada on Feb. 4. Dibe is a Nigerian national who fled to Canada in 2009 after learning of the investigation, prosecutors said. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and was ordered held without bond.

Dibe and his associates allegedly claimed to be attorneys, bankers, diplomats or other government officials in order to convince victims they were dealing with legitimate professionals.

The indictment alleges Dibe and his associates lured victims by initially demanding relatively small amounts of money. Once they paid the modest amounts, they were asked to wire increasingly larger amounts — as much as $35,000, according to court documents.

Dibe and two others were indicted by a federal grand jury in 2009. His two co-defendants in that indictment — Bright Amesi, 25, of Gardena, and Briceson Loving, 25, of Lawndale — were among the three arraigned today, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The third defendant arraigned today in Los Angeles federal court was Erika Fletcher, 24, of Inglewood.

Fletcher, along with Amesi and Loving, were named in an 11-count indictment returned last month by a Los Angeles federal grand jury.

The federal investigation into the scam was launched after one of the defendants impersonated an Internal Revenue Service agent to convince a victim to pay fictitious taxes, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The 10 defendants who have been charged in the two indictments are:

  • Dibe, who is charged with 15 counts of wire fraud
  • Amesi, who is charged with 15 counts of wire fraud in one indictment and is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the 2011 indictment
  • Loving, who is charged with 15 counts of wire fraud and is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the 2011 indictment
  • Ezenwa “Larry” Ihenachor, 28, of Gardena, who is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud
  • Erika Fletcher, 24, of Inglewood, who is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud
  • Devon London, 22, of Los Angeles, who is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud
  • Ellis Allen, 26, of Los Angeles, who is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud
  • Wynterrose Rogers, 25, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud
  • Lanisha Andrews, 25, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud; and
  • Veronica Littlejohn, 43, of Gardena, who is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.

Allen, Rogers and Andrews are scheduled to be arraigned in federal court on March 14.

The charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and each count of wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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