Kenyan woman fined Sh123m over online romance scam in the US
On Tuesday, a Kenyan national and former Massachusetts resident was fined Sh120 million ($957,000) for being part of a group that stole more than Sh430 million ($4 million) in romance and Covid-19 assistance scams.
In 2021, Florence Mwende Musau, 38, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud in a Boston federal court.
Musau and five other people used fake passports and numerous aliases to open bank accounts in and around Boston to collect and launder the proceeds of the romance scams.
According to court documents, Musau is said to have participated in a series of online scams designed to defraud victims into sending money to bank accounts controlled by her and others.
To carry out the scams, Musau used fake passports in the names of numerous aliases to open bank accounts in and around Boston to collect and launder the proceeds of the romance scams.
She then executed large cash withdrawals from those accounts, often multiple times on a single day and generally structured in amounts less than $10,000, to evade detection and currency transaction reporting requirements.
During court proceedings, the prosecution mentioned that Musau played a minimal role and acted on her boyfriend’s instructions, Nigerian national Mark Arome Okuo.
“She then executed large cash withdrawals from those accounts, often multiple times on a single day and generally structured in amounts less than Sh1,250,000 million ($10,000), in an effort to evade detection and currency transaction reporting requirements.”
Federal prosecutors said the accounts were also used to collect fraudulent pandemic unemployment benefits in the names of Massachusetts beneficiaries who did not apply for such funds.
More than Sh430 million ($4 million) in fraud proceeds was deposited into accounts allegedly controlled by the defendants.
In March 2022, Okuo pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. His sentence hearing was scheduled for March 29.
In a statement dated Tuesday, January 31, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said Massachusetts judge Allison Burroughs directed the Kenyan woman to pay $957,000(Sh119 million) in restitution and sentenced her to 44 months in prison.
The court further slapped her with an additional 30 months of supervised release and ordered her to surrender money in her account and car.
“Mwende Musau was also ordered to pay approximately Sh119 million (USD957,000) in restitution and forfeit approximately Sh43.5 million (USD350,000) and a Lexus sports SUV,” the statement read in part.
“The remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” said the Attorney’s Office.
Musau and her co-accused reportedly engaged in five romance scams between 2018 and early 2021.
Okuo would allegedly meet women on dating sites and pretend to be a US Army soldier serving in the Middle East or Africa.
As the relationships developed, Okuo claimed that he needed the women to wire him money so that he could leave the military and return to the US to marry them, according to the court documents.
In one case, a victim was said to have transferred $137,000 to bank accounts controlled by Okuo and Musau, thinking it would help her groom-to-be to obtain his military retirement benefits early.
In another case, Okuo allegedly told a woman from Georgia that he lived in Kuwait and worked in the oil industry, but was in love with her and needed $4,700 to return to the US to be with her. The victim promptly wired the sum to an account controlled by the accused con man.
As part of the dating scam, Musau swindled a California resident she met on social media out of $7,800 by claiming that she was a United Nations refugee camp worker who needed the money to return to the US to start a new life with him.
The charge of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, five years of supervised release, a fine of up to Sh125 million ($1 million) or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater, restitution and forfeiture.
Musau, a graduate of the Technical University of Kenya (TUK), travelled to the US in 2018 on a tourist visa. She then acquired a work permit visa.