Olalekan Jacob Ponle, a suspected cyber-criminal better known as Mr. Woodbery, appeared before a federal court in Chicago on Friday after he was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The Nigerian international, 29, was arrested alongside 11 others, including Hushpuppi, an internet celebrity, on June 10, by police authorities in the United Arab Emirates, in a special operation dubbed ‘Fox Hunt 2’.
According to federal prosecutors, Woodbery is being accused of masterminding an international cyber-fraud scheme that swindled US businesses in six states out of tens of millions of dollars, including a Chicago-based company that was defrauded into sending wire transfers totaling $15.2 million.
Other victims included companies based in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New York, and California.
“The complaint describes several instances in which one or more unknown subjects gained unauthorized access to a U.S.-based company’s email account and sent messages to unwitting employees claiming to be from the company or a known business contact,” read a press statement by US prosecutors.
“The emails were nearly identical to prior legitimate emails sent over the company’s email account, but the fraudulent emails instructed victims to wire funds to a bank account that was set up by money mules at the direction of Ponle, the complaint states.
“Ponle then instructed the mules to convert the fraud proceeds to Bitcoin and send them to a virtual wallet that Ponle owned and operated, the complaint states.”
Prosecutors added that Ponle’s alleged cyber-fraud scheme spanned at least the first nine months of 2019.
Woodbery is expected to appear in court on July 9, for hearing on his detention. In the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.