Group involved in advance fee scheme found guilty, DOJ announces.
A federal jury has found two representatives of a fake investment group based in the United Kingdom, James Michael Johnson, 69, of Richmond, Virginia and James Leonard Smith, 64, of Midlothian, Virginia, guilty for their roles in a fraud scheme in which they made off with $5 million. Johnson and Smith were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering, according to court records.
Brian Michael Bridge, 46, of London, England, a fugitive, was also charged. Sentencing for Johnson and Bridge is scheduled for March 5, 2021, before U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson, nominated by former U.S. president George W. Bush for the Eastern District of Virginia. Co-conspirator Stuart Anderson, who previously pleaded guilty, is scheduled to be sentenced on November 13 of this year. Anderson, an attorney from California, was indicted separately December 30, 2019, on a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The four-day trial showed Johnson and Smith founded Chimera Group Ltd, which operated as an advance fee scheme. The defendants acted as promoters who promised to pay the victims funds at a later date in exchange for an upfront payment. The con artists told investors their payments would be protected. However, the letters the victims of the scam receiving supposedly supporting this were fabricated. The evidence also showed that the defendants used escrow attorneys to promote the appearance that their money would remain secure.
The case is reminiscent of the 2009 indictment of Nnamdi Chizuba Anisiobi (a/k/a Yellowman, Abdul Rahman, Michael Anderson, Edmund Walter, Nancy White, Jiggaman and Namo), 31, citizen of Nigeria, sentenced to 87 months in prison, Anthony Friday Ehis (a/k/a John J. Smith, Toni N. Amokwu and Mr. T), 34, citizen of France, sentenced to 57 months in prison, and Kesandu Egwuonwu (a/k/a KeKe, Joey Martin Maxwell, David Mark and Helmut Schkinger), 35, citizen of Nigeria, sentenced to 57 months in prison. The group was found guilty of an advance fee scheme costing victims $1.2 million.
The three defendants each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, eight counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud, according to court records, after an investigation initiated by Dutch law enforcement authorities found they sent spam e-mails to thousands of potential victims, in which they falsely claimed to control millions of dollars abroad. The defendants used numerous aliases, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. In the emails they claimed to be an individual suffering from terminal throat cancer who needed assistance distributing $55 million to charity. In exchange for a victim’s help, the defendants offered a 20 percent commission to this individual or a charity of his or her choice. They would send a “Letter of Authority” or a “Certificate of Deposit,” making it appear that the promised funds were available, and even included pictures of an individual claiming to suffer from throat cancer.
After obtaining the recipient’s trust, the defendants would ask to have an advanced payment wire transferred, which they claimed was for legal representation, taxes and additional documentation. If the victims could not afford to pay the advance fee, the defendants sent them counterfeit checks to cover these. When the checks were deposited and funds were drawn them to wire transfer, the victims would eventually be out the amount of the transfer.