A Fall River car dealership was used to launder money from romance scams and COVID-19 pandemic unemployment fraud, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins.
Augustine Osemwegie, 54, pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.
“Osemwegie used his car dealership, vehicle auctions and international car shipping to launder and transmit the proceeds of romance scams, pandemic unemployment fraud and other fraudulent schemes,” the office said in a statement.
Osemwegie was the president of Ejad Auto Sales in Fall River. His children and family members are listed in court documents as other employees, including CEO, director and treasurer.
During a previous plea agreement, another person who was not named agreed to talk with investigators and described a fraud and money laundering enterprise they were part of, which included Osemwegie, according to court documents.
The person told officials people would open bank accounts “to receive the proceeds from various frauds.”
“Sometimes they used accounts in their own names, and sometimes they used accounts opened with false identifications, including fake passports,” court documents state.
They would then use Osemwegie to transfer the proceeds from Massachusetts to Nigeria, court documents read.
The person told officials they would then take the money from the accounts he controlled, take a fee for himself and give the remaining proceeds to Osemwegie for his fee.
Osemwegie, officials said, “moved money to Nigeria by shipping cars.”
“Osemwegie used the cash proceeds that CW-1 and others gave him to buy vehicles at various used car auto auctions in Massachusetts and elsewhere, and then shipped the vehicles to Nigeria,” court documents state.
Between Nov. 8, 2018 and Aug. 13, 2021, Ejad Auto Sales exported 1,832 vehicles from the U.S. to Nigeria, and two vehicles to Cotonou, Benin for a total of about $1,117,320, court documents read. Osemwegie also exported 33 vehicles under his name from the U.S. to Nigeria for a total of about $163,055.
“There was no evidence of incoming funds from Nigeria that could represent proceeds from the sale of the vehicles shipped to Nigeria,” court documents read.
Under the plea agreement, the person introduced an undercover agent being called “Shola” to Osemwegie.
The two connected on Whatsapp and told Osemwegie that he “was expecting money to come in and he wanted Osemwegie’s assistance in sending money to Bitcoin or to an account off-shore.”
The two eventually met at a Five Guys in Peabody.
During the conversation Osemwegie said “he had over ten people who give him money, and that he would be buying a $25,000 car the next day.” He also said he had had questions from Nigerian law enforcement in the past when dealing with large amounts of money, according to court records.
The undercover agent told Osemwegie his money came from unemployment and Payroll Protection scams and that he “wanted to move $13,000 to either Bitcoin or to an account in Canada.”
Osemwegie then called a friend about Bitcoin, court documents state.
“Ultimately, Osemwegie agreed to a 20 percent fee, noting that he would have to give the friend he had called some of the proceeds for assistance with sending the Bitcoin,” court documents state.
He later changed the deal from Bitcoin to a controlled account in Canada and increased his percentage to 30%, officials said.
On Sept. 21, 2020, a screen shot showed the transmission of a $10,000 wire from the Ejad Auto Sales TD Bank account to the account in Canada, officials said. Osemwegie was listed as a “car dealer” and it was for a 2012 Lexus RX350.
Osemwegie was arrested Aug. 26, 2021 and signed the plea agreement April 12.
The sentence for money laundering is up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Osemwegie is scheduled for sentencing Aug. 3.