Ghanaian ‘sakawa’ woman ordered to repay $1.5m to victims
A Ghanaian woman has been sentenced by a US Court to 70 months in prison for conspiring to launder millions of dollars of fraud proceeds from business email compromises and romance scams.
Mensah was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $202,964 and pay restitution of $1,505,519 to victims.
Deborah Mensah was extradited from Ghana to the United States on August 21, 2020. She pled guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering on April 2, 2021.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Deborah Mensah was a member of an international criminal enterprise that stole millions of dollars from businesses and vulnerable individuals across the United States, and laundered that money through a network of bank accounts in the Bronx. Having previously been extradited from Ghana, Deborah Mensah has now been sentenced to a term in a U.S. prison for her crime.”
According to the Indictment and other public filings in the case: From at least in or about 2014 through in or about 2018, Mensah was a member of a criminal enterprise (the “Enterprise”) based in Ghana that committed a series of business email compromises and romance scams against individuals and businesses located across the United States, including in the Southern District of New York.
The objective of the Enterprise’s business email compromise fraud scheme was to trick and deceive businesses into wiring funds into accounts controlled by the Enterprise. First, members of the Enterprise created email accounts with slight variations of email accounts used by employees of a victim company or third parties engaged in business with a company to “spoof” or impersonate those employees or third parties.
These fake email accounts were specifically designed to trick other employees of the company with access to the company’s finances into thinking the fake email accounts were authentic.
The fake email accounts were used to send instructions to wire money to certain bank accounts and also included fake authorization letters for the wire transfers that contained forged signatures of company employees.
By using this method of deception, the Enterprise sought to trick the victims into transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to bank accounts the victims believed were under the control of legitimate recipients of the funds as part of normal business operations, when in fact the bank accounts were under the control of members of the Enterprise, including MENSAH.
The Enterprise conducted the romance scams by using electronic messages sent via email, text messaging, or online dating websites that deluded the victims, many of whom were vulnerable older men and women who lived alone, into believing the victim was in a romantic relationship with a fake identity assumed by members of the Enterprise.
Once members of the Enterprise had gained the trust of the victims using the fake identity, they used false pretences to cause the victims to wire money to bank accounts the victims believed were controlled by their romantic interests, when in fact the bank accounts were controlled by members of the Enterprise, including MENSAH.
At times, the members of the Enterprise also used false pretences to cause the victims to receive funds into the victims’ bank accounts, which, unbeknownst to the victims, were fraud proceeds, and to transfer those funds to accounts under the control of members of the Enterprise.
The members of the Enterprise, posing as the romantic interest of the victims, also introduced the victims to other individuals purporting to be, for example, consultants or lawyers, who then used false pretences to cause the victims to wire money to bank accounts controlled by members of the Enterprise.
Mensah and her co-conspirators received or otherwise directed the receipt of over $10 million in fraud proceeds from victims of the Enterprise into bank accounts that she and other members of the Enterprise controlled in the Bronx, New York. Mensah opened and maintained multiple business bank accounts in the name of an auto sales company to receive funds stolen from victims and launder them to co-conspirators based primarily in Ghana. She also recruited and directed one co-conspirator to receive and launder fraud proceeds and instructed that co-conspirator on how to set up a business bank account for this purpose to avoid detection.
Other defendants in thE case who have been sentenced include Muftau Adamu, a/k/a “Muftau Adams,” a/k/a “Muftau Iddrissu,” 32, of the Bronx, New York, who was sentenced to 51 months in prison on June 7, 2019; Tourey Ahmed Rufai, a/k/a “Joe Thompson,” a/k/a “Joe Terry,” a/k/a “Rufai A Tourey,” a/k/a “Ahmed Rufai Tourey,” 34, of the Bronx, New York, who was sentenced to 48 months in prison on April 12, 2019; Prince Nana Aggrey, 45, of the Bronx, New York, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison on May 10, 2019; and Assana Traore, 41, of the Bronx, New York, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison on October 8, 2019. Adamu, Rufai, and Aggrey each pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and Troare pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money. Each of the defendants was sentenced by Judge Cote.
Ms Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation. Ms Strauss also thanked the United States Marshals Service, the FBI Legal Attaché in Accra, Ghana, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Ministry of Justice & Attorney General’s Office of Ghana, and Ghana’s Economic and Organised Crime Office, for their assistance in this case. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs of the Department’s Criminal Division provided significant assistance in securing the defendant’s extradition from Ghana.