How members of Hajia4Reall’s ‘sakawa’ empire, ‘The Enterprise’ were arrested (2)

Hajia4Reall (L) has pleaded guilty in a $2 million romance scam by the ‘The Enterprise’


Freeman and Ali were arrested in New Jersey on February 17, 2021, and have appeared before a Manhattan Federal Court.

Asante and Aning were also arrested the same day (February 17, 2021) but in Virginia, with authorities saying they had been arraigned before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, Virginia.

Appiedu’s arrest was as far back as October 18, 2020, in Queens, New York.  Kissi, on the other hand, was previously arrested in Fargo, north Dakota, on February 5, 2020.

The frauds perpetrated by The Enterprise have consisted of, among other frauds, business e-mail compromises, romance scams, and fraud schemes related to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, an official statement said in part.

Throughout their operations, four of the six suspects – Appiedu, Asante, Freeman, and Aning – were said to have controlled more than 45 bank accounts with deposits totalling appoximately $55Million.

The operation was undertaken by the New York offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations 9IRS, CI). Prosecution of the case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime unit.


How the Enterprise Operates

First, the objective of “The Enterprise’s business e-mail compromise fraud scheme was to trick and deceive businesses into  wiring funds into accounts controlled by ‘The Enterprise’ through the use of e-mail accounts that “spoofed” or impersonated employees of a victim company or third parties engaged in business with a victim company.

Second, ‘The Enterprise’ conducted the romance scams by using electronic messages sent via email, text-messaging or online dating websites that deluded 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 identify assumed by members of the group.

Once members of the gang had gained trust of the victim, using the fake identity, they used false pretences to cause the victim 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.

Finally, The Enterprise submitted fraudulent loan application through a loan programme of the United States Small Business Administration (“SBA”) designed to provide relief to small businesses during COVID-19 pandemic, namely the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (“EIDL”) programme.

The Enterprise submitted fraudulent EIDL applications to SBA in the names of actual companies, and when an EIDL loan was approved, the funds were ultimately deposited in bank accounts controlled by members of The Enterprise including some of the defendants.

Details of their retrieved vehicles 

As part of the investigation of one of the accused, Farouk Appiedu, the US government  further announced the seizure and is seeking the forfeiture of four luxury cars purchased, at least in part, with fraud proceeds.

The seized automobiles include two 2019 Rolls Royce Cullinans, a 2020 Bentley continental GT, and one 2020 Mercedes Benz G63 AMG.


What US investigators have said

Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “The fraud scheme alleged that these defendants facilitated were lucrative, diverse, and most of all, callous.  As alleged, they engaged in e-mail spoofing, duping elderly online daters into wiring them money, and applying for government-funded coronavirus relief funds earmarked for the benefits of small businesses affecrted by the pandemic.

“Thanks to the determination of the IRS and FBI, these defendants face serious prison time, and their next online profiles could potentially appear in a place where they’ll be unable to catfish anymore – the website for the Bureau of Prisons.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr said: “The scams we allege in this investigation include romance scams targeting the elderly, business e-mail compromises scams, and even fraudulent COVID-19 relief loans.  In many of these and similar cases, victims are reluctant to come forward because they fear embarrassment or reputational damage.

“Some may even believe the perpetrators are beyond our reach because they often live abroad.  These arrests and indictments should serve as a reminder that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are here to help you and bring these bands of criminals to justice.”

IRS-CI Special Agent in charge Jonathan D. Larsen said: “The arrests of the alleged ringleaders of this more than $50Million scheme today dealt a death blow to the vast criminal activity in which the defendants were engaged, including elderly scams, COVID-19 fraud, money laundering, among others.

““IRS criminal investigation will continue to aggressively pursue those who profit from illegal activity and ensure they are brought to justice.”


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