Olalekan Ponle, better known as Woodberry, has pleaded guilty to a fraud charge at a United States district court, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
The district court for Northern Illinois has set 11 July for his sentencing.
Woodberry is well-known to be an ally of another Nigerian international fraudster, Ramon Abbas, alias Hushpuppi, who was jailed last year.
The two men were arrested for extensive international online scams in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, on 10 June 2020, and were flown to the United States to face separate trials.
Hushpuppi, who initially pleaded not guilty, changed his plea to guilty in April 2021, just before a full-blown trial was to begin. The US district court for Central California where prosecutors charged him jailed him for 11 years and ordered him to pay $1.7 million restitution in November 2022.
Woodberry, accused of defrauding a US company of about $188,000, similarly maintained his innocence for over two years. But he made a U-turn to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud during a change of plea hearing at the US District Court for Northern Illinois this April, according to court documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES.
The judge, Robert Gettleman, accepted the defendant’s change of plea in a ruling delivered on 6 April.
He set 11 July for sentencing after accepting the plea agreement Woodberry entered into with US prosecutors.
The judge referred the case to the Probation Department for a pre-sentence investigation and report, which would guide his decision on the appropriate sentence to impose.
He gave the US government 60 days before the sentencing date to provide the Probation Office and the courtroom deputy a list of victims and their full current contact information to obtain the court’s order of restitution.
“The list shall include any amounts subject to restitution. If the Government is not able to provide the full victim list 60 days before sentencing, they shall file a motion to request an extension of time to compile the information,” the judge added.
Woodberry and Fraud
In pleading guilty, Woodberry confessed to defrauding a company in New York, identified as “Victim Company B” of almost $188,000 through online scams involving business email comprise schemes.
US prosecutors said starting from January 2019, Mr Ponle and his co-schemers “were engaged in a business email compromise scheme targeting Victim Company B and other companies which resulted in a fraudulent wire of approximately $188,191.50 to a bank account.”
How fraudulent plot was hatched
According to the court filing, the scheme began with one or more of Mr Ponle’s co-schemers gaining unauthorised access to Victim Company B’s email account on or before 16 January 2019.
They hacked into the email account by fraudulently obtaining the account credentials, according to the prosecutors.
“Once access to this email account (“Victim Company B Email Account”) had been accomplished, the co-schemers changed certain security settings in the email account to hide their activity from the actual email account user,” prosecutors said in the plea agreement signed by Woodberry.
Swiftly, on 16 January 2019, an email was sent from the compromised Victim Company B’s email account to another email account of the company requesting a $188,191.50 payment be made to Victim Company B’s supplier.
The email, according to prosecutors, contained instructions that the money be sent via wire transfer to a bank account which was set up by Whiteberry.
“PONLE knew that he had no right to the money and that the email was intended to defraud Victim Company B into paying money owed to the supplier to an account controlled by PONLE rather than the supplier.
“As a result of the email, approximately $188,191.50 was sent to 8208 account. PONLE acknowledges that the wire was processed through the Federal Reserve System and sent from an account held in New York, New York to an account ending in held in Nashville, Tennessee,” the plea agreement added.
The document went further to state that on 17 January 2019, Mr Ponle received a message from Individual B informing him that “The money is in”.
It added that Woodberry’s instruction, Individual B converted approximately $119,000 of the proceeds of the fraudulent wire transfer to Bitcoin. “Individual B then sent the Bitcoin to PONLE’s Bitcoin wallet.”
How fraudulent bank account was set up
Woodberry, according to the plea agreement, set up the fraudulent bank account with which he received proceeds of the fraud nine days before he requested payment through Victim Company B’s compromised email account on 16 January 2019.
The prosecutors say, specifically on 7 January 2019, Mr Ponle, using the alias “Mark Kain,” sent a message from outside the US to “Individual B” asking Individual B to open a bank account in the name of a Victim Company B supplier.
Woodberry was said to have told Individual B to “set up a separate business account just to receive the money.”
Acting at Mr Ponle’s direction, Individual B opened an account under the name “[Individual B] d/b/a [Victim Company B supplier]” and sent the account number, which ended in 8208, and routing number to him, the court filing stated.
On 10 January 2019, he sent a message to Individual B indicating that the wire to the Victim Company B supplier account would be “$188K”.
The prosecutor is pushing for the court to order the defendant to make full restitution in the amount outstanding at the time of sentencing.
The US government last year described w Woodberry’s ally, Hushpuppi as “a prolific international fraudster who conspired to launder tens of millions of dollars through a series of online scams.”
The government said Hushpupi “flaunted his luxurious, crime-funded lifestyle on social media.”
His Instagram account, his flagship platform for flaunting his expensive lifestyle, has since been closed at the request of the US government.