Federal agents arrested five Los Angeles-area men Wednesday, charging them with participating in a crime ring that fraudulently obtained dozens of credit cards and used them to withdraw as much as $1 million in cash advances. Three other men, including the group's purported leader, are being sought.
The criminal complaint filed earlier this week by the U.S. attorney's office depicts an organized, even elaborate, scheme designed by several Nigerians.
"This case is striking because of its sophistication and nationwide scope," said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office. "They obtained credit cards from sources in several states and created false identities that allowed them to use the cards with some impunity."
This ring--an offshoot of a similar Nigerian-led group broken up by authorities in 1995--was divided into tiers of organizers, credit card suppliers, information suppliers, recruiters and runners.
The credit card suppliers--some of whom were U.S. Postal Service employees, an investigator's affidavit alleges--would steal cards from the mail.
Nigerian credit and advance-fee loan schemes reached such epidemic proportions about five years ago that U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno created a string of multi-agency task forces to combat them.
The investigation was led by the Los Angeles West African Task Force, which includes agents from the IRS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI.
Patrick Asuwafo Ejedawe, 36, Prince Tony Akereke, 33, and Vinod Thadhani, 44, of Los Angeles; Berthram Nwene, 34, of Glendale; and Edward T. Henry, 30, of Sherman Oaks were charged Wednesday with conspiracy to commit credit card fraud.
Julius Ogor, 37, described in the complaint as the ringleader, is believed to have left the country, Mrozek said. Authorities are also seeking Lawrence Ndubuisi Oguamalam, 38, and a man known as Frank Nero.