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A crypto fraudster was sentenced to 8 years in prison for a fraud scheme

Residential skyscrapers behind luxury villas on the Palm Jumeirah waterfront in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday, January 19, 2023.

Christopher Pike | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A resident of the United Arab Emirates and a citizen of Nigeria has been sentenced to eight years in federal prison for masterminding a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme that targeted companies across the United States, federal prosecutors in Illinois said.

Olaekan Jacob Ponle was extradited from the UAE to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July 2020, where he remained until he pleaded guilty to one count of fraud earlier this year, according to a press release from the Ministry of Justice on Tuesday.

Ponle worked with a network of fraudsters to impersonate corporate organizations through phishing emails. The fraudsters got the employees to send money on behalf of their “employers”, who were actually the fraudsters.

Ponle, better known as Woodberry, was a minor celebrity in his home country of Nigeria thanks to his extravagant display of wealth on social media.

Ponle relied on a network of “mules” to receive funds and convert them into the bitcoins it received. The Nigerian national used the proceeds of his scam to buy ultra-high-end cars, including a Rolls Royce Cullinan and a Lamborghini Urus.

Ponle will forfeit these items, with a total value of more than $1 million, and pay more than $8 million in compensation to the affected companies. As of Wednesday, Ponle has already seized 151 bitcoins worth more than $4.5 million.

Ponle was prosecuted despite the absence of an extradition treaty between the UAE and the US. Federal officials from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs worked with their UAE partners to enforce Ponle.

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