Kenyan woman in US jailed for Seven years over Sh480 million love scam
A 38 year old Kenyan woman living in Boston has been fined Sh123 million ($957,000) for her role in a fraud conspiracy involving romance scams targeting individuals in the United States.
Florence Mwende Musau, who together with 5 others was in 2021 charged in connection with their roles in online scams that are alleged to have collectively defrauded victims of more than Sh480 million ($4 million), pleaded guilty in a federal court in Boston on Tuesday.
Authorities said the group used fake passports and numerous aliases to open bank accounts in and around Boston to collect and launder the proceeds of the romance scams.
According to court documents, Musau is said to have participated in a series of online scams designed to defraud victims into sending money to bank accounts controlled by her and others.
To carry out the scams, Musau used fake passports in the names of numerous aliases to open bank accounts in and around Boston to collect and launder the proceeds of the romance scams.
She then executed large cash withdrawals from those accounts, often multiple times on a single day and generally structured in amounts less than Sh1.2t million ($10,000), in an effort to evade detection and currency transaction reporting requirements.
During court proceedings, the prosecution mentioned that sheu played a minimal role and was acting on the instructions of her boyfriend, Nigerian national Mark Arome Okuo.
“She then executed large cash withdrawals from those accounts, often multiple times on a single day and generally structured in amounts less than Sh1.27 million ($10,000), in an effort to evade detection and currency transaction reporting requirements.”
The accounts were also used to collect fraudulent pandemic unemployment benefits in the names of Massachusetts beneficiaries who did not apply for such funds, federal prosecutors said.
More than Sh493.9 million ($4 million) in fraud proceeds was deposited into accounts allegedly controlled by the defendants.
In March 2022, Okuo pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. His sentence hearing was scheduled for March 29, 2023.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said Massachusetts Judge Allison Burroughs directed the Kenyan woman to pay $957,000 (Sh124 million) in restitution and sentenced her to 44 months in prison.
The court further slapped her with an additional 36 months of supervised release and ordered her to surrender money in her account as well as her car.
“Musau was also ordered to pay approximately Sh118.16 million ($957, 000) in restitution and forfeit approximately Sh43.2 million ($350,000) and a Lexus sports SUV,” the statement read in part.
“The remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” DoJ said.
Musau and her co-accused reportedly engaged in five romance scams between 2018 and early 2021.
Okuo would allegedly meet women on dating sites and pretend to be a US Army soldier serving in the Middle East or Africa.
As the relationships developed, Okuo claimed that he needed the women to wire him money so that he could leave the military and return to the US to marry them, according to the court documents.
In one case, a victim was said to have transferred Sh16.9 million ($137,000) to bank accounts controlled by Okuo and Musau, thinking it would help her groom-to-be to obtain his military retirement benefits early.
The charge of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, five years of supervised release, a fine of up to Sh123.4 million ($1 million) or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater, restitution and forfeiture.
Musau, a graduate of the Technical University of Kenya (TUK), travelled to the US in 2018 on a tourist visa. She then acquired a work permit visa.
As part of the dating scam, Musau swindled a California resident she met on social media out of Sh963, 136 ($7,800) by claiming that she was a United Nations refugee camp worker who needed the money to return to the US to start a new life with him.