A well-known Nigerian social media influencer who participated in running a global money laundering scheme has been sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.
Ramon Abbas, also known as “Ray Hushpuppi” to his millions of Instagram followers, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in April of last year. A California judge ruled this week that Abbas must pay $1.7 million in restitution to two fraud victims in addition to his prison sentence.
Abbas was well-known for extravagant online posts that flaunted a lavish lifestyle of private jets, luxury cars, high-end clothes, and watches. However, The US Department of Justice said on Monday that Abbas, 40, is a fraudster who preyed on people using so-called business email compromise scams (BEC).
“Ramon Abbas, a.k.a. ‘Hushpuppi,’ targeted both American and international victims, becoming one of the most prolific money launderers in the world,” Don Alway, the Assistant Director in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Los Angeles Field Office.
“This significant sentence is the result of years’ worth of collaboration among law enforcement in multiple countries and should send a clear warning to international fraudsters that the FBI will seek justice for victims, regardless of whether criminals operate within or outside United States borders,” Alway said in a release.
Abbas reportedly planned a scheme in 2020 to con a Qatari businessman into sending him hundreds of thousands of dollars. The plea agreement states that Abbas and a companion misled the unnamed business owner into believing that the cash was required in order to secure a $15 million loan that the victim needed to build a school and cover associated tax expenses.
Abbas later used the money for his personal use, purchasing a $230,000 Swiss watch, citizenship, and a passport from the Caribbean country of St. Kitts and Nevis, according to the plea deal.
As part of the plea deal, he also admitted to participating in schemes to launder about $14.7 million stolen from a bank in Malta in 2019. According to Justice Department officials, the stolen money was destined for the North Korean government.
Federal prosecutors claim that Abbas also assisted in laundering millions of pounds taken from a British company and a professional soccer team in the country and convinced a law firm in New York to transfer nearly $923,000 to a criminal account.
“Abbas bragged on social media about his lavish lifestyle – a lifestyle funded by his involvement in transnational fraud and money laundering conspiracies targeting victims around the world,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada.
According to authorities, business email compromise scams, like the one Abbas used, are a rapidly expanding type of cyberattack in the United States. An employee of a large company or small business will typically receive an email from a con artist posing as a familiar person, such as a supplier, lawyer, or CEO, requesting money. Instructions on how to wire money to the fraudster are frequently included in the fraudulent email sent to the target.
FBI data shows that about 116,400 Americans lost $14.7 billion between October 2013 and December 2021 due to business email compromise scams.
“Money laundering and business email compromise scams are a massive international crime problem, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement and international partners to identify and prosecute those involved, wherever they may be,” Estrada said.