Florida Jury Finds Nigerian ‘Axemen’ Guilty of Scamming Elderly Women for Millions

While all eyes are on Florida for the recount of the Senate election, a federal jury in Tampa has found Okechuwku “Desmond” Amadi, a Canadian who had been living in Garland, Texas guilty of conspiracy and money laundering. He was caught operating a complex fraud scheme from Garland, via Florida, Canada and Nigeria, that preyed on elderly and divorced women.

The announcement from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Middle District of Florida came Thursday, stating that Amadi faces 60 years in federal prison.

The feds nabbed Amadi in Sept. 2017 as he returned on a flight to JFK International Airport from Nigeria.

In its press release, the DOJ noted that Amadi had taken advantage of vulnerable, elderly women, and in many cases forced them into poverty as a result of his fraudulent activity.

The government revealed in Amadi’s trial that the “New Black Movement of Africa,” sometimes referred to as the Black Axe Group, coordinated money laundering scams via cells in Nigeria, Canada, and the U.S.

“Black Axe fraud schemes took various forms. Many of the fraud victims were elderly, widowed or divorced women who had developed relationships with fake suitors on dating websites,” the DOJ revealed. “These victims were convinced to wire money, which often consisted of their retirement savings and cash taken out from their home equity, to bank accounts in the United States as part of a supposed investment opportunity.”

Vulnerable women

Many of the women involved were ashamed to discuss their experiences, but one victim of the sophisticated crime ring did allow her story to be told widely by Canada’s Globe and Mail.

Canadian criminal investigators, who spoke with the Globe and Mail, said of the Black Axe organization “that ‘Axemen,’ as they call themselves, are setting up chapters around the world, including in Canada.”

The Nigerian group often preys on other immigrants, and that is exactly what they did in the case of Soraya Emani, an Iranian immigrant living in Ontario, whose story was reported in detail in 2015 by the Globe and Mail.

Emani had fled to Canada in 1988 with her four sons, all of whom grew up to become educated Canadian professionals, but at 63, after saving to buy a nice home, she became “lonely.”

She saw a television commercial for a popular dating site, signed up, and within days heard from a man claiming to be a Canadian geologist who frequently traveled. He was, of course, a fraudster, and by the time he and his colleagues were finished with Emani, they had acquired hundreds of thousands of dollars from her. It got so bad that some of the money had been borrowed from friends and family, and she ended up losing her dream home.

Although Amadi, who was found guilty in Tampa last week, was not directly involved in Emani’s case, some of his fellow conspirators were. Other media reports give details about Amadi’s Canadian brother Derek, who is also deeply involved in crimes targeting women.

The Florida connection

Amadi, a Canadian citizen, had operated out of Garland while some of his co-conspirators were monitoring the cash-flow from Florida, one of whom was Mohammad Naji, according to the 2017 federal indictment against Amadi.

There is no mention of Naji’s immigration status or his nationality in documents reviewed by The Ohio Star, but in addition to facilitating banking, establishing shell corporations, and sending money out of the country, Naji had launched a scam of his own. Naji, unlike the so-called “Axemen,” had targeted lawyers and scammed them for million of dollars, which was detailed in a report from The Tampa Bay Times. 

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Anna Marie Bolton is a reporter for The Ohio Star.

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