UAE crypto scammer sentenced to 8 years in prison for multimillion-dollar fraud scheme

A United Arab Emirates resident and Nigerian citizen was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for orchestrating a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme that victimized businesses across the U.S., Illinois federal prosecutors said.

Olalekan Jacob Ponle was extradited from the UAE into the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July 2020, where he remained until pleading guilty to a single wire fraud count earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a Tuesday press release.

Ponle worked with a network of scammers to masquerade as corporate entities using phishing emails. The scammers duped employees into sending money on behalf of their “employers,” who were really scammers.

Ponle, better known as Woodberry, was a minor celebrity in his home country of Nigeria due to his profligate displays of wealth on social media.

He relied on a network of “mules” to receive the funds and convert them into bitcoins he received. The Nigerian citizen used the proceeds of his scam to purchase ultra-high-end vehicles, including a Rolls Royce Cullinan and a Lamborghini Urus.

Ponle will forfeit those items, collectively valued at over $1 million, and pay more than $8 million in restitution to victim companies. Ponle had already forfeited 151 bitcoins, valued at over $4.5 million as of Wednesday.

He was prosecuted despite the lack of an extradition treaty between the UAE and the United States. Federal officials at the DOJ’S Office of International Affairs worked with their UAE counterparties to secure Ponle’s rendition.

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