Unrepentant fraudster, Olufolajimi Abegunde has accused the FBI of racism over his conviction and jailing for various BEC scam and money laundering fraud in the USA.
Olufolajimi Abegunde has spent three years of his six and half years conviction for money laundering in the United States of America prisons, but the bright and enterprising young man insists that his imprisonment was purely because he is black and a Nigerian and not based on real evidence. Abegunde popularly called LJ by his friends, told Encounter in a telephone conversion from his prison cell that a review of his case by the US Justice Department, would reveal a clear case of bias and racism against him by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI and the trial judge. According to him, several efforts to list his case for review have been futile as no one appears to be interested in listening to his appeal.
Recalling his excitement upon being granted visa to study in the US, Abegunde told Encounter that he never imagined that four years after, he would be languishing in prison for an offence he did not commit.
According to court records sighted by Encounter, Abegunde’s travails began in August 2016 when his longtime friend, Ayodeji Ojo visited the US from Nigeria along with his pregnant wife and infant daughter. Ojo and his family were accommodated by Abegunde at his home in Atlanta, Georgia. In an interview by security agents,Ojo claimed that at the time of the visit, he had a wholly legitimate check of $26,900 that was issued to him by Bank of America. Ojo claimed that he intended to cash the check and utilise the funds for expenses associated with his family’s trip, including medical expenses related to his pregnant wife.
According to Ojo, after being unsuccessful in his attempts to cash the check at multiple Bank of America branches, due to the relatively large size of the check, he was advised by a Bank of America banker to open a new bank account at another bank, let the check go through the clearing process before the funds would become available to him.
Ojo said he chose Wells Fargo Bank, and at Wells Fargo, he was told that he was required to provide a valid identification document, and contact information for correspondence in the form of a US mailing address and a US mobile phone number. The court record quoted Ojo as saying: “I informed the Wells Fargo banker that I was a visitor in the US and did not have a US mailing address and a US mobile phone number. After asking, the banker accepted that I could use Abegunde’s address and mobile phone number to open the account.”
The court records further stated that the bank account was opened on August 29, 2016, and Ojo was able to access the funds two days after without any challenges. ‘The investigation found that after an approximately three- week stay in the US which involved staying in Abegunde’s home, and travelling to other states, Ojo and his family returned to Lagos, Nigeria via Amsterdam, Netherlands on September 16, 2016 flying with Air France flight No KL0587 Resa, operated by KLM Royal Duch Airlines.
According to Ojo, about the first week of October 2016, he needed to exchange some Nigerian Naira currency for the United States Dollar currency. As such, he contacted an informal vendor, Leke Adenuga, who after agreeing on the exchange rate, requested that Ojo provide his US bank account for the deposit of the agreed US Dollar amount of $9,000. The transaction was consummated, and Ojo eventually received the $9,000 in his Wells Fargo Bank account that he had provided Leke Adenuga.
On October 11, 2016 around one month after Ojo had departed the US; around two months after Ojo had opened the account at Wells Fargo Bank, and two months after Ojo accessed the proceeds of the wholly legitimate $26,900 check; according to court records, Brian Ancona, an investigator with Wells Fargo Bank called Abegunde on his mobile phone, the same mobile phone number Ojo had utilised to open Ojo’s Wells Fargo Bank account, stating that a certain Luis Ramos Alonso had inadvertently deposited $9,000 into Ojo’s bank account, and was seeking a reversal of the $9,000 deposit. According to court records, Abegunde told Ancona that the account owner was in Nigeria, and attempted a three-way call to connect Ancona with Ojo. The effort was, however, unsuccessful. Ojo eventually called Abegunde back, and after Abegunde conveyed Ancona’s urgent message regarding the reversal, Ojo immediately agreed and authorised the reversal of the $9,000 deposit. When Ancona called Abegunde back, Abegunde conveyed Ojo’s agreement authorising the reversal, and Ancona expressed his profound gratitude for Abegunde’s cooperation in achieving the reversal.’
Speaking with Encounter, Abegunde described his indictment for allowing a friend to use his address and telephone number, as the strangest thing that has ever happened to him. He said: “The transcripts of the proceedings in my case are all available on the court website. There is no answer to the question of why I was prosecuted in all the documents. They have not been able to tell me why I am being prosecuted.
“I am saying without a shadow of doubt that I am being prosecuted because I am a black man in America and a Nigerian. There is clearly no evidence that I committed any crime. What I was indicted of, the initial indictment is that I granted a friend permission to use my residential address and my phone number because he did not reside in the United States and did not have a US address and US phone number. That is what the indictment has to do with.
“At the trial, the question was asked whether it was illegal to grant a friend permission to use your address and phone number to open a bank account and they said it was not a crime. So since that is not a crime, I can’t say why I am in prison.
Recall that the 35-year-old founder of money transfer firm TranzAlert, according to this investigation, is calling for justice, accusing US law enforcement agencies of not only jailing “an innocent man” but also frustrating his efforts to get redress.
The investigative report says Abegunde was arrested after he harbored a Nigerian friend and banker whose pregnant wife was to have a baby in America. The banker, one Ayodeji Ojo, had opened a bank account using Abegunde’s US phone number and address. An “inadvertent” fraudulent transaction linked to that account got Abegunde into trouble.
However, a 2019 indictment published by the US Justice Department says the Nigerian man conspired with others to commit BEC fraud against US citizens, and then laundered the proceeds using his firm.
Abegunde denies the charges, saying he neither knows any of the alleged co-conspirators nor has he done any business with them. The indictment by the Justice Department was based on “lies,” he states.
The FBI also accuses Abegunde of committing marriage fraud—that he was living with his divorced Nigerian wife in Atlanta while married to a US service member deployed to South Korea—”for immigration papers and health benefits.”
Speaking to Nigeria Abroad for the fourth time in two weeks from a prison facility in Tennessee, Abegunde continues to insist on his innocence, calling on American rights groups and the Nigerian government to intervene.
After his conviction in 2019, he filed an appeal citing “lack of evidence” and that not a cent was traced to him in the said fraudulent transactions. The appeal was first rejected and, when later heard, the court affirmed the initial ruling.
“My lawyer messed me up,” he told the magazine, adding that his attorney may have been blackmailed by American law enforcement to work against him, seeing as the lawyer allegedly abandoned their prepared argument in the defense and went off on a tangent.
Failing on appeal, Abegunde says he went to the US Supreme Court, but the Court declined to hear the case “because I’m exposing the criminality in their justice system.”
Why would the FBI single him out for legal vendetta? Abegunde says keeping him jailed is the agency’s only way of “covering up” for what they did to him. “If what was done to me comes to light, it will shake the entire American justice system—and they don’t want that.”
He says the marriage fraud charge was brought in by the FBI to rope him in since the agency “presented no evidence” during trial. In any case, he explained his marriage situation, while inviting anyone doubting his claims to examine the court transcripts he assembled since fighting his incarceration:
“My first wife had a house with many stairs,” he responds to the marriage fraud charge. “When she had a hip replacement surgery, it was hard for her to climb the stairs, so I allowed her to stay in my apartment.”
He says the FBI got his service-member wife into a plea deal on marriage fraud, using threats and blackmail, just to hang something on him. “It was totally unrelated to the wire fraud charge,” he said.
Seeking comment, Nigeria Abroad contacted the FBI on phone regarding the case but was directed to the Alabama Office, which could not be reached at the time of this report.
Vowing to keep talking until someone listens, Abegunde wants the government to reassess the evidence presented against him and set aside his conviction.
Here is link to the case file from DOJ: