Ray Hushpuppi: Nigerian Instagram star sentenced to 11 years in prison for money laundering



CNN

A Nigerian social media influencer who flaunted a lavish lifestyle of private jets and luxury cars has been sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges related to a multibillion-dollar scam targeting US and foreign companies. overseas

Ramon Abbas, known to his millions of Instagram followers as Ray Hushpuppi, pleaded guilty in April last year to conspiracy to engage in money laundering. In addition to the prison sentence handed down Monday, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II ordered him to pay $1.7 million in restitution to two fraud victims.

It’s a dramatic fall for Abbas, 40, whose June 2020 arrest at his golden perch in Dubai made headlines around the world. Before his sentencing, Abbas was taken into federal custody in Los Angeles, his once-flamboyant social media account silenced, though he gained 500,000 new followers since his arrest.

In a handwritten letter to the judge in September – his only direct words since his arrest – Abbas detailed his two years in detention.

The three-page letter addressed the charges against Abbas and his remorse for them

“Since I have been incarcerated, I have had enough time to reflect on the past and I regret that I let greed ruin the good name of my family, my blessing and my name,” he wrote.

On social media, where Abbas had posted videos of himself throwing cash coins like confetti, he referred to himself as a real estate developer. But federal investigators said he funded his extravagant lifestyle through online hacking schemes that netted more than $24 million.

Their targets included an American law firm, a foreign bank and an unnamed British professional soccer club, among others, according to a federal sentencing memorandum from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California .

“Money laundering and commercial 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 are,” he said Martin Estrada, a United States attorney.

Abbas’ September letter to Judge Wright detailed how his co-conspirators contacted him to identify companies to defraud or request bank information to transfer fraudulently obtained funds.

His alleged cyber crimes involved mind-boggling amounts of money.

Federal documents detailed how Abbas and a co-conspirator “fraudulently induced” a New York law firm to transfer nearly $923,000 intended for a client’s real estate refinancing to a bank account they controlled. A paralegal at the company received fraudulent wiring instructions after sending an email to what appeared to be a legitimate bank email address, but was later identified as a “fake” address.

In this business email compromise scam, criminals impersonate an email message or website to make their communication appear to be from a known source making a request, such as a money transfer .

Ramon Abbas told his millions of Instagram followers that he worked in real estate.

Abbas also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud a Qatari businessman of more than $1 million.

“The defendants allegedly faked funding for a Qatari school by posing as bank officials and creating a fake website in a scheme that also bribed a foreign official to maintain the elaborate pretext after the victim was tipped off” , said the US attorney. Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement last year.

Since his arrest, Abbas said, he has had time to reflect on his mistakes.

“Your honor, I make no excuses for my actions and take full responsibility for what I have done,” he wrote in his letter. “If I could turn back the hands of time, I would make a completely different decision and be more careful in the choices and friends I make.”

One of his co-conspirators pleaded guilty in November 2020 to one count of conspiracy to engage in money laundering. He is also serving 11 years in federal prison and must pay more than $30 million in restitution.

Federal investigators have described Abbas as a prolific money launderer who used his social media platform to gain notoriety and flaunt his wealth.

Abbas, a Nigerian national based in Dubai, made no secret of his opulent lifestyle. Before his arrest, he called himself the “Billionaire Gucci Master” on Snapchat.

“I started my day with sushi at Nobu in Monte Carlo, Monaco, then decided to book a helicopter for… facials at the Christian Dior spa in Paris, and then ended my day with champagne at Gucci,” she wrote in a photo caption on Instagram a 2020

Abbas famously flaunted his wealth on Instagram.

Photos of him posing with various models of Bentley, Ferrari, Mercedes Benz and Rolls-Royce cars included the hashtag #AllMine. Others showed him rubbing elbows with international sports stars and other celebrities.

In a 2020 affidavit, federal officials detailed how his social media accounts provided the details needed to confirm his identity.

Account registration and security information associated with his Instagram profile, for example, included an email address and a phone number. Federal officials accessed this information and were able to link the email and phone number to financial transactions and transfers with people the FBI believed to be his co-conspirators.

Even photos from Abbas’ Instagram birthday party helped the investigation.

One such post showed a birthday cake topped with a Fendi logo and a miniature image of Abbas surrounded by small shopping bags. Investigators used that post to verify the date of birth he had used on a previous U.S. visa application.

In June 2020, UAE investigators entered Abbas’s apartment in the exclusive Palazzo Versace resort in Dubai, arrested him and handed him over to FBI agents.

Investigators at the scene seized nearly $41 million, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8 million and phone and computer evidence including the email addresses of nearly 2 million potential victims, the Dubai Police in a statement.

“Thank you Lord for the many blessings in my life. Continue to shame those who hope to shame me,” Abbas captioned an Instagram photo of a Rolls-Royce just two weeks before his dramatic arrest.

The account has since been taken down.

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