In a case that hit the news recently, Frank Onyeachonam was recently sentenced in the Old Bailey to serve an eight year prison sentence for fraudulently obtaining huge sums of money from elderly and vulnerable people.
Mr Onyeachonam, known as ‘Fizzy’ due to his champagne lifestyle, encouraged his victims to set up what they thought were legitimate businesses (and accompanying bank accounts) which Fizzy then used to launder proceeds of his fraud. This has been described as a ‘unique variation on a traditional scam’ that meant that some of Fizzy’s victims were investigated by law enforcement agencies.
The scam would initiate when victims received a letter informing them that they had won the Australian lottery and were advised to contact a Dr Jeff Lloyds (an alias used by Fizzy). Upon making contact, the victims were informed that they needed to pay fees and taxes before they could receive their cash prize. This communication, whereby the fees and taxes were collected by Dr Lloyds would often continue for a significant period of time and further requests for more money would often be made. In the belief that they would be in a position to make repayments upon receipt of their lottery winnings, victims often took out high value loans. One particular victim based in the UK ran up debts totalling £90,000. Another, from the USA, gave a statement used as evidence against Fizzy within which she revealed;
“Prior to contact with Mr Lloyds, my husband and I were in a good financial position. We had no significant debts and our house was paid off. In 2007, we took out a mortgage on the house to give us some money. Shortly after this, I began sending money to Mr Lloyds and we subsequently lost the house as we didn’t have the money to keep up with the mortgage repayments. This has impacted upon my relationships with my friends and family – I am no longer speaking with my sister, or my friend who I owe $8,000 to. I don’t want to tell her what has happened so she thinks I stole the money from her for myself. I can’t sleep at night and my husband and I have been fighting, which we didn’t do before. These people took things from me that I can never bring back. We lost our dream home that we worked all our lives to buy. I don’t know how these people sleep at night”.
Whilst conducting the scam, from 2005 to 2011, Fizzy lived an extravagant lifestyle despite having little evidence of a legitimate income. He owned a luxury apartment overlooking the River Thames in London, drove a number of luxury cars, and is believed to own more properties in Nigeria. He earned his nickname as a result of his regular attendance at a private members’ club in Canary Wharf where he refused to drink anything but Ace of Spades Champagne (a high quality champagne retailing around £300 – £500 per bottle).
Upon his arrest in October of 2011, a series of lists were seized from Fizzy’s computers containing the names of over 5,000 US citizens. The lists also had the details of individuals known to be susceptible to these types of scams (often people in desperate circumstances, vulnerable, or elderly). In addition to the computerised lists, there were handwritten details of over 400 contacts accompanied by payment and bank details found.
Steve Brown, Lead Officer from the National Crime Agency’s National Cyber Crime Unit made an announcement in respect of the case;
“Frank Onyeachonam was arrested in October 2011 on suspicion of Conspiracy to Defraud. During the three year investigation, we uncovered a global organised criminal network responsible for a large and sophisticated advance fee fraud, primarily targeting elderly and vulnerable US and UK victims. Frank Onyeachonam exploited vulnerable people, and showed no remorse for his actions. The victims have suffered devastating losses, but hopefully today’s verdicts go some way to help them move on with their lives. The NCA will actively pursue those who commit serious and organised crime, but our message today is be aware of these scams….”
Upon summing up, Her Honour Judge Poulet stated that by refusing to give a guilty plea; coupled with the fact that he continued to offend following his initial arrest, Mr Onyeachonam showed no remorse and had an unbelievable arrogance. Two other individuals were found guilty of money laundering offences due to their involvement in the scam. Both of their sentences amounted to less than 2 years.
At Farleys we have a specialist team of criminal defence solicitors who specialise in serious crime and can provide advice and representation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on all areas of serious crime. If you have been accused of involvement in relation to money laundering or fraud offence, or indeed serious crime in any capacity, it is vital that you speak to a criminal defence solicitor at the earliest opportunity. Early advice is often crucial. For 24 hour advice via our emergency crime line, call 01254 606050.