Olalekan Jacob Ponle, popularly known as Woodberry, was nabbed through details accessed from his WhatsApp, iPhone and Bitcoin transactions, court documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES reveal.
Mr Ponle, alongside Ramoni Igbalode, also known as Hushpuppi, was arrested in the United Arab Emirate on June 10 for multiple fraud charges after a raid by operatives of the Dubai crime unit.
The duo were then extradited to the United States on July 2.
Mr Ponle, 29, is currently facing charges bordering on wire fraud conspiracy at a United States District Court sitting in Illinois.
The court had since June 25 issued an arrest warrant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding Mr Ponle’s case after a criminal complaint was filed.
His first appearance in court was on July 3, after which the preliminary hearing was set for July 16 before Judge Jeffrey T Gilbert.
However, as provided by a section of the U.S. laws on the release or detention of a defendant pending trial, Mr Ponle will be remanded in custody until a further order of the court.
If found guilty, he is liable to a jail term ranging from 20 to 30 years.
Page Pate, a U.S. law firm, stated on its website that penalties for wire fraud include a prison sentence of up to 20 years (30 years if the case involves federal disaster relief funds or a financial institution), restitution to any victims and a fine set by the judge.
How he was tracked
Ali Sadiq, a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), chronicled how the bureau tracked down through his online activities.
He said this in a criminal complaint document filed at the court and obtained by PREMIUM TIMES.
He stated that Mr Ponle, who often adopted a pseudonym Mark Kain, has defrauded several United States-based companies through Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes.
This scheme compromises legitimate business email accounts through computer intrusion techniques or social engineering and uses those accounts to cause the unauthorised transfer of funds.
Techniques for perpetrating these schemes include phishing, spear phishing, identity theft, email spoofing, and the use of malware.
“Beginning no later than January 2019 and continuing until at least September 2019, OLALEKAN JACOB PONLE conspired with others to engage in BEC schemes to defraud several United States-based companies. These schemes resulted in attempted and actual losses to victim companies in the tens of millions of dollars,” the criminal complaint document read.
As part of the scheme, he reportedly directed ‘money mules’ in the United States to open bank accounts in the names of victimised companies.
According to Mr Sadiq, proceeds from BEC schemes, “ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars”, were then wired by unwitting employees to the bank accounts opened by Mr Ponle’s mules.
Mr Ponle then instructed the mules to convert the proceeds to bitcoin (virtual currency) and to send the proceeds of the BEC schemes to a bitcoin wallet that he owned and operated.
Bitcoin, a type of cryptocurrency, is generated and controlled through computer software operating on a decentralised peer-to-peer network.
Its transactions are recorded in the Bitcoin blockchain which makes it hard to trace because the identities of individuals are partially anonymous.
Massive scheme, more findings