A fourth man allegedly involved in a scheme that cost a Lexington woman $200,000 through what is known as a “romance scam” was flown to Kentucky Wednesday to face charges in federal court.
Authorities arrested Adedunmole Gbadegesin, a Nigerian citizen, in Nigeria last year in connection with the scam. A court in Nigeria only recently approved extraditing him to the U.S.
He was indicted in October 2020 with two others in the alleged scheme but his name was redacted from the charges until Wednesday. Gbadegesin faces wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges.
FBI special agents flew with him from Nigeria to Atlanta and then to Blue Grass Airport. Case agent Chelsea Holliday and others escorted him off the Delta flight just before 11 a.m. and into a Ford SUV just outside the terminal to take him to jail.
Three others have pleaded guilty in connection with the fraud: Ismaila Fafunmi, 36, who was sentenced to four years and three months in prison; Livingstone Otunuya Ineh Eqwem, who was sentenced to two years in prison; and Olatunbosun Oluwakayode Ajayi, 39, who was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.
All three are from Nigeria but were living in the U.S. at the time. Fafunmi lived in Indianapolis, Eqwem lived in Texas and Ajayi lived in both Indianapolis and the Atlanta area at different times.
The men allegedly took part in schemes to swindle people through various means. One method was to set up fake profiles on dating sites, then lure victims many of them older women into thinking they were in a relationship and milk them for money.
In the case involving the Lexington woman, Fafunmi used a fake name and said he was a U.S. Army soldier stationed overseas, according to court records.
He told the woman, who was in her 70s, that he wanted to marry her but needed $75,000 to get out of his Army commitment. The woman, who was not identified by name in the indictment, ultimately drained her savings and even took out a home-equity loan, sending $200,000 to accounts designated by Fafunmi, whom she believed was her boyfriend, according to court records.
Fafunmi later asked the victim to take out another home-equity loan, but she finally realized the relationship was a scam and contacted authorities, according to a court record.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Anderson said in sentencing documents that the scammers needed American addresses and bank accounts to make their requests for money seem plausible and to hide the ultimate destination of the money to Nigeria.
The Lexington woman was the biggest known victim of the scam, but another woman in western Kentucky lost $183,000 after being duped into believing her payments would qualify her for a grant.
The woman said the person who defrauded her posed as a church friend on Facebook.
“This type of crime not only deprives victims of their savings, but also deprives them of their dignity and trust in humanity,” Anderson said a memo in Fafunmi’s case.
A judge ordered Fafunmi to pay a total of $547,751 in restitution to 13 victims in Kentucky, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and Minnesota, according to a sentencing document.
The indictment against Gbadegesin said the Lexington victim sent about $164,000 to conspirators directly involved with him over about six months in 2018.
Ajayi and Eqwem admitted in their plea deals that they withdrew money the women put in different accounts and forwarded some to Gbadegesin.
Federal authorities caution against sending money to people you’ve only had contact with by telephone or over the internet.