US Court Jails Nigerian Extraditee for $524,000 Romance Scam

Nigerian national Uchenna Christian Nlemchi has been sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay $524,000 in restitution for his role in a romance scam and business email compromise scheme.

Additionally, Nlemchi must forfeit $868,295 in a money judgment.

Nlemchi was extradited from Hungary to the United States in 2023 to face charges.

The sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez and Raul Bujanda, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Albuquerque Field Office, in a statement released on Thursday.

According to court documents, the fraudulent scheme began in 2015. A co-conspirator, using the alias “Sean Bartlett,” deceived a widow in New Mexico into sending money, supposedly for business expenses.

Nlemchi facilitated the scam by opening bank accounts under his own name and a fictitious business named “Jay Auto & Machine Parts.”

On September 13, 2015, Nlemchi opened a personal account at Amegy Bank. Sixteen days later, he opened a business account at the same bank for the non-existent “Jay Auto & Machine Parts,” listing himself as the sole proprietor.

Over the following months, under the co-conspirator’s direction, the victim transferred more than $375,000 into Nlemchi’s accounts. These funds included $200,000 defrauded from a German citizen, which was also funneled through his accounts.

“Between the retirement savings and a home equity loan, the victim’s transfers to Nlemchi’s accounts totaled over $375,000,” stated the court documents.

Nlemchi’s actions have been characterized as part of a larger pattern of sophisticated cybercrime targeting vulnerable individuals through deceptive and manipulative tactics.

“This included wiring $45,000 on October 7th to another person’s account, before sending $35,000 directly to the “Jay Auto & Machine Parts” account on October 9th, the same day the other person wired $44,000 into that account.

“On October 22nd, the victim transferred $125,346 from her and her late husband’s IRA accounts into Nlemchi’s “Jay Auto & Machine Parts” bank account. Then on December 7th, she took out a $170,000 home equity loan and immediately transferred the full amount to that account.

“Nlemchi rapidly withdrew and transferred globally over $868,000 that was deposited into the “Jay Auto & Machine Parts” account from the New Mexico victim and other fraud proceeds. Nlemchi abandoned the fraudulent accounts on February 29, 2016, as bank investigators closed in.

“At the time, Nlemchi was in the United States on a student visa and attended Texas Southern University.

He was arrested in Houston, Texas in 2017 and released on electronic monitoring in the third-party custody of his wife and ordered to surrender his passport,” the statement said in parts.

The statement also explained that Nlemchi escaped from his monitoring system and fled to Mexico, then to Brazil, then back to his home in Nigeria, becoming an international fugitive for more than five years until he was arrested in Hungary in 2023.

Nlemchi who pleaded guilty in federal court to one count each of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in February 2024, will face deportation proceedings and 3 years of supervised release after serving his sentence.