Nigerian Man Pleads Guilty In Online Dating Money Laundering Scheme, Feds Say

A Nigerian national charged for his connection to a large fraud and money laundering scheme has pleaded guilty, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) report released Tuesday.

Kenneth Emeni, 29, a citizen of Nigeria living in West Virginia, was involved in a fraud scheme that created false personas online and tricked people into believing they were either romantically interested or in a business partnership. Emeni, and at least five other co-conspirators, would then ask the people they contacted online to send money for bogus reasons. 

The fraudsters connected with their victims through email, text, online dating, and social media. 

Emeni received the victims’ money transfers in his bank account and would send the funds to his co-conspirators and to offshore bank accounts. He also admitted to keeping some of the money for himself before he transferred the rest to his accomplices. According to the DOJ, Emeni took home approximately $42,050 and sent his co-conspirators $46,197. The fraudsters sent more than $358,000 to accounts in Nigeria and Ghana.

On Tuesday, a Huntington, West Virginia, woman also pleaded guilty in connection to the scheme. Patricia Dudding, 69, helped fraudsters by acting as a money mule, according to the DOJ

Dudding set up multiple bank accounts where she received deposits from victims of the scam, mostly elderly people, across the U.S. When asked about transfers of large sums, Dudding would lie to banks, claiming the money was being sent for legitimate purposes, according to authorities. 

Similar to Emeni, Dudding withdrew some of the money transferred to her accounts for her personal use, including to pay for utility bills, TV service, groceries, drug store purchases, gas, department store purchases, and restaurants. 

The West Virginia woman faces up to 10 years in prison and will be sentenced on April 25. She has already agreed to pay more than $1.7 million in restitution. 

Emeni faces 20 years in prison and will be sentenced on April 11. He has agreed to pay nearly $1 million in restitution. 

The Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG), West Virginia State Police, and South Charleston Police Department all aided in the investigation. 

The DOJ encouraged people to report any potential fraud or money laundering crimes targeting elderly people:

If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).  This U.S. Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim, and identifying relevant next steps.  Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis.  Reporting is the first step.  Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is staffed 10am-6pm Eastern Time, Monday-Friday. English, Spanish, and other languages are available.   

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