Tallmadge police lauded in federal probe of alleged Nigerian-linked elder fraud

Jeff Saunders
Kent Weeklies
Kent Weeklies

TALLMADGE — A local woman's report that someone she met online had bilked her out of nearly $60,000 has become a federal case involving nearly two dozen law enforcement agencies around the country.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island on Monday credited the Tallmadge Police Department, as well as police in Moscow, Idaho and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, for providing “substantial assistance” in an investigation that resulted in a federal grand jury indictment of six individuals in Providence, Rhode Island, charging them with allegedly laundering millions of dollars gained through multi-faceted fraud schemes run out of Nigeria that primarily targeted elderly Americans.

Tallmadge Police Chief Ron Williams said Tuesday that Tallmadge police became involved when a 60-year-old resident reported that she had been defrauded over the last half of 2018 and January, 2019.

“She had met an individual on a dating website who she felt she was developing a relationship with,” said Williams. “The person started asking for money, a little here, a little there, and before she knew it she had given $57,000.”

Williams said a detective began investigating and discovered a similar case in Idaho and from that was able to get names of a couple of possible suspects. During a conversation with an FBI agent, the detective discovered that the FBI’s Providence, Rhode Island, office was working on a case suspected of being related to the ones in Tallmadge and Idaho.

“So they put their heads together and it expanded,” said Williams. “It’s literally coast to coast.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a grand jury indicted Adetunji Abudu, 34, and Olabode Shaba, 33, of North Providence; Dotun Olawale Alonge, 44, and Oladipupu Shodipo, 41, of Providence; Samson Ikotun, 33, of East Providence; and Oluwaseyi Akintola, 35, of Moscow, Idaho with money laundering conspiracy and money laundering.

It is alleged that scammers befriended dozens of victims by feigning romantic intentions through online social media platforms and dating sites. They then allegedly built up trust to convince victims to provide them with money to assist with business ventures or to pay off debts.

Other victims were allegedly defrauded through other schemes, including convincing them that they had won a sweepstakes, but that upfront cash payments were required to release the funds to the winner; getting them to pay rent to individuals who purported to own property they in fact did not own or control; or paying fraudulent shipping costs for items sold online.

Scammers allegedly instructed victims to wire cash to bank accounts or to mail payments in the form of cash or money orders to various mailing addresses controlled by scammers in Rhode Island, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

It is alleged that to conceal the source and location of the funds, members of the conspiracy moved the money through multiple banks and businesses in Rhode Island, Idaho and elsewhere.

Much of the money was eventually sent to Nigeria, though some was used to purchase vehicles that were shipped to Nigeria.

“Elder fraud is an international crime that finds its victims wherever they live,” said United States Attorney Aaron L. Weisman. “As in this investigation, often times victims first reach out to their local police departments to report they have been swindled."

He added nearly two-dozen law enforcement agencies worked together on this case.

Williams said money shipped overseas may not be recoverable, but the Tallmadge woman may benefit from an FBI restitution fund set up for situations like this.

“She probably won’t recoup the full amount, but they may assist her in getting something,” he said.

Williams said he is proud of the department’s involvement in the investigation.

“It’s great detective work,” he said. “He took a case with a little bit of information and developed it into a huge case that was successful on a national level.”

Besides the Tallmadge Police Department and the other two agencies singled out for special mention and the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the U.S. Secret Service and 18 law enforcement agencies in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, Wyoming, Nebraska, Florida, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Oladipupu Shodipo was arrested Monday, appeared before U.S. District Court in Providence and was released on an unsecured bond.

Samson Ikotun, previously charged with conspiracy and money laundering, is detained in federal custody while awaiting trial. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Friday’s indictment on Sept. 9.

Olabode Shaba, previously charged with conspiracy and money laundering, is currently on home detention awaiting trial. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment on Wednesday.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Abudu, Alonge, and Akintola.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that victims of elder fraud or those who know them can call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP or go to ftc.gov/complaint. Go to https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndoh/elder-justice-initiative for more information about elder abuse.

Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at jsaunders@recordpub.com or @JeffSaunders_RP.