Most Internet users have found them in their e-mail inboxes at one time: those messages giving the news that they've won or inherited millions of dollars from overseas.
Most people delete them. But sometimes, the federal government says, recipients fall victim to an Internet scam.
A man found guilty of authoring those e-mails, a Nigerian national, was sentenced Thursday in a federal court in Charlotte for being part of a two-man team that bilked at least 18 people in the United States, Australia and Europe of more than $9.5 million.
Ugochukwu Enwerem, better known as Joseph Smith to his victims, was sentenced to nine years in prison, the U.S. Justice Department announced. The other member of the team, Kent Okojie, previously was sentenced to six years in prison. The two men also were ordered to pay $9.4 million in restitution to their victims.
Enwerem, 39, and Okojie, 42, operated their scam from Amsterdam, the U.S. government says, and were arrested by Dutch and American officials in June 2007. They were extradited from the Netherlands to the United States and went on trial in Charlotte.
Okojie pleaded guilty in September 2009, and Enwerem was found guilty in a jury trial last March.
Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the case was heard in Charlotte because prosecutors said the two men conducted financial transactions with their victims through a Western Union computer server there. Evidence at the trial laid out the way the two men conducted their scheme: The men were accused of sending e-mails, telling individuals they had won a foreign lottery, inherited a large amount of money from a long-lost relative, or were eligible for money from some other source.
When victims responded to the e-mails, the two men posed as bankers, lawyers and European government officials, asking the respondents to send money for things such as "anti-terrorism certificates," ''EU bank clearances" and "anti-money laundering certificates." The money was transferred through Western Union and other money services, the government said.
In the indictment, prosecutors said Okojie used the name "Paul Hamilton" and Enwerem went by "Joseph Smith" to victims.
Federal papers filed in the case spelled out how one victim, who lives in Bensalem, Pa., sent nearly $150,000 to the two men over 18 months from late 2005 to spring 2007. The victim, identified only as EG, wired the money in 10 different increments. According to the government, the victim had been told she had won about $6.2 million in the "National UK Lottery." In one case, the government said, EG was asked to send $30,182.10 to a man in Spain to pay for a police report and an Anti-Terrorism Certificate. On another occasion, the government said, Okojie — posing as Paul Hamilton — convinced the woman to send $35,000 to pay European Union taxes.
"It is not the first case of this type that we have prosecuted," Sweeney said. She noted that it probably will not be the last, noting that the e-mail scams are not that uncommon.
Sweeney said the case was investigated by U.S. Postal inspectors, the U.S. Justice Department and police in Amsterdam and prosecuted by the Justice Department's Fraud Section.
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