Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Charges Against New York Man In Phony Bail Scheme That Targeted Elderly Victims
Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James P. O’Neill, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”),announced today the unsealing of a complaint charging PAUL IFEANYICHUKWU ONWUVUARIRIwith conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a scheme that targeted and victimized elderly people across the United States. As alleged, ONWUVUARIRI and his co-conspirators tricked victims, by phone, into believing that they were speaking to the NYPD or another law enforcement agency, and that the victims’ grandchildren or relatives had been arrested and needed bail money immediately to avoid prison. ONWUVUARIRIwas arrested last night and will be presented later today in federal court in Manhattan.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “As alleged, Paul Ifeanyichukwu Onwuvuariri and his co-conspirators targeted vulnerable grandparents, callously preying on their emotions by convincing them that their loved ones were in trouble. Participants in this scheme allegedly swindled elderly victims out of thousands of dollars by pretending to be members of law enforcement, including the NYPD, and falsely claiming that victims’ family members were in custody and needed bail. We urge victims of this type of fraud to contact law enforcement, including our Office’s Victim/Witness unit.”
NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said: “As alleged, the defendant and his co-conspirators exploited victims’ trust in law enforcement to defraud the elderly. Tricking someone into thinking that a family member is in trouble, to further their fraud, is a particularly low bar. I want to thank the US Attorney’s Office, the Utica Police Department, and the detectives from the NYPD for their work on this case.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed in Manhattan federal court:
Beginning in approximately 2015, ONWUVUARIRI and his co-conspirators perpetrated a scheme to defraud elderly people around the United States by tricking them into believing their grandchildren or other relatives had been arrested and needed immediate bail money. A member of the conspiracy typically contacted the victim by phone, purported to be either the relative or a law enforcement official, and falsely claimed that the victim’s grandchild or relative had been taken into custody for a narcotics offense and would not be released unless the victim paid thousands of dollars in purported bail money. A member of the conspiracy also frequently posed on the call as the victim’s grandchild, pleading with the elderly victim to send money to secure the grandchild’s release from jail, and asking the victim not to contact any other family members because the grandchild felt ashamed. In each case, the defrauded victim has sent thousands of dollars, at a minimum, as instructed, to certain individuals who, among other things, have provided that money to ONWUVUARIRI. After paying the “bail” money as directed, victims have learned that their grandchild or relative had not, in fact, been arrested, that the grandchild or relative knew nothing about the claims made on the call to the victim, and that the call appeared to be fraudulent.
For example, among the examples set forth in the complaint, one 82-year-old victim in Brooklyn, New York, received a phone call in November 2015 from an individual who identified himself as the victim’s grandson and claimed that he had been arrested. The victim then spoke to an individual who identified himself as an NYPD sergeant and said the victim’s grandson would be released if the victim wired $7,600 in bail money. The victim deposited the money as directed, and then received additional calls the next day asking for additional money and the victim’s credit card number. The victim subsequently spoke with the victim’s daughter, and learned that the victim’s grandson had not been arrested, and knew nothing about the purported sergeant or the basis for his request for bail money.
In fact, the victim’s money was wired to an individual working with ONWUVUARIRI who collected the wired funds on ONWUVUARIRI’s behalf and provided the money to ONWUVUARIRI.
ONWUVUARIRI, 29, of Utica, New York, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Acting U.S. Attorney Kim praised the outstanding investigative work of the Criminal Investigators for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the New York City Police Department. He also thanked the Utica Police Department for its assistance.
If you believe you were a victim of this crime, including a victim entitled to restitution, and you wish to provide information to law enforcement and/or receive notice of future developments in the case or additional information, please contact Wendy Olsen-Clancy, the Victim Witness Coordinator at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, at (866) 874-8900, or Wendy.Olsen@usdoj.gov
This case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Nicolas Landsman-Roos is in charge of the prosecution.
The charge contained in the Complaint is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth herein constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.