Two men accused of scamming $2 million from App State extradited from UK to Charlotte

·3 min read

Two Nigerian nationals living in the United Kingdom have been extradited to Charlotte to face charges of using a phony email scheme to scam almost $2 million from Appalachian State University.

Newly unsealed federal court documents accuse Oludayo Kolawole John Adeagbo, 43, and Donald Ikenna Echeazu, 40, of being principals in a multimillion-dollar cyberfraud ring that targeted two major universities, a Texas community college, government agencies and private companies in three states. The total losses were placed at $5 million.

Appalachian State, in Boone, lost its money in 2017. Some $1.5 million was quickly tracked down and returned by the FBI.

Adeagbo also faces charges in Texas, where he is accused of trying to steal $3 million from construction companies, government agencies and a Houston-area community college.

A third defendant, Olabanji Egbinola, was ordered extradited from the U.K. to Virginia, where he is accused of bilking almost $470,000 from Virginia Commonwealth University using a version of the same email scheme, documents show.

Two Nigerian nationals have been extradicted to Charlotte where they face charges of scamming $2 million from Appalachian State.
Two Nigerian nationals have been extradicted to Charlotte where they face charges of scamming $2 million from Appalachian State.

All three were indicted in 2019 and arrested in Britain a year later. They fought extradition to the U.S. in the British courts, with their last appeal being thrown out by the U.K. High Court in July.

Adeagbo made his first appearance before a Charlotte federal judge on Tuesday. Echeazu is scheduled to appear Thursday morning. According to their 2019 indictment, both men face charges of wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, they face up to 40 years in prison.

Egbinola finds a similar array of charges awaiting him in Virginia.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Dena King in Charlotte said the extradition of Adeagbo and Echeazu to North Carolina followed years of collaboration between the FBI and U.K.’s National Crime Agency, illustrating “our shared commitment to holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions.”

“Thanks to our combined efforts,” King said, “these two men will now face the American justice system.”

App State, colleges targeted

As outlined in case documents, the conspiracy — part of a category of fraud known clunkily as “cyber-enabled business email compromise” — was ruthlessly simple: The defendants and others unnamed collaborators used slightly altered email addresses and stolen domain names to intercept millions of dollars in payments being shipped to legitimate companies.

In three instances, the alleged conspirators targeted universities in the midst of expensive construction projects, discovered the names and emails of the key people involved, and then, posing as actual construction company representatives, sent emails to the schools asking the officials in charge to send future payments to a slightly different company email account.

In App State’s case, the email bait that arrived in December 2017 came under the name of the actual comptroller from the Charlotte construction company then building the campus’ new health services center.

A school administrator followed instructions and wired $1.96 million that he thought was headed to Charlotte. Instead, the money they zoomed west to Los Angeles, where it soon disappeared into a maze of money-laundering accounts, the FBI soon giving chase.

In March 2018, as was earlier reported by The Charlotte Observer, a federal grand jury in Charlotte indicted Ho Shin Lee of Los Angeles on 14 separate money-laundering counts for his role in the App State swindle.

Under a plea deal with prosecutors, Lee was sentenced in March 2019 to three years in prison.

He was also ordered to pay Appalachian State $1,959,925.02 in restitution.