More details are emerging on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI operations which led to the arrest of Dubai based Nigerian cybercriminal suspects, Ramon Abbas (aka Hushpuppi) and Olalekan Ponle (aka Woodberry or Mark Kain).
The two suspects accused of perpetrating frauds amounting to over $435m and their accomplices were arrested at their luxury Palazzo Versace apartment by officials of the Dubai Police and Interpol on 10 June.
Items seized from them include 13 luxury cars, estimated at N3.7bn, 21 laptops, 47 smartphones, 15 storage devices and five hard disk containing data.
The suspects, accused of money laundering, fraud, hacking of websites and accounts, impersonation and banking fraud have been extradited to the United States where they appeared in court last Friday.
Charges filed against them include conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from BEC frauds and other scams, including schemes targeting a US law firm, a foreign bank, and an English Premier League soccer club.
In separate affidavits, Special Agents with the FBI, Andrew Innocenti and Ali Sadiq told the courts how the two suspects operate elaborate fraud schemes and network through which they obtained funds to live a life of opulence in Dubai.
In his affidavit, Innocenti, who is currently assigned to the High-Tech Organised Crime Squad, Los Angeles Field Office of the FBI, said messages found on the iPhones of two persons linked with Hushpuppi showed that he was involved in multiple BEC frauds.
He revealed that the FBI worked with Apple, Google, Instagram, and Snap to track Abbas’ financial transactions and locate his Dubai residence.
He said, “Analysis of Abbas’ co-conspirator 1’s iPhone and other online accounts showed that co-conspirator 1 operated and tasked money mule crews for a number of fraudulent schemes, including BEC schemes and cyber-heists. The analysis also showed that co-conspirator 1 communicated with the UAE phone number +971543777711 (phone number 1) about multiple fraudulent schemes and money laundering.
“As described below, phone number 1 was one of the phone numbers Abbas used during 2019 and 2020. Based on my review (pursuant to federal search warrants obtained in this District) of data from co-conspirator 1’s iPhone and from an online account connected to that phone (the “Online Account”), other law enforcement personnel’s review of that digital data and from discussions with the United States Secret Service (“USSS”) and FBI personnel, I know the following:
“Co-conspirator 1’s iPhone listed Phone Number 1 (+971543777711) with the contact name ‘Hush.’ The phone also contained a contact for Snapchat username ‘hushpuppi5,’ which listed the Snapchat contact name ‘The Billionaire Gucci Master!!!’
“Searches of Phone Number 1 and the contact name ‘Hush’ in co-conspirator 1’s iPhone revealed messaging conversations between ‘Hush,’ using Phone Number 1, and co-conspirator 1.”
Innocenti said he subsequently traced Hushpuppi to his Dubai residence via his Instagram account.
He said, “The Instagram profile claimed that the user was a real estate developer and listed the user’s Snapchat account as ‘Hushpuppi5,’ which is the same Snapchat account name that was saved in co-conspirator 1’s iPhone.
“Based on records from Instagram received in June 2020, the Instagram account was subscribed with the name ‘RAY,’ the email address ‘[email protected],’ and the verified phone number +971502818689 (‘Phone Number 2’). The Instagram account was created on October 10, 2012, and recent account history from 2020 showed logins from Internet Protocol (‘IP’) addresses located in the UAE.
“Based on subscriber records from Snap Inc., the Snapchat account ‘Hushpuppi5’ used the phone number +971565505984 (‘Phone Number 3’) and the email address [email protected] (i.e., the same email as the Instagram account). The Snapchat account used the display name ‘The Billionaire Gucci Master!!!,’ which was the same Snapchat contact name saved in co-conspirator 1’s phone for the Snapchat account ‘Hushpuppi5.’”
in the affidavit filed by Sadiq against Ponle, aka Woodberry, the FBI agent said, “Proceeds from BEC schemes, ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars, were then wired by unwitting employees to the bank accounts opened by Ponle’s mules. Ponle then instructed the mules to convert the proceeds to Bitcoin and to send the proceeds of the BEC schemes to a bitcoin wallet that he owned and operated.”
He said Ponle was tracked based on messaging conversations with one of his money mules in the US, simply identified as Individual B.
He said, “‘Mark Kain’ contacted Individual B using the telephone number (323) 985-4088. Based on my review of chat transcripts from online messaging applications between Ponle and Individual B and a second money mule, Individual A, ‘Mark’ instructed Individual B and Individual A to send money to the bitcoin wallet 16AtGJbaxL2kmzx4m W5ocpT2ysTWxmacWn (“the 16AtGJ BTC Wallet”) on at least nine occasions. Records obtained from Bitpay, a processor of cryptocurrency transactions, indicated that between approximately September 18, 2015, and November 29, 2016, the 16AtGJ BTC wallet made five purchases associated with the Gmail account [email protected][.]com (the ‘hustle Gmail account’).
“Based on my review of records from Apple, Subject Account 1 contained several identity documents and photographs of Ponle. These included a photo of a Nigerian passport with a photo of an individual named Olalekan Jacob Ponle, born in May 1991 in Lagos, Nigeria, a photo of a United Arab Emirates visa with a photo of an individual named Olalekan Jacob Ponle with the profession, ‘marketing.’”