A prolific Nigerian scammer who flaunted his illicit fortune on Instagram was sentenced Monday in Los Angeles to just over 11 years in federal prison for a money laundering scheme that prosecutors say concealed the profits of multimillion dollar online frauds.
Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, 40, also known as Ray Hushpuppi, has been in custody since he was kicked out of the United Arab Emirates following his arrest in Dubai in June 2020. Prosecutors cited his current social media presence in their sentencing memorandum, writing in a footnote that his @hushpuppi Instagram account has 2.8 million followers, “approximately 500,000 more followers than at the time of his arrest in Dubai.”
“His last post, a photograph of a white Rolls Royce Cullinan from June 6, 2020, has over 100,000 comments, many lionizing him, with some posted today,” according to the Sept. 7 memo. They also cited the geographic range of victims and crimes when calling for the 135-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II, calling Abbas’ crimes “particularly egregious because they involved the rogue nation state North Korea.”
Though he may not have known that North Korea “was his ultimate customer, defendant’s willingness to launder funds for all comers highlights the serious risks to global security posed by money launderers like defendant,” according to the 17-page memo from Assistant U.S. Attorney Khaldoun Shobaki.
Shobaki said Abbas’ stable family and good education left him “well situated to be a law-abiding member of society,” but he instead “chose to pursue a global celebrity lifestyle by swindling innocent victims and laundering money for criminals of all stripes.”
“His greed and ego have driven the many offenses he is known to have engaged in, and he has made a living and cultivated a following by using his ill-gotten gains to create an extravagant lifestyle,” according to the memo, which says Abbas’ crimes “were not momentary lapses of judgment, they were his day-to-day business.” The memo acknowledges that journalists in Abbas home country have long been suspicious of him, with Shobaki writing: “The FBI’s investigation in this case confirmed that – as long suspected by the press in his native Nigeria – defendant was engaged in a wide range of crime, and that the flashy lifestyle he advertised on social media was financed through crime.”
Abbas’ lawyer, Louis Shapiro, asked for a sentence of 33 to 41 months, saying Abbas “has spent his time in prison working and reflecting on his actions.”
“He acknowledges that what he did was wrong and must now face the reality that he will likely never fully recover from this experience. His personal and professional reputation has been decimated. The stigma of this case will live with him and his family for the rest of his life,” Shapiro wrote in a 27-page memo. “His children, who are all eight years old and younger, have had their pictures posted on social media for the entire world to see. His parents must now think twice before they leave their home out of concern for their own safety.”
Abbas admitted to laundering money from cyber attacks on financial institutions, email phishing schemes and other frauds, conspiring with dual Canadian and United States citizen Ghaleb Alaumary, 37. Alaumary was sentenced to 140 months in September 2021 for two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He also was ordered to pay much more in restitution than Abbas: $30 million.
Shapiro emphasized in his memo that Abbas “was not on the same playing field as Mr. Alaumary” and didn’t display the mental culpability to be considered a leader in the scheme. Instead, “Alamaury was the quarterback.”
“The bottom line is that the government got Mr. Abbas wrong from the very beginning and cannot live with it,” Shaprio wrote in a six-page supplement to his initial memo. “They initially sold a story to the media that Mr. Abbas was a huge social media influencer and was responsible for $25 million in fraud. To their disappointment, Mr. Abbas only caused a $1.7 million loss and didn’t even receive all that money. Instead of just admitting that they spoke too soon, they double-down on desperate and illogical arguments.”
Shapiro included supportive letters for Abbas, including from Regina Mariam Manneh, who is the mother of Abbas’ youngest child.
But while Abbas’ total restitution is $1.7 million, he admitted in his plea agreement to a loss amount between $9.5 million and $25 million, which Shobaki used to calculate his standard sentencing range under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The prosecutor called Abbas an “equal opportunity criminal” with intended and actual victims “ranging from a small law firm to a businessperson seeking to build a school, to a bank, to a professional soccer club.”
“Whoever the victim, with no regard for nature of the underlying crime or the identity of the criminals who he was helping, defendant was ready to pose as a banker, lie to victims, or provide bank accounts to stash the proceeds of crime,” according to Shobaki’s memo. “Defendant’s conduct was reprehensible and deserves serious punishment.”
The laundered money included funds stolen from a bank in Malta that Abbas and Alaumary swindled in connection with North Korean hackers who have also been charged with crimes. It also included millions of British pounds stolen from a pro soccer club and a company in the U.K., and it included approximately $922,857 fraudulently obtained from a New York-based law firm.
Judge Wright’s restitution order directs Abbas to pay the law firm $922,857, and to pay $809,983 in to a businessperson in Qatar he defrauded over a $15 million loan to build a school.
According to Abbas’ plea agreement, the Qatar-based victim used $330,000 to open an investor’s account he believed would facilitate the loan. He then sent $100,000 to a bank controlled by Abbas’ co-conspirator and $230,000 to a luxury watch seller’s account, which Abbas used to buy a $230,000 Richard Mille RM11-03 watch that he had delivered to him in Dubai from New York City.
“The watch made numerous appearances on Abbas’ wrist on his now-defunct Instagram account, often with the hashtag #RichardMille,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
[Image: U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles]
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