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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

FBI: Defendant Arrested in Nigeria After Three Years on the Run



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Rasheed Mustapha
NEWARK, NJ—Rasheed Mustapha arrived in the United States yesterday following his extradition from Nigeria to face charges that he conspired to steal money from 401(k) accounts, steal the identities of the account holders, and launder the proceeds of the scheme, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Mustapha, 35, is expected to appear this afternoon before U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden in Newark federal court to face a 36-count superseding indictment charging him with conspiracies to commit mail fraud and money laundering, theft from a 401(k) plan, and aggravated identity theft.

“According to the indictment, Rasheed Mustapha was instrumental in a scheme to steal the identities of his employer’s customers and wipe out their retirement accounts,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman. “Ultimately, Mustapha’s alleged efforts to thwart justice by laundering his criminal profits and fleeing to Nigeria were not enough to keep him from a New Jersey courtroom. We are grateful for strong law enforcement partnerships that cross borders to bring the world’s criminals to account for targeting U.S. citizens.”

“The U.S. is relentlessly targeted by criminals around the world for the openness of our society and the wealth of our economy, and it is imperative that law enforcement have partnerships worldwide in order to secure our way of life,” said New Jersey FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward. “In years past, fleeing the country might have allowed criminals a safe haven from American prosecution; however, today, with the assistance of the EFCC in Nigeria, Legal Attaches stationed in Africa, and joint collaboration between the FBI and DOJ via Project Welcome Home, we were able to track Mustapha across the globe, ensure his arrest and detainment, and escort him back to New Jersey to be held accountable for his alleged crimes.”

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Mustapha and his coconspirators gained access to seven different retirement accounts using confidential customer identity information. Mustapha stole this information through his employment as a customer service representative at a Little Falls, N.J., call center for the retirement accounts. After taking over the accounts, Mustapha and his fellow conspirators tried to clean them out by having rollover checks issued, mailed to members of the conspiracy, and deposited into bank accounts they controlled under various aliases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona. Mustapha and his coconspirators ultimately obtained more than $750,000 in checks from the retirement accounts and managed to withdraw substantial proceeds from those checks before one of Mustapha’s co-defendants was arrested. Mustapha fled to Nigeria, where he was arrested March 12, 2011.

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The company that sponsored the targeted 401(k) plan accounts has made whole those accounts, with interest, and incurred more than $800,000 in losses as a result.

Mustapha was returned to the United States by the FBI’s Project Welcome Home. The FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division developed Project Welcome Home in an effort to support the apprehension of international fugitives charged with crimes of violence. Project Welcome Home funds the round trip travel of two law enforcement officials and a one-way trip for the fugitive from a foreign country to the United States when repatriation by the host country occurs through deportation or extradition. Since its inception in 2004, over 400 FBI fugitives have been returned to the United States from more than 42 countries to face prosecution.

Instrumental to the extradition is the cooperation and relationship U.S. authorities forged with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria. The EFCC has been effective in pursuing fugitives from the United States by opening local cases after referrals by U.S. law enforcement.

Mustapha is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, eight counts of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and 12 counts of money laundering, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. He is also charged with seven counts of theft from a 401(k) plan, each of which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and seven counts of aggravated identity theft, each of which carries a mandatory, consecutive sentence of two years in prison. The mail fraud, mail fraud conspiracy, theft from a 401(k) and identity theft charges also each carry a maximum $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The money laundering and money laundering conspiracy charges each carry a maximum $500,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss, or twice the laundered proceeds.

The other three individuals charged in the superseding Indictment have all pleaded guilty before Judge Hayden and been sentenced:

  • Maxwell Owoeye, 33, a Nigerian citizen formerly residing in Hackettstown, N.J., pleaded guilty to Counts One, 10 and 23 of the superseding Indictment, charging conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and theft from a 401(k) plan, on February 28, 2009. He was sentenced to 63 months in prison on July 28, 2009.
  • Adeyemo Popoola, 28, a Nigerian citizen formerly residing in New Brunswick, N.J., pleaded guilty to Count One of the superseding Indictment, charging conspiracy to commit mail fraud, on January 17, 2009. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison on September 14, 2009.
  • Faruk Oncel, 45, a Turkish citizen formerly residing in Paterson, N.J., pleaded guilty to Count 27 of the superseding Indictment on July 28, 2009. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison on March 16, 2010.
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In addition, eight other residents of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Arizona who participated in Mustapha’s scheme have pleaded guilty and been sentenced in related cases: Yuksel Bakar, Ozer Bilgi, Na’eem Blackston, Terrell Brunson, José Cantero, Shawn Jackson, Joseph Prempeh and Gursel Yilmaz.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward, with the investigation, as well as special agents of the U.S. Secret Service, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jacob Christine, and postal inspectors with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Postal Inspector in Charge Philip R. Bartlett.

U.S. Attorney Fishman also thanked the FBI Legal Attache in Lagos, Nigeria; the EFCC, and the U.S. State Department, as well as the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs for its assistance in effecting the extradition. He also thanked the Attorney General of the Federation, Minister of Justice, and the Federal High Court in Lagos.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark E. Coyne of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark.

The charges and allegations contained in the superseding Indictment concerning Mustapha are merely accusations, and he is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Defense counsel: Olubukola O. Adetula Esq., East Orange, N.J.

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