ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WRIC) — Four men, one of them a Bank of America Employee, have been convicted in an email fraud conspiracy that cost businesses across Virginia and the country at least $3.8 million.

Two men, Mouaaz Elkhebri and Anthony Ayeah, pleaded guilty in 2021 to their roles in the scheme, but the other two defendants, who perpetrated the fraud itself and reaped most of the benefits, went to trial and were found guilty in August 2022.

Onyewuchi Ibeh and Jason Joyner were sentenced for their roles in the scheme this week, with Joyner receiving a little over 4 years and Ibeh receiving a sentence of 10 years.

Banking Basics

In July of 2018, a business based in Falls Church, Virginia, lost $126,348 in a complex email fraud that was eventually connected to a scheme that stretched across the country from Maryland to California.

According to investigators, a scammer impersonated the president of the company in an email sent to the president’s business partner, convincing him to send payments due to the company to an account controlled by the scammer.

Those funds were then distributed to a number of other accounts controlled by the four accused.

Among them, according to statements of fact signed by Ayeah and Elkhebri, were accounts that Alkhebri opened on Ibeh’s behalf using his position as a Bank of America Employee. Ayeah and Joyner, meanwhile, lent their names to some of those accounts and performed cash transactions to help launder the proceeds.

None of them, however, assisted in the email fraud itself.

“A Sophisticated Operation”

According to prosecutors, the fraud itself was perpetrated mainly by Ibeh. Using phishing techniques, Ibeh would gain access to companies’ internal email systems, then observe them for a period before identifying payments soon to come due.

Then, imitating an actual employee of the business, Ibeh would insert his own accounts into the conversation, tricking them into diverting the money to him.

Once the money entered these so-called “first-level” accounts, Ibeh quickly transferred them onto other accounts he controlled. The proceeds — which may have totaled over $13 million — were then sent overseas, withdrawn to pay co-conspirators or withdrawn as cash by co-conspirators and returned directly to Ibeh.

“For years, Ibeh ran a sophisticated operation that laundered the proceeds of a business email compromise scheme,” prosecutors wrote.

As the cash poured into Ibeh’s accounts, he began to spend lavishly.

Investigators identified spending totaling “thousands of dollars a month at bars and clubs.” Ibeh also put a $10,000 down payment on a gem-encrusted pendant depicting himself cradling a bottle of champagne.

In a photo presented by the prosecution, Ibeh can be seen wearing the necklace while posing with a bottle of champagne himself. (Photo from court records)

Long Sentences

In their memorandum on sentencing, prosecutors requested that Ibeh be sentenced to at least 151 months — over 12.5 years — in prison, citing his long involvement and prominent position within the scheme.

But Ibeh pointed to an outpouring of support in the form of pre-sentencing letters, many of them from his extended family, as reason for a lighter sentence to be imposed.

“As evidenced by the many letters of support filed in conjunction with this pleading, he is well
thought of by those who know him best,” he wrote, requesting a sentence of just two years.

Joyner, meanwhile, asked for a sentence of no more than 15 months — equivalent to that received by Ayeah and Elkhebri — arguing that his involvement was a result of his “passive, trusting nature which made him vulnerable to the deliberate misdirection of the savvier men who planned this crime.”

Ultimately, both were given much longer sentences than they requested, but shorter sentences than those suggested by prosecutors.