By Sandy Hodson
Posted May 13, 2019
Testimony began Monday in the trial of a woman accused of taking part in a Nigerian-based hacking scheme that stole nearly $250,000 from a man who sold his West Lake home in August 2015.
Gloria Okolie has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court to one count each of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The final prosecution witness is expected to testify this morning.
Okolie opened a business account at a Dallas bank where an Augusta attorney was tricked into sending a check for $246,219. She told the bank branch manager she was opening the account for an export business, selling vehicles to customers in Nigerian. Andine Hawkins testified Monday that she and Okolie joked that she had to be careful because of all the scams coming out of Nigeria.
The next month, the $246,219 was wired into the account, directed by a person impersonating Donald Evans. The emails were from a person identified as Donald E. Evans less than two hours after the closing of Evans’ former home on Inverness Way. The emails contained the correct address of the house that was sold, the attorney’s case number for the closing and the name of the real estate agent who had represented Evans at the closing ceremony. Within days, Okolie withdrew more than half of the money before the fraud was tagged and the account was frozen.
The withdraws were part of the “stepping down” process of the scheme, testified Okolie’s former co-defendant, Paul Aisosa, who pleaded guilty last week to money laundering. Stepping down is what those involved in the fraudulent schemes call money laundering.
Aisosa was involved in a number of the schemes which cheated victims out of more than $550,000, he testified. He received $100,000 of the money sent to Okolie. He deposited it into his bank account, took out his cut, $10,500, then wrote checks that would be sent to the Nigerian hackers, Aisosa testified. Aisosa came to American from Nigeria 23 years ago and became a U.S. citizen in 2006, he testified.
Aisosa said he met Okolie when his friend “Kenny” brought her to his office, which was the day he joined the money laundering scheme involving the Columbia County real estate proceeds. It was Kenny, not otherwise identified Monday, who told Aisosa about the scheme and it was Kenny who returned alone to get the checks from Aisosa, he testified. Aisosa reluctantly testified he was involved in another $93,000 scheme in which he faces criminal charges in Texas.
To all other questions about that scam he invoked the Fifth Amendment, which allows people to avoid testimony that might incriminate themselves.