ATLANTA — Christian Akhatsegbe has been convicted of conspiracy to commit wire and computer fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a multimillion-dollar cyber fraud scheme committed through email phishing, credential harvesting and billing fraud. His brother Emmanuel Aiye Akhatsegbe, who is believed to be living in Nigeria, was also charged under the scheme and remains a fugitive.
“The wide-ranging scope of this defendant’s criminal conduct is astounding,” said US Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan. Hiding behind multiple aliases, Christian Akhatsegbe and his conspirators stole employee ID cards, hacked computers and attempted to defraud companies out of more than $12 million. Not content to limit his criminal behavior to these schemes, Akhatsegbe has also been implicated in hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID-19-related loan fraud. The relentless efforts of determined corporate and law enforcement partnerships coupled with excellence in investigative work around the world have exposed Akhatsegbe’s crimes and he will now serve a sentence in federal prison and pay reparations to his victims.”
“Operation Dark Nimbus is a perfect example of the FBI not letting geographic boundaries stop us from pursuing and prosecuting anyone who is causing tremendous financial pain to U.S. citizens,” said Keri Farley, the FBI’s Special Agent in Charge Atlanta. “These criminals felt safe because they were hiding behind their computers and aliases. Hopefully that sentence and the final capture of Emmanuel will send a message to anyone who thinks they can take advantage of our citizens and get away with it.”
According to US Attorney Buchanan, the charges and other information presented in court: Between approximately August 2019 to November 2020, Christian Akhatsegbe, along with his brother Emmanuel Aiye Akhatsegbe and others, engaged in spear phishing, credential harvesting and business email compromise involved schemes in which phishing emails were sent to corporate and government employees in the United States and the United Kingdom using stolen SendGrid email marketing accounts, the employees’ credentials were stolen and collected on computer servers, and the stolen Using credentials to access victims’ computers, and then sending fraudulent bills to victims demanding payment of funds held in Hong Kong bank accounts.
For example, in November 2019, an employee at a UK company received a phishing email that resulted in his credentials being logged, stolen and later stored on a computer server accessed and maintained by Christian Akhatsegbe and his conspirators. Using the stolen credentials, the conspirators sent an email to another company employee that appeared to be from one of the company’s suppliers. Attached to the email was a fraudulent invoice for $434,383.45 with wire transfer instructions to a Hong Kong bank. The victim company later paid the fraudulent bill and transferred the money to Hong Kong.
Similarly, in December 2019, using credentials stolen from an employee of a Massachusetts victim company, Christian Akhatsegbe and his conspirators sent an email to another employee of the company that appeared to be from one of the company’s suppliers. The email was accompanied by a fraudulent invoice for US$498,000 asking the victim to send the payment to a Hong Kong bank. The victim paid the bill along with a second bill for the same amount, transferring a total of $996,000 to a Hong Kong bank account.
In January and April 2020, Christian Akhatsegbe and his conspirators ran a similar scheme against two other UK-based companies, sending fraudulent invoices of $498,000 and $980,000 respectively. However, these victim companies recognized the bills as fraudulent and did not transfer the payment. In total, the conspirators sent fraudulent invoices to the affected companies for $12,861,290.59. From this amount, the victims paid bills totaling $2,268,329.69.
The investigation further found that Christian Akhatsegbe used stolen identities to file 40 fraudulent applications for $2,905,100 COVID-19 economic damage disaster loan during the period from July 2020 to September 2020. For its part, the US Small Business Administration approved loans totaling $220,700.
Christian Akhatsegbe, 36, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced to seven years, three months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and paying $2,001,083.45 in damages. Akhatsegbe was convicted of these charges on April 12, 2022 after pleading guilty.
This case was investigated by the Federal Criminal Police Office. Valuable support was also provided by Microsoft Corporation’s Digital Crimes Unit and the City of London Police in the UK.
Assistant US Attorney Michael Herskowitz and Natalie Tecimer, Trial Counsel for the Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Division, prosecuted the case.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to pool the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to increase efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The task force is increasing efforts to identify and prosecute the most guilty domestic and international criminal actors and assisting agencies tasked with administering fraud prevention assistance programs, including by expanding and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques for detecting fraudulent actors and their systems, and sharing and utilizing information and lessons learned from previous enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about suspected fraud related to COVID-19 may report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721 or through the NCDF web complaint form at : https://www .justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
For more information, please contact the US Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The web address of the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.