A Nigerian Instagram influencer Roman Abass popularly known as Hushpuppi has been sentenced to 11 years imprisonment following his role in an international fraud cartel.
Ramon Abbas, was also ordered to pay $1,732,841 (£1,516,182) in restitution to two of his fraudulent victims.
Hushpuppi was known for his lavish lifestyle and flaunting of his ill-gotten wealth on his Instagram page which has amassed over 2.8 million followers.
This all haunts him back two years ago when he was arrested by the Interpol police in Dubai together with other accomplices.
According to Don Alway, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, Abbas had – behind the glitz of his account – become “one of the most prolific money launderers in the world”.
“Abbas leveraged his social media platforms… to gain notoriety and to brag about the immense wealth he acquired by conducting business email compromise scams, online bank heists and other cyber-enabled fraud that financially ruined scores of victims and provided assistance to the North Korean regime,” Mr Alway said in a court document on Monday.
Abass without wasting the court’s time pleaded guilty to money laundering at the initial stage of his trials. He admitted that he attempted to steal more than $1.1million from a donor who wanted to fund a new children’s school in Qatar. According to the Court documents in California, Abbas played a significant role in the scheme as he posed “the roles of bank officials and creating a bogus website”.
He also admitted to “several other cyber and business email compromise schemes that cumulatively caused more than $24 million in losses”, the US justice department said.
Among them was a 2019 scheme, which plunged the European island of Malta into chaos as payment systems shut down after he tried to launder €13m ($13m) stolen by a gang of North Korean hackers from the Maltese Bank of Valletta.
At one point on Instagram, Abbas said he was a real estate developer and had a category of videos called “Flexing” – social media lingo for showing off.
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In 2020, he renewed his lease for another year at the exclusive Palazzo Versace apartments in Dubai under his real name and phone number.
“Thank you, Lord, for the many blessings in my life. Continue to shame those waiting for me to be shamed,” he captioned an Instagram picture of a Rolls-Royce just a fortnight before he was arrested.
A host of Nigerians who knew Abass at a tender age said this was not his first time.
He allegedly started his fraudulent lifestyle as a “Yahoo boy” – the Nigerian term for men who commit romance fraud by stealing other people’s identities online and swindling their none-the-wiser lovers out of money.
His wife said his arrest had plunged her into hardship – noting that she had to work overtime in order to pay for their child’s private education.
Abbas himself apologized for his crimes to Judge Otis D Wright in a handwritten note, saying he would use his personal funds to pay back his victims. He also said he had only made $300,000 from the crime he was being tried for.
However, he was still sentenced to 135 months in federal prison.