A US-based Ghanaian, Fred Asante has been sentenced to nine years in prison for his role as the top money launderer for a criminal enterprise based in Ghana that engaged in fraud schemes that stole millions of dollars from victims across the United States.
According to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Asante made more than $36.4 million over a four-year span by scamming businesses, tricking older victims into online romances and illegally applying for US federal COVID-19 loans.
Asante was arrested on February 17, 2021, in Virginia and pled guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering on February 16, 2022, before District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, imposed the sentence on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.
In addition to the prison term, Asante, 37, was sentenced to three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay forfeiture in the amount of $647,488 and restitution in the amount of $2,292,486.71.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Fred Asante set up companies that appeared to be involved in legitimate business, but in reality they were simply fronts that he used to receive and launder millions of dollars for a criminal enterprise in Ghana that defrauded American businesses and individuals through online scams.
“Asante will now serve a substantial term in prison for his money-laundering operation. We will continue to work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to hold accountable those who participate in the money side of the fraud business.”
Asante opened and maintained 19 bank accounts at more than 10 different banks as part of his money-laundering operation.
These bank accounts had deposits that totalled approximately $36.4 million during the 4.5-year period from September 2016 through January 2021, which included fraud proceeds from more than 80 identified victims.
According to the Indictment, public court filings, and statements made in court, Asante was a member of a criminal enterprise based in Ghana that committed a series of frauds against individuals and businesses located across the United States, including in the Southern District of New York.
The frauds perpetrated by the enterprise have consisted of, among other frauds, business email compromises, romance scams, and fraud schemes related to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.
The objective of the enterprise’s business email compromise fraud scheme was to trick and deceive businesses into wiring funds into accounts controlled by the Enterprise through the use of email accounts that “spoofed” or impersonated employees of a victim company or third parties engaged in business with a victim company.
The Enterprise also conducted the romance scams by using electronic messages sent via email, text messaging, or online dating websites that deluded victims, many of whom were vulnerable older men and women who lived alone, into believing the victim was in a romantic relationship with a fake identity assumed by members of the Enterprise. Once members of the Enterprise had gained the trust of the victims using the fake identity, they used false pretences to cause the victims to wire money to bank accounts the victims believed were controlled by their romantic interests, when in fact the bank accounts were controlled by members of the Enterprise.
Finally, the enterprise submitted fraudulent loan applications through a loan program of the United States Small Business Administration (the “SBA”) designed to provide relief to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (“EIDL”) Program. The Enterprise submitted fraudulent EIDL applications in the names of actual companies to the SBA and when an EIDL loan was approved, the funds were ultimately deposited in bank accounts controlled by members of the Enterprise.
Asante and other members of the Enterprise received fraud proceeds from victims of the Enterprise in dozens of business bank accounts that they controlled in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia.
The business bank accounts were opened in the names of companies formed by Asante and other members of the Enterprise that were purportedly involved in, among other things, automobile sales, food imports and exports, and freight trucking and shipping.
Once Asante received fraud proceeds in bank accounts under his control, he withdrew, transported, and laundered those fraud proceeds to other members of the Enterprise abroad.
He primarily laundered the fraud proceeds through his businesses by using the proceeds to purchase automobiles, food products, and other goods from US-based suppliers and distributors of such products and shipping those products to Ghana and elsewhere.
These transactions had the appearance of legitimate business transactions when, in fact, the products had been purchased using the proceeds of fraud schemes.
Asante’s co-defendant in the case, Lord Aning, was previously sentenced to two years in prison on February 28, 2022.