Charles Emeka Obije, a U.S. citizen living in Duluth, Minnesota, has been sentenced to over a year in prison and ordered to pay restitution for his involvement in an online romance scam. The scam, which ran from 2016 to 2019, targeted women in Minnesota and other locations, defrauding them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Obije, along with accomplices in Nigeria, convinced victims to send funds for various purposes, such as legal fees, travel expenses, and inheritance claims. However, these were all lies designed to steal money from the victims.
Obije pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to commit international money laundering and was sentenced to a 14-month prison term by Judge Donovan Frank in U.S. District Court in St. Paul. In addition to the prison sentence, Obije has been ordered to pay back more than $355,000 to his victims. After his release, he will be on three years of supervised release.
Obije’s sister-in-law and co-conspirator, Ijeoma Miriam Chanthavong, also pleaded guilty to the same charge. She was sentenced in April to three years of probation and ordered to pay nearly $150,000 in restitution.
The scheme’s victims were defrauded of approximately $800,000 in total, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The FBI reported that in 2021, about 24,000 victims in the United States reported losing around $1 billion to romance scams, with many more losses likely going unreported. The Federal Trade Commission noted that losses attributable to romance scams increased from $720 million in 2020 to $1.3 billion in 2021.
Court documents revealed some of Obije’s victims, including a 71-year-old California woman who lost $21,800 and faced threats when she refused to send more money. Another victim, a 68-year-old Oregon woman, lost $250,000 and had to take out a second mortgage. Obije formed a company called Twin Ports Consulting, which received $66,000 from the Oregon woman, with $53,000 of that sum being transferred to Nigeria. The victim reported fearing for her life due to threats made by individuals involved in the scam.
Obije’s attorneys highlighted his community involvement and social work contributions in their defense. However, the court ultimately sentenced him to prison based on the severity of the crimes committed.