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Members of “The Enterprise,” Hajia4Real’s “sakawa” empire, and how they were taken into custody

Ghanaian social media star Mona Faiz Montrage, also known as Hajia4Real, entered a guilty plea on Wednesday, February 21, 2024, in a $2 million romantic scam lawsuit in the United States of America (USA).

Hajia4Reall (L) has pleaded guilty in a $2 million romance scam by the ‘The Enterprise’

 

In announcing Hajia4Real’s guilty plea, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said that she was a member of “The Enterprise,” an infamous “sakawa” enterprise that operates in Ghana and West Africa.

However, “The Enterprise,” a cyber-fraud criminal ring that defrauded individuals out of $50 million, has already made headlines.

US officials declared in 2021 that they had taken several Ghanaians who belonged to the infamous gang into custody.

 

“The Enterprise” members and the manner of their arrest:

Investigative authorities in the USA declared in February 2021 that six Ghanaians, suspected of being members of “The Enterprise,” had been apprehended at various points in time and in several locations.

Farouk Appiedu, Fred Asante, Celvin Freeman, Lord Aning, Sadick Edusei Kissi, and Faisal Ali were among the gang members that were taken into custody.

The organisation carried out a number of romantic scams and business email hacks against people and companies across the United States between 2013 and 2020, which is when the operation that resulted in their arrest took place.

Following their apprehension in New Jersey on February 17, 2021, Freeman and Ali have subsequently made an appearance in a Manhattan federal court.

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Authorities said that Asante and Aning had been arraigned before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, Virginia, when they were likewise taken into custody on February 17, 2021, but in Virginia.

Appiedu was taken into custody in Queens, New York, on October 18, 2020. Conversely, Kissi was earlier taken into custody on February 5, 2020, in Fargo, North Dakota.

According to a portion of an official statement, The Enterprise has been involved in frauds such as business email hacks, romance scams, and fraud schemes pertaining to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

Four of the six suspects—Appiedu, Asante, Freeman, and Aning—were claimed to have collectively managed over 45 bank accounts with deposits during their operations.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations (IRS, CI) offices in New York carried out the operation. The Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit of the Office is in charge of prosecuting the case.

The workings of “The Enterprise”:
The primary goal of The Enterprise’s business email compromise fraud scheme was to use email accounts that “spoke,” or impersonated, employees of a victim company or third parties doing business with a victim company in order to trick and deceive businesses into wiring funds into accounts controlled by The Enterprise.

 

Second, ‘The Enterprise’ carried out the romance scams by sending electronic messages through online dating services, text messaging, or email to trick victims—many of whom were elderly, vulnerable individuals who lived alone—into thinking they were in a romantic relationship with someone they didn’t really know.

After the gang members had won the victims’ trust through the use of a false identity, they pretended to be someone else and got the victims to wire money to bank accounts they thought were owned by their love interests, but in reality, The Enterprise’s members were in control of those accounts.

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Ultimately, The Enterprise applied for false loans under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (“EIDL”) Programme, a loan programme run by the United States Small Business Administration (the “SBA”) that was created to help small businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The company filed false EIDL applications with the SBA under the names of real businesses, and when an EIDL loan was granted, the money ended up in bank accounts that were under the control of the enterprise’s members, some of whom were defendants.

Specifics of the cars that were retrieved:

The US government also announced the seizure and is requesting the forfeiture of four luxury cars that were at least partially bought with the proceeds of fraud as part of the investigation against one of the defendants, Farouk Appiedu.

 

Among the vehicles confiscated are a 2020 Bentley Continental GT, a 2020 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG, and two 2019 Rolls Royce Cullinans.

What US detectives have stated

“The fraud schemes alleged that these defendants facilitated were lucrative, diverse, and most importantly, callous,” stated Audrey Strauss, the U.S. Attorney for Manhattan. They allegedly applied for government-funded coronavirus assistance grants intended for small businesses impacted by the pandemic, participated in email spoofing, and tricked senior online daters into sending them money.

 

“Thanks to the determination of the IRS and FBI, these defendants face serious prison time, and their next online profiles could potentially appear in a place where they’ll be unable to catfish anymore – the website for the Bureau of Prisons.”

“The scams we allege in this investigation include romance scams targeting the elderly, business e-mail compromise scams, and even fraudulent COVID-19 relief loans,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. Victims of fraud are sometimes reluctant to come out in these and similar cases because they fear embarrassment or harm to their reputation.

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Some people might even think that since the offenders frequently reside overseas, they are unreachable. The FBI and our law enforcement allies are here to assist you and bring these gangs of criminals to justice, as these arrests and indictments should serve as a reminder.”

“The arrests of the alleged ringleaders of this more than $50 million scheme today dealt a death blow to the vast criminal activity in which the defendants were engaged, including elderly scams, COVID-19 fraud, and money laundering, among others,” stated IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen.

“Those who profit from illegal activity will continue to be aggressively pursued by IRS Criminal Investigation, and we will make sure they are brought to justice.”

Members of "The Enterprise," Hajia4Real's "sakawa" empire, and how they were taken into custody
Members of “The Enterprise,” Hajia4Real’s “sakawa” empire, and how they were taken into custody

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