Nigerian Instagram star Ray Hushpuppi sentenced to 11 years in prison for money laundering



CNN

A Nigerian social media influencer who flaunted a lavish lifestyle of private jets and luxury cars has been sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges related to a multi-million dollar scam that targeted companies in the United States and abroad.

Ramon Abbas, known to his millions of Instagram followers as Ray Hushpuppi, pleaded guilty in April last year to conspiracy to engage in money laundering. In addition to the jail sentence handed down on Monday, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II ordered him to pay $1.7 million in restitution to two fraud victims.

It’s a dramatic fall for Abbas, 40, whose arrest in June 2020 at his golden perch in Dubai made headlines around the world. Before his sentencing, Abbas was held in federal custody in Los Angeles, his once flamboyant social media account went silent – despite gaining 500,000 new followers since his arrest.

In a handwritten letter to the judge in September — the only direct word from him since his arrest — Abbas detailed his two years in detention.

“Since being incarcerated I have had enough time to reflect on the past and I regret letting greed ruin my family’s good name, my blessing and my name,” he wrote.

On social media, where Abbas had posted videos of himself tossing wads of cash like confetti, he called himself a property developer. But federal investigators said he funded his extravagant lifestyle through online hacking schemes that earned him more than $24 million.

His targets included a US law firm, a foreign bank and an unnamed British professional soccer club, among others, according to a federal sentencing memorandum from the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

“Money laundering and business email compromise scams are a huge international crime problem, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement and international partners to identify and prosecute those involved, wherever they may be. are found,” said Martin Estrada, a U.S. attorney.

Abbas’ September letter to Judge Wright detailed how his co-conspirators contacted him to identify companies to defraud or request banking information to transfer fraudulently obtained funds.

His alleged cybercrimes involved jaw-dropping sums of money.

Federal documents detail how Abbas and a co-conspirator “fraudulently incited” a New York law firm to wire nearly $923,000 intended for a client’s home mortgage refinance to a bank account they controlled. A paralegal at the firm received fraudulent instructions after sending an email to what appeared to be a legitimate bank email address, but was later identified as a “spoofed” address.

In such a business email compromise scam, the criminals impersonate an email message or website to make their communication appear to be from a known source making a request such as a money transfer.

Ramon Abbas told his millions of Instagram followers that he worked in real estate.

Abbas also confessed to conspiring to defraud a Qatari businessman out of over $1 million.

“The defendants allegedly rigged the funding of a Qatari school by impersonating bank officials and creating a fake website as part of a scheme that also bribed a foreign official to maintain the pretense devised after the victim has been tipped off,” the acting U.S. attorney said. Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement last year.

Since his arrest, Abbas said, he has had time to reflect on his mistakes.

“Your Honor, I make no apologies for my actions and take full responsibility for what I have done,” he wrote in his letter. “If I could go back in time, I would make a totally different decision and be more careful about the choices and the friends I make.”

One of his co-conspirators pleaded guilty in November 2020 to one count of conspiracy to engage in money laundering. He is also serving 11 years in federal prison and must pay more than $30 million in restitution.

Federal investigators described Abbas as a prolific money launderer who leveraged his social media platform to gain notoriety and boast of his wealth.

A Nigerian national based in Dubai, Abbas made no secret of his opulent lifestyle. Prior to his arrest, he was called the “Billionaire Gucci Master” on Snapchat.

“I started my day with sushi at Nobu in Monte Carlo, Monaco, then I decided to book a helicopter to have… facials at the Christian Dior spa in Paris, then I ended my day with champagne at Gucci,” he wrote in a photo caption on Instagram in 2020.

Abbas has ostensibly flaunted his wealth on Instagram.

Photos of him posing with several Bentley, Ferrari, Mercedes Benz and Rolls-Royce car models included the hashtag #AllMine. Others showed him hanging out with international sports stars and other celebrities.

In a 2020 affidavit, federal officials detailed how his social media accounts provided the details needed to confirm his identity.

The account registration and security information associated with his Instagram profile, for example, included an email address and phone number. Federal officials accessed this information and were able to link the email and phone number to financial transactions and transfers with people the FBI believed to be its co-conspirators.

Even photos from Abbas’s birthday party on Instagram helped the investigation.

One such post displayed a birthday cake topped with a Fendi logo and a miniature image of Abbas surrounded by tiny shopping bags. Investigators used this message to verify the date of birth he had used on a previous US visa application.

In June 2020, UAE investigators broke into Abbas’s apartment in the exclusive Palazzo Versace complex in Dubai, arrested him and handed him over to FBI agents.

Investigators at the scene seized nearly $41 million, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8 million, and phone and computer evidence, including email addresses of nearly 2 million potential victims , Dubai Police said in a statement.

“Thank you, Lord, for the many blessings in my life. Keep shaming those waiting for me to be shamed,” Abbas captioned an Instagram photo of a Rolls-Royce just two weeks before his dramatic arrest.

The account has since been deleted.

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