Two fraudsters who convinced a pensioner she had won a £5.7m lottery jackpot before conning her out of her life-savings were jailed for a total of 50 months today.
Joshua Obasuyi, 49, and Julius Oweka, 48, were part of a Nigerian gang who tricked U.S. Professor Marie Lowery, 80, a retired lecturer at the University of Houston, Texas, into handing over £245,000.
She was strung along by the London-based conmen for nearly four years, after responding to a spam e-mail that told her she had won the jackpot in a prize draw.
Obasuyi and Oweka were caught in May 2009 in police sting operation following a tip-off from the FBI.
Detectives found more than £66,000 duped from Lottery Winners around the world had been paid into a bank account at the Nat West in Grays, Essex.
Judge Rosamund Horwood-Smart QC jailed Obasuyi for 30 months and Oweka for 20 months at the Old Bailey, telling them that they were obviously well-versed in this type of scam.
She said.‘You were both involved in fraudulent activities with others, and there is evidence of more than one victim,’.
In view of Prof Lowery, who was of course vulnerable, she was taken advantage of over many years – remorselessly and without mercy.
‘This type of fraud takes advantage of the hopes, dreams and gullibility of others, and is very common and very harmful to our society.’
The court heard that in April 2005, Prof Lowery received an e-mail claiming to be from the fictitious Great British Lottery, in which she was congratulated for winning a £5.7m jackpot.
She initially agreed to pay £180 to process her winnings, and later complied with a string of demands for greater sums to be transferred via Western Union.
Throughout the scam, she was presented with bogus certificates and court documents in an effort to convince her that the arrangement was legitimate.
In November 2008, Prof Lowery was e-mailed by a man calling himself Chris Ascuncion, who told her he was a claims attorney acting on behalf of the lottery company and asked for even more money to be transferred.
After beginning to suspect that she was being defrauded, she passed the e-mail on to the FBI – who immediately recognised the scammers’ methods.
She arranged with the gang to fly to London and hand over the latest payment, £3,996 in person.
Detectives from the City of London police then tapped her phone as she spoke with Obasuyi and agreeing to meet at the Crown Plaza Hotel, near Blackfriars Bridge, central London, on May 20, 2009.
Officers pounced at the meeting and were led to Oweka through his contact with Obasuyi.
They later raided the gang’s office in Croydon, south London, where they found a treasure trove of kit used to carry out the frauds – including a locked briefcase containing bundles of paper with a thin layer of real US dollars on top.
Anthony Wilcken, prosecuting, said computer evidence found at the unit showed they had targeted hundreds of other people, whose telephone numbers and computer passwords were recorded.
‘This was undoubtedly part of the fraudster’s kit,’ he said.
‘The documents relating to frauds of that sort were manifest and numerous.’
None of the money Prof Lowery passed on has been recovered.
Obasuyi, from Plaistow, east London, admitted conspiracy to defraud, and two counts of acquiring criminal property.
Oweka, from Croydon, south London, denied conspiracy to defraud, two counts of acquiring criminal property and possessing an article for use in fraud, but was found guilty on all charges following a trial.