The U. S. Central District Court in California has again postponed the sentencing of a Nigerian Instagram celebrity, Ramon Abass, popularly known as Hushpuppi, for the multi-million-dollar fraud charges he has pleaded guilty to.
Arrested in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate (UAE) in June 2020, and subsequently flown to the U.S., Hushpuppi pleaded guilty to the charges in July 2021 and was ordered to remain in custody pending sentencing.
Judge Otis Wright has fixed September 21 as the new sentencing date.
“At the request of counsel, the Sentencing is CONTINUED to 9/21/2022 at 1:30 PM before Judge Otis D. Wright II, as to Defendant Ramon Olorunwa Abbas,” the court’s announcement made June 24 read.
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The sentence hearing was initially moved by Judge Wright from February 14 to July 11 and has now been moved to September 21 at the counsel’s request.
Mr Abass, in July 2021 agreed to plead guilty to the multi-million-dollar fraud charges filed against him by the United States government.
He has been in custody since his arrest in Dubai and rendition to the U. S. in June 2020.
After initially maintaining his innocence, Mr Abass made a volte-face, entering into a plea bargain agreement with the U.S. government in July 2021, in the hope of getting a lighter punishment.
He pleaded guilty to Count Two which is “Conspiracy to Engage in Money Laundering,” an offence that attracts a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment among other punishments including full restitution, his plea agreement with the U.S. government states in part.
Despite pleading guilty, Mr Abass will not be exempted from paying restitution.
“Defendant understands that the defendant will be required to pay full restitution to the victim(s) of the offence to which the defendant is pleading guilty.
“Defendant agrees that, in return for the USAO’s compliance with its obligations under this agreement, the court may order restitution to persons other than the victim(s) of the offenses to which defendant is pleading guilty and in amounts greater than those alleged in the count to which defendant is pleading guilty,” the plea agreement seen by PREMIUM TIMES in July 2021 read.
The exact sentence to be imposed on Mr Abass remains unknown. However, provided Mr Abass “demonstrates an acceptance of responsibility for the offence up to and including the time of sentencing,” the prosecution said it recommends “a two-level reduction in the applicable Sentencing Guidelines offence level”.
“If necessary,” the prosecution adds, it may “move for an additional one-level reduction if available under that section.”
Not being an American citizen, he will be deported after completing his jail term and paying up the amount to be restituted.
The maximum penalty for the offence which Mr Abass hopes will be reduced at his sentencing include: “20 years’ imprisonment; a 3-year period of supervised release; a fine of $500,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greatest; and a mandatory special assessment of $100.”
Earlier in June 2020, the 38-year-old known for flaunting his opulent lifestyle on social media was arrested in Dubai by special agents including the Emerati police officers and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operatives.
The FBI stated in an affidavit obtained by PREMIUM TIMES that its investigations revealed that Mr. Abbas financed this extravagant lifestyle with proceeds of crime.
Details of offense
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California states in the agreement that beginning no later than on or about January 18, 2019, through on or about June 9, 2020, Hushpuppi “knowingly combined, agreed, and conspired with multiple other persons (“co-conspirators”) to conduct financial transactions into, within, and outside the United States involving property that represented the proceeds of wire fraud.”
The co-conspirators, according to USAO, targeted multiple victims and laundered and/or attempted to launder funds fraudulently obtained, and attempted to be fraudulently obtained, through
bank cyber-heists, business email compromise (BEC) frauds, and other fraud schemes.
The intended victims of the conspiracy were said to include a foreign financial institution (which was a bank in Malta), the victim’s law firm (located in New York State), and two companies located in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Abass was said to have known that “these fraudulent schemes included bank cyber-heists, BEC schemes, and other fraud schemes.”
A top Nigerian police officer, Abba Kyari, was later indicted over his role in facilitating the crime. He is awaiting the court’s ruling on the request for his extradition to face charges in the U. S.
The foreign financial institution (a bank in Malta) was an intended victim of a cyber-heist, while the other victims identified above were victims of BEC schemes.
In some BEC schemes involving victim companies in the United Kingdom, Mr. Abass was said to have with one co-conspirator on May 12, 2019, how they anticipated fraudulent payments of approximately £6 million per week.
“Once a victim deposited funds into a bank account, the defendant would coordinate with other co-conspirators to obtain or move the funds, and then to further launder the funds,” the U.S. government said.
In addition to admitting the defendant’s involvement in the schemes intending to defraud the victims listed above, Mr. Abass was also said to have admitted involvement in a scheme to defraud a victim company in Qatar that was building an international school (the Qatari Victim Company) and the owner of that company.
He was also said to have in December 2019, began conspiring with a co-conspirator to defraud the owner of the Qatari company “who was seeking a lender to invest $15,000,000 in a project to build an international school”.
Mr. Abass’ alleged co-conspirator was said to have already defrauded the victim of funds at the time that the defendant joined the scheme.
“Beginning on or around December 11, 2019, the defendant began to communicate with the Victim Businessperson, fraudulently using the name Malik,” it was stated.
As Malik, the prosecution said further, Huspuppi falsely told the victim that he would open a bank account in the United States where the $15,000,000 loan could initially be deposited.
“In truth, defendant and Coconspirator A did not intend to assist the Victim Businessperson in securing a loan; they were defrauding the Victim Businessperson,” the prosecution alleged.
Chiamaka Okafor is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe.