LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Nigerian man who used the moniker "Ray Hushpuppi" to flaunt his wealth on social media was sentenced to 135 months in federal prison for laundering money for several international fraud schemes.
Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, 40, was also ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution to two victims of the fraud schemes, a New York law firm and a Qatari company. He has also been implicated in a conspiracy to launder money stolen through a cyberheist of a Maltese bank for the North Korean government, although the Justice Department said there was no evidence Abbas knew it would be on the behalf of North Korea.
At Monday's sentencing hearing in Los Angeles, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II wasn't persuaded by Abbas' argument that he was a straight-up businessman who only got involved with money laundering schemes because he was in a desperate financial straits at the time and because he was approached by others to help out even though he had no experience with money laundering.
"I don't understand why people kept coming back to you to launder money for them if you didn't know anything about money laundering," the judge told Abbas during the 2 1/2-hour hearing.
Authorities arrested Abbas two years ago in Dubai and implicated him in at least four cases of opening, or plotting to open, bank accounts around the world, including in Bulgaria, Romania, Mexico and Dubai, to deposit funds obtained through various fraud schemes. He pleaded guilty last year to one count to conspiracy to engage in money laundering.
From his ill-gotten gain, prosecutors said, Abbas bought himself a $230,000 Richard Mille watch, which he transported from New York to Dubai and which he showed off to his more than 2 million followers on Instagram, as well as a St. Kitts and Nevis passport.
"I'd like to apologize to the victims," Abbas said at the hearing. "I'm very, very sorry."
Although Abbas said he'll repay the victims in full, the judge said that was just "conservation" because he has failed to pay back anything so far. According to Abbas's lawyer, Louis Shapiro, the Nigerian's luxury cars, including two Rolls Royces, were confiscated by the police in Dubai when he was arrested, and the value of his vehicles would be enough to cover the restitution payments if they were forfeited to the Justice Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Khaldoun Shobaki scoffed at Abbas' claims of being lured into money laundering because of financial difficulties, pointing out that he bought a $230,000 watch with his cut. Abbas didn't make a fortune as a social media influencer, according to Shobaki, but used the money he acquired through his criminal activity to support the flashy lifestyle he flaunted on social media.
"This isn't some babe in the woods," Shobaki said. "He was involved in money laundering on a daily basis — that's why people were coming back to him."
The 135-month sentence conformed to the government's request.
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