A Chicago resident who fled the country after being charged in connection with a multimillion-dollar “romance fraud” scheme has been sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison.
A U.S. district judge in Chicago on Wednesday sentenced Olaniyi Nasiru Ojikutu, 39, to 88 months in prison after he pleaded guilty last year to a count of wire fraud. He and nine others were charged as part of “Operation Gold Phish” — an investigation into cyber scams that primarily targeted elderly victims.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Ojikutu and others built trust with victims and convinced them to send money after contacting them for romantic relationships over dating sites such as Match.com, Facebook and Instagram.
As a result, some victims lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Federal prosecutors said that over a three-year period, Ojikutu transferred approximately $3.4 million in fraudulently obtained funds into two dozen separate bank accounts opened under his own name or another fake name.
Ojikutu then used those funds for his own personal benefit, including to purchase vehicles in the U.S. and ship them to Nigeria for resale, prosecutors said.
Ojikutu and eight of the other people arrested as part of “Operation Gold Phish” have pleaded guilty, though the alleged ringleader — 35-year-old Daniel Samuel Eta, of Skokie — has pleaded not guilty.
The FBI estimates that approximately 24,000 people lost more than $956 million in romance scams in 2021 alone. Anyone looking to report a suspected romance fraud can file a report through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.