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Men posing as homeowners stole $3.3M from over 3,500 people in rental scheme, feds say

A pile of money. (Government Accountability Office)

Thousands of people were scammed out of $3.3 million while trying to move into homes listed for rent by men posing as real homeowners, federal prosecutors in Nevada said.

Norbert Ozemena Ikwuegbundo and Omoniyi Johnathan Omotere took on the identities of homeowners advertising houses for rent on Zillow and Facebook Marketplace as part of a nationwide rental property scheme, according to court documents.

While using the homeowners’ names and information, the men listed their houses for rent on Craigslist at a much lower price — and went on to steal from more than 3,500 potential renters who came across the advertisements, court documents say.

When the interested renters reached out to Ikwuegbundo and Omotere about moving into the homes, the men asked them to send money for the first and last months’ rent and had them sign fake rental agreements, according to prosecutors.

After the potential renters wired the duo the money, they never heard from the men again or received refunds — and their plans to move came to an abrupt stop, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo for Ikwuegbundo.

The scheme spanned across the country between 2018 and 2019, and all victims had a “similar story,” prosecutors said.

“Victims, excited to be moving out of state to take a new job or be closer to family, painstakingly saved the money to make the move.

“After Ikwuegbundo and the criminal enterprise stole their relocation money, many could not afford to move and lost their new job opportunities or missed reuniting with loved ones,” prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memo.

On Sept. 29, a judge sentenced Ikwuegbundo, 31, who lives in Las Vegas and is a citizen of Nigeria, to three years and eight months in prison after he previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and related charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada said in a news release.

He was also ordered to pay $2,223,124.69 in restitution to the people he defrauded, prosecutors said.

McClatchy News contacted a federal public defender representing Ikwuegbundo for comment on Oct. 2 and didn’t receive an immediate response.

One of his victims, a disabled U.S. military veteran whose plans to move to Cleveland were affected by the scheme, called Ikwuegbundo a “thieving criminal” in a statement ahead of his sentencing.

“You thought you could steal from people and disrupt or destroy mine and their dreams while you live yours off OUR MONEY!” the man said. “You have a lot to learn about the little people in this country; we are fighters.”

Omotere is set to appear in court for a jury trial scheduled for Feb. 5, court records show.

McClatchy News contacted his defense attorney for comment on Oct. 2 and didn’t receive an immediate response.

‘You will not be able to steal from anyone else’

After Ikwuegbundo and Omotere were accused of stealing the victims’ rent money, they laundered it by buying salvaged cars with titles in the U.S., according to prosecutors who said the men “then shipped to and sold the vehicles in Nigeria.”

The money from the car sales was deposited into their bank accounts, prosecutors said.

Ikwuegbundo told investigators that he directly stole $1.4 million from people in the scheme, according to his sentencing memo.

Instead of being “driven by desperation,” he was “driven by greed,” prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memo.

However, they acknowledged that Ikwuegbundo’s actions also stemmed from a “perceived need to financially provide for his siblings,” the sentencing memo says.

His federal public defender, Nisha Brooks-Whittington, wrote in a sentencing memo submitted on his behalf that he feels ashamed and remorseful and wants to “change his life for the better.”

As for the veteran who spoke out in court against Ikwuegbundo, his plans to move ultimately became a reality after his money was stolen, according to his statement.

“I thought I would not be able to move, but I did,” the man said. “I ended up in a place (unbeknownst to me) that I would bond with my family and meet people who were never (supposed) to be in my life.

“You thought you gave me lemons when you stole my money. But I am here to tell you, I made lemonade from the lemons you gave me. You will never break my dreams again and for the moment, you will not be able to steal from anyone else,” the man wrote.


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