A 13-count indictment has been filed in the United States District Court in Portland, Oregon, charging two men with the theft of 10.88 bitcoin (BTC) worth roughly $59,000 as part of an allegedly fraudulent investment scheme.
The development was announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon in a news release published by the Department of Justice on April 24.
The two men — whom the government believes received more than 50 BTC over the course of their operations — are both Nigerian nationals, and are identified as Onwuemerie Ogor Gift, 24, and Kelvin Usifoh, whose age is unknown to the authorities.
The case — investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by Quinn P. Harrington, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon — has resulted in charges against both men of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of money laundering and 11 counts of wire fraud.
Gidft and Usifoh are alleged to have purchased several domain names and used them to promote a scheme promising investors 20-50% returns on their bitcoin holdings, with zero risk and instant withdrawals.
According to the news release, the men actively encouraged their victims to transfer their bitcoin to private crypto wallets and falsely claimed they would be invested using unique trading methods and would maintain a constant high interest rate.
The scheme, which reportedly ran between December 2017 and June 2018, allegedly involved the men conspiring to defraud three victims — two California residents and one in Oregon:
“After receiving bitcoin transfers […] Gift and Usifoh would transfer the bitcoin to other accounts and eventually exchange it for Nigerian Naira. The indictment alleges that […] the defendants stole 10.88 bitcoins worth approximately $59,000 from the three victims. In total, the government alleges Gift and Usifoh received more than 50 bitcoins as part of the scheme.”
As local newspaper The Oregonian reported on April 24, federal authorities are reportedly yet to locate the two men and are thought likely to seek an Interpol red notice to help with their arrest.
On the same day, the Securities and Exchange Commission's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy issued an Investor Alert to warn the public against crypto-related investment scams involving websites touting advisory and trading businesses.
As reported earlier this month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. and other U.S. agencies have recently indicted a group of individuals for allegedly selling drugs and laundering millions of dollars with bitcoin.