The defendants – Nnamdi Chizuba Anisiobi, Anthony Friday Ehis, Kesandu Egwuonwu and "John Doe 1" – are accused of persuading victims into sending them more than $1.2 million in cash in exchange for a piece of an non-existent inheritance, according to a Justice Department statement.
The men were charged with eight counts of wire fraud, and one count each of mail fraud and conspiracy. Anisiobi additionally was charged with one count of bank fraud.
Anisiobi, Ehis and Egwuonwu are awaiting extradition to the United States after Dutch authorities arrested them Feb. 21, the statement said. Two of the men are Nigerian citizens who were living in the Netherlands. The fourth defendant, John Doe 1, whose aliases include Eric Williams, Lee, Chucks and Nago, remains at large.
"The defendants allegedly sent spam email to thousands of potential victims in which they falsely claim to have control of millions of dollars located in a foreign country that belongs to an individual with a terminal illness," the statement said. "The defendants allegedly solicited the help of the potential victims to collect and distribute the funds to charity."
The emails promised to provide the recipients with a piece of the inheritance if they helped, but only after they first wired fees to cover legal representation, taxes and bogus documentation, the statement said.
"We cannot allow these scam artists to prey on innocent victims in this country," U.S. Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher said, "and we will work across the globe to knock out these fraudulent get-rich-quick schemes."
U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf warned Americans to protect themselves against similar solicitations.
"Potential victims need to know that any email offering millions of dollars that requires they send money to receive this windfall is a scheme," she said. "Delete it."
The mail and wire fraud charges carry up to 20 years in prison, while the maximum sentence for bank fraud is 30 years. The conspiracy charge carries a five-year maximum sentence.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is assisting the investigation, the statement said.