Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Alabama
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, May 2, 2022
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Today, an Illinois man pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his participation in fraudulent business email compromise and account takeover schemes that targeted victims around the United States, including businesses in the Northern District of Alabama, announced U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr.
Adetona Lala, 38, of Country Club Hills, Illinois, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anna M. Manasco to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. As part of his plea agreement, the defendant also agreed to forfeit approximately $2,310,330.33. Lala’s guilty plea brings the total number of defendants who have pleaded guilty in the case to six.
According to court documents, from December 2017 through February 2020, Lala participated in a wide-ranging conspiracy that targeted dozens of victims with business email compromise, account takeover, and other fraud schemes. During the course of the conspiracy, Lala employed “field officers” who traveled across the country opening up fraudulent bank accounts designed to receive transfers from fraud victims. Many of these accounts were opened using fake names, false identification documents, and shell companies to avoid detection and hide the true identities of the members of the conspiracy controlling the accounts. This account-opening activity was planned and organized by Lala. He identified financial institutions for his co-conspirators to target, created shell companies used in the scheme, forged tax forms and utility bills that were used to open the fraudulent bank accounts, helped procure false identification documents from co-conspirators in Illinois and Nigeria, and facilitated his co-conspirators’ travel to financial institutions across the United States. Collectively, Lala and his co-conspirators attempted to defraud victims out of more than $9.5 million.
According to the plea agreement, after receiving proceeds from these fraud schemes, Lala and his co-conspirators moved the funds between accounts to disguise their origin and conceal their fraudulent nature and then either transferred the proceeds to accounts in Nigeria or used them to purchase cryptocurrency or automobiles that were shipped overseas.
The maximum punishment for conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud is 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000.00 fine. The maximum penalty for conspiracy to commit money laundering is 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the funds involved, whichever is greater.
The FBI investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edward J. Canter and Catherine L. Crosby are prosecuting the case. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Attorney General’s Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of Indiana, the Middle District of Georgia, and the Eastern District of Wisconsin provided assistance in the investigation.