Ray Hushpuppi: Instagram star sentenced to 11 years in prison for money laundering



CNN

A Nigerian social media influencer who flaunted a lavish lifestyle of private jets and luxury cars has been sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges related to a multi-million dollar scam targeting businesses in the United States and abroad.

Ramón Abbas, known to his millions of Instagram followers as Ray Hushpuppi, pleaded guilty in April of last year to conspiracy to engage in money laundering. In addition to the prison sentence handed down Monday, he was ordered by US District Judge Otis D. Wright II to pay $1.7 million in restitution to two fraud victims.

It is a spectacular fall for Abbas, 40, whose arrest in June 2020 on his golden perch in Dubai. It was news around the world. Prior to his sentencing, Abbas was in federal detention in Los Angeles, his once-flamboyant social media account going silent, despite gaining 500,000 new followers since his arrest.

In a handwritten letter to the judge in September, the only direct word from him since his arrest, Abbas detailed his two years in detention.

The three-page letter addresses the charges against Abbas and his remorse for it.

“Since being incarcerated, I have had enough time to reflect on the past and I am sorry to let greed ruin my family’s good name, my blessing and my name,” he wrote.

On social media, where Abbas had posted videos of himself throwing wads of cash like confetti, he referred to himself as a real estate developer. But federal investigators said he financed his extravagant lifestyle through online hacking schemes that netted more than $24 million.

His targets included an American law firm, a foreign bank and an unnamed British professional soccer club, among others, according to a federal sentencing memorandum from the US Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California.

“Business email compromise and money laundering scams are a massive international crime problem, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement and international partners to identify and prosecute those involved, wherever they may be,” said Martin Estrada, a lawyer from the United States.

Abbas’s September letter to Judge Wright detailed how his accomplices contacted him to identify businesses to defraud or request bank information to transfer fraudulently obtained funds.

His alleged cyber crimes involved staggering amounts of money.

Federal documents detailed how Abbas and a co-conspirator “fraudulently induced” a New York law firm to transfer nearly $923,000 earmarked for a client’s real estate refinancing to a bank account they controlled. A paralegal at the firm received fraudulent wire instructions after sending an email to what appeared to be a legitimate bank email address, but was later identified as a “spoofed” address.

In such a commercial email compromise scam, criminals mimic an email message or website to make their communication appear to be from a known source making a request, such as a money transfer.

Ramón Abbas told his millions of Instagram followers that he worked in real estate.

Abbas also confessed to a conspiracy to defraud a Qatari businessman of more than $1 million.

“The defendants allegedly falsified funding for a Qatari school by playing the role of bank officials and creating a fake website in a scheme that also bribed a foreign official to maintain the elaborate pretext after the victim was tipped off,” said the acting US Attorney. Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement last year.

Since his arrest, Abbas said, he has had time to reflect on his mistakes.

“Your Honor, I make no excuses for my actions and take full responsibility for what I have done,” he wrote in his letter. “If I could turn back the hand of time, I would make a completely different decision and be more careful about the choices and the friends I make.”

One of his co-conspirators pleaded guilty in November 2020 to one count of conspiracy to engage in money laundering. The also serving 11 years in federal prison and has to pay more than $30 million in restitution.

Federal investigators have described Abbas as a prolific money launderer who leveraged his social media platform to gain notoriety and flaunt his wealth.

Abbas, a Nigerian national based in Dubai, made no secret of his opulent lifestyle. Before his arrest, he called himself “Gucci billionaire teacher” on Snapchat.

“Started my day eating sushi at Nobu in Monte Carlo, Monaco, then decided to book a helicopter to have…facials at the Christian Dior spa in Paris and then ended my day sipping champagne at Gucci,” she wrote in a caption on Instagram at 2020.

Photos of him posing with multiple models of Bentley, Ferrari, Mercedes Benz and Rolls-Royce cars included the hashtag #AllMine. Others showed him rubbing shoulders with international sports stars and other celebrities.

In a 2020 affidavit, federal officials detailed how his social media accounts provided the necessary details to confirm his identity.

The account registration and security information associated with his Instagram profile, for example, included an email address and phone number. Federal officials accessed that information and were able to link the email and phone number to financial transactions and transfers with people the FBI believed to be his accomplices.

Even photos from Abbas’s Instagram birthday party aided the investigation.

One such post featured a birthday cake covered in a Fendi logo and a thumbnail image of Abbas surrounded by small shopping bags. Investigators used that post to verify the date of birth he had used on a previous US visa application.

In June 2020, investigators from the United Arab Emirates broke into Abbas’s apartment at the exclusive Palazzo Versace resort in Dubai, arrested him and handed him over to FBI agents.

Investigators at the scene seized nearly $41 million, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8 million, and phone and computer evidence, including email addresses, of nearly 2 million potential victims, police said. Dubai in a statement.

“Thank you, Lord, for the many blessings in my life. Keep shaming those who expect me to be shamed,” Abbas wrote in an Instagram photo of a Rolls-Royce just two weeks before his dramatic arrest.

The account has since been deleted.

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