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ST. PAUL, Minn. – Two Nigerian nationals have been sentenced to prison, probation, and owe over $500,000 in restitution for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from victims in romance fraud schemes, announced United States Attorney Andrew M. Luger.

According to court documents, beginning in 2016 through 2019, Charles Emeka Obije, 41, used fictitious identities to contact victims throughout the United States, including Minnesota, via email, social media, and online dating applications. Obije pursued these romantic relationships online with the intent of using the relationships to defraud his victims. Obije’s sister-in-law and co-conspirator, Ijeoma Miriam Chanthavong, 36, helped launder the financial proceeds of these schemes. Together, they conspired to transfer the proceeds of the online romance fraud scams to bank accounts under their control in Nigeria. In total, the victims were defrauded of approximately $800,000.

Obije, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit international money laundering, was sentenced on September 13, 2023, by Senior Judge Donovan W. Frank to 14 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay $356,671.00 in restitution. Chanthavong also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit international money laundering and was sentenced on April 19, 2023, to three years of probation and ordered to pay $148,500.00 in restitution. 

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by IRS Criminal Investigations, Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William C. Mattessich prosecuted the case.