News and Views
Nigerian Champagne fraudster nicknamed Fizzy jailed for conning pensioners – ‘£30m’ lottery scam
A fraudster nicknamed Fizzy for his love of champagne who conned £30 million from up to 400 victims was jailed for eight years at the Old Bailey.
For seven years Frank Onyeachonam, 38, ran the UK operation of a global scam which was orchestrated from his native Nigeria.
He extracted anything from £2,000 to £600,000 from the life savings of vulnerable pensioners to fund his millionaire’s lifestyle by persuading them to send him money to release “winnings” from a bogus lottery.
He loved to be photographed surrounded by cash and champagne bubbly in West End nightclubs, drove Porsches and Maseratis and filled his Thames-side flat with Gucci, Armani and Louis Vuitton.
Onyeachonam was convicted of conspiracy to defraud.
Lawrencia Emenyonu, 38, and Bernard Armah, 51, both of Wood Green, were found guilty of money laundering and jailed for 18 months and eight months respectively.
Sentencing Judge Rebecca Poulet QC described Onyeachonam as having “arrogance that’s unbelievable” and the victims suffering “great hardship.”
“The evidence against you was so strong it is almost preposterous at times that you should suggest it was not your responsibility,” she said.
“Yours was the leading role in the fraud. It was a very well thought out operation, sophisticated in its planning and execution .
“It persisted with you at the helm for eight years. You targeted individuals because they were elderly and likely to agree and be tricked by these scams.
“The harm you caused was not only high in terms of the financial losses to your victims but in the dreadful impact you had on their lives and in terms of their mental capacity and relationships with their families.”
Their simple plan – known as an advance fee fraud – involved Onyeachonam sending emails announcing that each victim had won millions of pounds on a non-existent Australian lottery and requesting a charge to release their winnings.
The court heard that investigators had traced 14 victims – mainly from the US but including one from Britain – who were defrauded of a total of around £900,000.
But detectives believe the true figure is considerably higher.
Although Onyeachonam was the key figure in the UK, a co-conspirator abroad was arrested with the details of more than 100,000 potential victims.
Cash: a photograph Onyeachonam took on his phone (Picture: NCA) Onyeachonam started the scam soon after arriving in the UK in 2005 and continued – even on bail after his arrest in 2011 – to 2012.
He was finally trapped in a three-year operation by the National Crime Agency assisted by the US authorities.
Steve Brown, senior officer in the NCA’s cyber-crime unit, said Onyeachonam’s victims were selected from a database known as a “suckers list” of susceptible targets which he had marked with ranking s such as “cripple” or “elderly” or just “poor”.
“Victims were sent an email from an alias used by Onyeachonam saying they had won an Australian lottery,” he said.
“They would be directed to ring him and he would say ‘if you send me money I will then release your lottery funds’.”
“Once they’ve got their claws into someone they won’t stop. As long as they keep sending them money they will keep going until there’s nothing left.”
Mr Brown said the scam had inflicted a “mental wreck” on the victims, stripping their life’s savings, forcing them to sell their homes and leaving them isolated from their friends and families.
Emails showed victims pleaded with Onyeachonam to send them money to pay for healthcare, while some died before he could be brought to justice.
One victim described how the scam made her feel like she had been “raped over and over again”.
Onyeachonam was the key figure in the “UK nexus” of an international enterprise run by a mastermind or “chairman” of the network who is based in Lagos and under investigation by the African authorities.