Two Nigerians identified as Chinwendu Azuonwu and Basil Amadi are facing trial in Houston, after scamming a 63-year-old Texas woman of $100,000 in a romance scam.
The Nigerians made the woman believe she was dating pop star Bruno Mars, to commit the offence, also known as catfishing scam.
Catfishing is the act of creating a fictional persona online as a means of luring someone into a relationship.
This becomes a cyber crime when it is for the purpose of ripping them off either through taking out loans on their name or stealing their credit card data.
In a report by Mail Online, Azuonwu, 39, a resident of Houston, appeared in court on Tuesday accused of impersonating Mars on Instagram as part of the scam to swindle the victim out of her savings.
Azuonwu, charged with third-degree felony money laundering, was taken into custody this week, KPRC-TV reported.
In court documents, his co-conspirator was identified as Basil Amadi, 29.
The victim, a resident of North Richland Hills, Texas, told police that in 2018 she created a profile on Instagram ‘in search of companionship.’
She then made contact online with someone claiming to be Mars. During these interactions on Instagram and Google Hangouts, the woman told investigators that she ‘fell in love’ with the person she thought was Mars.
In addition, ‘Mars’ told the woman that he planned to quit his tour so that he can be with her.
The woman told police that she believed at the time that she was communicating with the 11-time Grammy Award winner after she received text messages showing Mars performing while he was on tour.
In September 2018, ‘Mars’ asked the woman to send him a $10,000 check to help cover touring expenses, according to police.
The woman agreed. She went to a local branch of the Wells Fargo bank in North Richland Hills and withdrew a cashier’s check made out to ‘Basil Chidiadi Amadi,’ a person described as a ‘friend of the band,’ according to authorities.
The woman deposited the check into an account at JPMorgan Chase.
Two days later, the woman was once again contacted by ‘Mars’ who asked for another $90,000, though he did not explain the reason.
The woman then returned to her bank and withdrew a cashier’s check that was made out to ‘Chi Autos’ – ‘at the request of “Mars”.’
The second check was deposited on September 14, 2018 into a separate bank account at JPMorgan Chase, according to investigators.
Investigators subpoenaed bank records and traced the two JPMorgan Chase accounts to Azuonwu and Amadi.
They then ran their names through the database of drivers license holders and found their pictures.
According to Harris County prosecutors, Azuonwu acknowledged that he was the owner of one of the bank accounts in question, though he denied ever knowing Amadi.
He also said he did not know how $90,000 was deposited into his account, according to the criminal complaint.
Amadi also told investigators that he did not know Azuonwu. He also could not explain the source of the $10,000 payment that appeared in his bank records.
Azuonwu’s bail was set at $30,000.
If convicted, each of them faces between two and 10 years in state prison.
The case against Azuonwu and Amadi: