Part One: Investigation exposes deceptive misinformation by U.S. prosecutors and FBI agents in the indictment and prosecution of Nigerians

While the common perception of the U.S. justice system is that it is fair and just; the evidence found by this investigation reveals the exact opposite. Also, based on this investigation, it appears that there are two justice systems in the U.S., one that applies to whites, and one that applies to racial minorities — especially blacks.

The investigation uncovered numerous instances of real life cases portraying the most egregious forms of injustices in the U.S., take the following examples:

-- Court exonerates black man after 42 years in prison: Kevin Strickland, an African American male from Missouri, was wrongfully convicted of a triple homicide (murder) in 1978 and imprisoned in 1979 at age 18. He has been exonerated and released after 42 years in Missouri prison. The National Registry of Exonerations’ data logged since 1989 reveals this as the 17th longest wrongful sentence in U.S. history. (BBC News)

-- Court dismisses case against 4 black men after 72 years in prison: In another example of racial injustice, the case of the Groveland Four, four black men accused in a 1949 rape in Florida, has been dismissed after 72 years in prison. A circuit court judge in Lake County has cleared the charges against the men and issued a ruling that effectively exonerated them of the crime. "We followed the evidence to see where it led us, and it led us to this moment," Gladson said at a news conference following the judge's decision. (NBC News)

-- Manhattan District Court to exonerate alleged killers of Malcom X after 55 years in prison: Yes, the two men, Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, convicted in 1966 for allegedly killing Malcolm X, will be exonerated by the Manhattan District Court. Their exoneration, after discovering grave errors in the case, is coming from a 22-month investigation conducted jointly by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers for the two men. They found that prosecutors and two of the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department — had withheld key evidence that, had it been turned over, would likely have led to the mens’ acquittal. (NYTimes)

-- Jury awards man who has spent 26 years in prison $6m after finding police fabricated evidence: A Federal jury has awarded a North Carolina man, Darryl Howard, $6 million after a jury in Winston-Salem found former Durham police detective Darryl Dowdy fabricated evidence in the case and trial that resulted in Howard’s conviction in 1995 of killing a woman and her daughter in 1991. Howard was sent to prison for more than 20 years. In 2017, Howard filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that accused Dowdy, the city of Durham and others, of actions that resulted in his being wrongfully convicted and the Durham County judge vacated Howard’s convictions citing police and prosecutorial misconduct. (US News)

The common denominator with these examples is that all the victims of these grave injustices are black. Also, the common thread in these examples is that the evidence against the victims was generally insufficient to convict them. In other words, according to publicly available information, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that in the U.S., justice system there is a perpetuation of scapegoating innocent people. In fact, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, since 1989, nearly 3,000 people that were wrongfully convicted, have been exonerated. “About half of them are black, 35% White and 12% Hispanic.”

While the scourge of wrongfully accusing and convicting innocent individuals of crimes they did not commit, and the disparities between the treatment of whites on the one hand and racial minorities on the other is mostly unacknowledged by authority figures in the U.S.; the author was surprised to find that Judge John T. Fowlkes Jr., United State District Judge for the Western District of Tennessee — the same district where Abegunde was indicted and prosecuted — had raised concerns in court, that were amplified in news reports, that prosecutors in the Western District of Tennessee bring harsher charges against black defendants than white defendants for similar crimes.
Judge Fowlkes also raised concerns about racial discrimination — by prosecutors in the Western District of Tennessee — in at least three different cases.

This is the comprehensive story of the indictment, prosecution, and conviction of a Nigerian citizen, Olufolajimi Abegunde, in the U.S., without evidence of wrongdoing — as established by the investigation.

According to court records, as well as a large trove of discovery documents reviewed by the author, Abegunde relocated to the U.S. from Nigeria in 2014 to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree at Texas A & M University in College Station, Texas. Upon graduating with the class of 2016, and recognizing opportunities in the remittances industry, Abegunde incorporated FJ Williams Inc. doing business As (DBA) TranzAlert. The investigation found that TranzAlert, a financial technology startup was duly licensed and registered with all the extant industry regulatory bodies including the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN), U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). According to court records, these licenses and registrations permitted TranzAlert to engage in the currency exchange, and international remittance business.

According to publicly available financial regulatory documents that were reviewed in the course of the investigation, obtaining these licenses — that TranzAlert received from the regulatory agencies — requires rigorous actions and uncommon resources both in the U.S. and Nigeria.

The beginning of Abegunde’s travails

According to court records, Abegunde’s travails began in August 2016 when his longtime friend Ayodeji Ojo visited the U.S. from Nigeria along with his pregnant wife and infant daughter. Ojo and his family were accommodated by Abegunde at his home in Atlanta, Georgia. In an interview, Ojo said at the time of the visit, he had a wholly legitimate check of $26,900 that was issued to him by Bank of America. Ojo intended to cash the check and utilize the funds for expenses associated with his family’s trip, including medical expenses related to his pregnant wife.

According to Ojo, after being unsuccessful in his attempts to cash the check at multiple Bank of America branches — due to the relatively large size of the check — he was advised by a Bank of America banker to open a new bank account at another bank, let the check go through the clearing process, and then the funds would become available to Ojo.
Ojo said he chose Wells Fargo bank, and at Wells Fargo, he was told that he was required to provide a valid identification document, and contact information for correspondence in the form of a U.S. mailing address and a U.S. mobile phone number. “I informed the Wells Fargo banker that I was a visitor in the U.S. and did not have a U.S. mailing address and a U.S. mobile phone number. After asking, the banker accepted that I could use Abegunde’s address and mobile phone number to open the account.”.

According to court records, the bank account was opened on August 29, 2016, and Ojo was able to access the funds two days after without any challenges.

The investigation found that after an approximately three week stay in the U.S. which involved staying in Abegunde’s home, and travelling to other states, Ojo and his family returned to Lagos, Nigeria via Amsterdam, Netherlands on September 16, 2016 flying with Air France flight No KL0587 Resa, operated by KLM Royal Duch Airlines.

According to Ojo, about the first week of October 2016, he needed to exchange some Nigerian Naira currency for the United States Dollar currency. As such, he contacted an informal vendor — Leke Adenuga, who after agreeing on the exchange rate, requested that Ojo provide his U.S. bank account for the deposit of the agreed upon U.S. Dollar amount of $9,000. The transaction was consummated, and Ojo eventually received the $9,000 in his Wells Fargo bank account that he had provided Leke Adenuga.

On October 11, 2016 around one month after Ojo had departed the U.S.; around two months after Ojo had opened the account at Wells Fargo bank; and two months after Ojo accessed the proceeds of the wholly legitimate $26,900 check; according to court records, Brian Ancona, an investigator with Wells Fargo bank called Abegunde on his mobile phone — the same mobile phone number Ojo had utilized to open Ojo’s Wells Fargo bank account — stating that a certain Luis Ramos Alonso had inadvertently deposited $9,000 into Ojo’s bank account, and was seeking a reversal of the $9,000 deposit. According to court records, Abegunde told Ancona that the account owner was in Nigeria, and attempted a three-way call to connect Ancona with Ojo. The effort was however unsuccessful. Ojo eventually called Abegunde back, and after Abegunde conveyed Ancona’s urgent message regarding the reversal, Ojo immediately agreed and authorized the reversal of the $9,000 deposit. When Ancona called Abegunde back, Abegunde conveyed Ojo’s agreement authorizing the reversal, and Ancona expressed his profound gratitude for Abegunde’s cooperation in achieving the reversal.

At trial, Brian Ancona confirmed that his phone call resulted in the reversal of the $9,000 that was deposited into Ojo's Bank account.  Under cross examination  at Abegunde 's trial,  Abegunde's attorney asked Brian Ancona "And you placed that call to that telephone number... based on the content of that call, it ended up with a reversal of the deposit that had been in that account, correct?" In response,  Brian Ancona said "Yes" (See Document 353: Brian Ancona testimony, March 12, 2019, Page ID 3029). Brian Ancona further said "Mr. Ojo did not protest when I asked if he will return the funds.” (See Document 353: Brian Ancona testimony, March 12, 2019, Page ID 3030).
Pressing further, Abegunde's attorney asked Ancona "And based on the information, based on your inquiry, the money was immediately told to be paid back to the person for whatever purpose, right?” In response, Ancona said "within a short period of time, yes.” (See Document 353: Brian Ancona testimony, March 12, 2019, Page ID 3032). Brian Ancona's testimony at Abegunde's trial establishes that Ojo did not hesitate to authorize the reversal of the funds when he became aware that the $9,000 deposit was inadvertent.

In a prison interview with Abegunde, he said he thought at the time that he had engaged in a noble act, and the chapter was closed. Abegunde further said he was however taken aback when early in the morning of March 15, 2017, two FBI agents — Kevin Hall, and Tyson Fowler of the Atlanta Field Division of the FBI — visited his home to inquire about Ojo. According to Abegunde, one of the agents pulled out a copy of Ojo’s Nigerian passport data page, and asked if Abegunde knew the bearer of the passport data page. Abegunde said he confirmed to the agents that Ojo was a longtime friend who he had accommodated during Ojo’s visit to the U.S. in August 2016. Abegunde also said he confirmed to the agents that he had granted Ojo permission to utilize his address and mobile phone number to open a bank account with Wells Fargo bank for the reason that Ojo resides in Nigeria and neither had a U.S. address nor a U.S. mobile phone number. According to court records, as well as the report prepared by the agents, Abegunde and the agents engaged in wide ranging convivial discussions about Abegunde’s remittances business and fraud in general. In these discussions Abegunde vehemently and categorically condemned all forms of fraud.

According to excerpts of the report prepared by the agents regarding their discussions with Abegunde, “Abegunde reported that he was friends with Ayodeji Ojo and that Ojo was a Nigerian banker. Abegunde advised that he was not aware of Ojo’s involvement with transferring money to Nigeria or whether Ojo knew people in California or Texas. Abegunde stated that Ojo was a person with integrity and would not participate in fraud schemes. Abegunde advised that he had spoken with Ojo regarding FJ Williams becoming a money transfer business. Abegunde needed a Nigerian banker to help get a license with the Central Bank of Nigeria. He was trying to make FJ Williams a competitor against Western Union. Abegunde stated that that FJ Williams complied with applicable U.S. anti-money laundering and ‘know your customer’ regulations. According to Abegunde, FJ Williams offered an online wire transfer service that eliminated the need for physical store locations. Abegunde was aware of the extent of fraudulent activity that occurred in Nigeria and condemned it. In Nigeria there was a black market currency exchange that offered better rates than the Central Bank of Nigeria. A Nigerian that needed U.S. currency contacted a seller and paid him in Naira. The seller than contacted an associate in the U.S. who had obtained U.S. currency from U.S. citizens by false information. The associate then deposited the U.S. currency into the Nigerian's U.S. bank account. The Nigerian used the money to pay for things like medical bills. Abegunde was convinced that only the person who first obtained U.S. currency by false information was committing fraud.”

The report prepared by the FBI agents further states that “On the same day, Ojo contacted the case agents and advised that Abegunde had let him know that the agents had stopped by his residence. Ojo stated that he had used Abegunde’s address to open a Wells Fargo Bank account, but not for anything else. Ojo reported that he was not in a business relationship with Abegunde. Ojo would bring things like food to Abegunde from Nigeria. According to Ojo, Abegunde had asked for help with getting a money transmitter license in Nigeria. Ojo reported that he visited the United States for vacations and he was recently in the United States for the birth of his child in El Paso, Texas. Ojo needed U.S. currency to pay for the birth which he received from Leke Adenuga via a wire transfer into his Wells Fargo account from Javier Alonso; however, the bank took the money back and closed Ojo’s account. Ojo advised that he had made similar transactions in the past to pay for medical treatments for his wife. Ojo acknowledged that he had sent money from the U.S. to Nigeria several times in amounts around $10,000, but he did not have details. Ojo stated the money was left over from vacations.”

According to Abegunde, with the benefit of hindsight, two questions by the agents stood out, and should have raised thunderous alarm bells. The questions were asked by agent Tyson Fowler. The first was “How is it that you can afford a place like this.” and the second was “why do you Nigerians like to defraud we Americans.” Also, according to Abegunde, after the second question, Kevin Hall appeared to have an adverse reaction to the question and Fowler ceased going further.

According to court’s record, Abegunde offered the agents his full cooperation by providing them Ojo’s contact information. Furthermore, as we have seen, according to the reports prepared by the agents, Abegunde also ensured that Ojo contacted the agents’ shortly after they departed Abegunde’s home.

According to Abegunde, his decision to hospitably open his doors to the FBI agents, and engage in unfiltered innocent discussion with them — in the absence of competent legal representation — is what led to his undoing.
"In my idealistic naivity, I was merely attempting to make the Agent understand that my business – FJ Williams Inc. – and the FBI had a shared interest in the prevention and elimination of fraud. That is why I told them I ‘was aware of the extent of fraudulent activity that occurred in Nigeria and condemned it.’ Remember, I spoke with Brian Ancona of Wells Fargo just five months prior, and that experience was fresh in my memory. Also, don’t forget that there was a financial crisis in Nigeria around that time, and the Government had stopped providing U.S. Dollars through official channels. So people and businesses that needed U.S. Dollars had no choice but to access U.S. Dollars through informal channels; which is a fancy way of saying the black market, in Nigeria." Abegunde went on "Now consider this, you are in Nigeria, and you need to pay hospital bills in the U.S.; you come across an informal vendor who agrees to sell you U.S. Dollars, and deposit the said U.S. Dollars into your U.S. bank account. I told the agent that there is absolutely no expectation for such a buyer to know the sources of the seller’s funds. I also insisted that if indeed the funds to be deposited into the said U.S. bank account were fraudulently obtained, there is no mechanism available for the buyer to know this. I also vehemently stressed that the buyer – that does not know that the said funds were illicitly obtained – cannot be said to have committed fraud; and that only people that obtain funds fraudulently, and people that undoubtedly know that the funds were obtained illegally are guilty of fraud. What is wrong with that explanation? When you buy dollars from Mallams [black market vendors] in Nigeria, do you ask them where they got the U.S. Dollars from?"
Abegunde continued "I plead with you, go and read the transcript of Agent Kevin Hall’s testimony at trial. He confirmed that I was more informed than him about the remittances business. He also confirmed that I condemned all forms of fraud. Please check the transcript. "
Abegunde concluded by saying "I have been locked up for more than four years because of a harmless conversation with FBI Agents I opened my doors to, welcomed into my home, and fully cooperated with; and also because I granted a long time friend – a man with an unblemished reputation – permission to use my address and phone number to open a bank account. "

Court records of proceedings at Abegunde’s trial confirmed Abegunde’s claims. Under cross examination by Abegunde’s attorney, FBI Special Agent Kevin Hall was asked "And at the time you said, as you’re talking to Mr. Abegunde, he seemingly had known more about the buying and selling of currency than you did, right? " Agent Hall replied by saying, "that’s correct. " Among other questions, Abegunde’s attorney asked Agent Hall "And Mr. Abegunde was abundantly clear that he’s never directed anybody to put money in any account; and he thinks that might be fraud if it’s taken from somebody inappropriately, right? Let me rephrase the question. Mr. Abegunde told you that fraud is deplorable, right? " In response, Agent Hall said "Yes, he did. " (See Document 353: Special Agent Kevin Hall Testimony, March 12, 2019, PageID 3204)

As we have also seen, Ojo immediately contacted the agents when Abegunde informed him that his attention was required by the agents. According to Ojo, upon calling the agents’ they made him realize that the objective of their seeking his attention had to do with the $9,000 deposit in Ojo’s account, six months prior, in October 2016. In an interview, Ojo said “I called them [Tyson Fowler and Kevin Hall] through the telephone and we spoke at length. They told me they would reach out to me if they have any further questions.”

As we have seen, the statement prepared by the agents’ confirm that Ojo explained the origins of the $9,000 transaction. Ojo told them that he had paid a certain Leke Adenuga — at an agreed upon exchange rate — the Nigerian Naira equivalent of $9,000, and that Leke Adenuga facilitated the $9,000 deposit into Ojo’s Wells Fargo bank account.

At trial, FBI Special Agent, Kevin Hall corroborated the fact that Ojo persistently called shortly after they departed Abegunde's home. Under direct examination at Abegunde's trial, the prosecutor asked Agent Kevin Hall "Approximately how soon after the visit did he [Ojo] call?" In response, Agent Hall said "The address [Abegunde's address] is located maybe fifteen minutes from our office. As we left, we left our business cards and asked Mr. Abegunde,  if he had contact with Mr. Ojo, to go ahead and have him call us. By the time we left his apartment and went straight back to our office, both myself and the other agent had multiple missed calls on each one of our phones; and then as I was standing at my desk, reviewing the phone calls, another phone calls came in. The person who answered the phone identified himself as Mr. Ojo." The prosecutor then asked "And what if anything, was discussed?" Agent Hall responded by saying "I asked him about the Bank of America account, the use of the 1014 Brookwood Valley Circle address, and whether or not he had participated in any fraudulent wire transactions." The prosecutor followed up with the question "Did you learn anything?" Agent Hall then responded by saying "Yes, he said that he indeed used the address to open a bank account, the purpose of which was to receive some money, approximately $20,000. He said that he did get the $20,000; but the bank who sent the money immediately sent the money back, returned the funds, and closed the account." (See Document 353: Special Agent Kevin Hall testimony, March 12, 2019, Page ID 3195-3196)

Regarding whether Ojo had any prior existing relationship with Luis Ramos Alonso, Ojo vehemently stated that “I have never met Alonso. I did not know Alonso from anywhere. I did not speak to Alonso because I have never met him or had any business deal with him. The unfortunate $9,000 deposit by the said Alonso was made on 6th October, 2016 and reversal was done on 14th October, 2016 and the account was closed on that date.”

According to Ojo, in his discussion with the FBI agents, he committed to sending them — via email — Leke Adenuga’s contact information. According to a date and time stamped email provided by Ojo, that was reviewed and authenticated by the author, Ojo indeed sent the FBI agents an email with the subject line ‘‘investigation” to on Thursday, March 16, 2017. The email reads: “Good day Kevin, my name is Ayodeji Ojo from Nigeria. We spoke as it regards illegal money transfer, kindly find below the details of the person that I bought money from Leke Adenuga +2348******677.”

According to Abegunde, throughout his engagement with the FBI agents, they never mentioned Alonso or the $9,000 transaction. Abegunde said he only became aware of the underlying cause of the agents visit when Ojo relayed to him the contents of Ojo’s discussion with the agent. As we have seen, the report prepared by the agents’ corroborates these facts.

The investigation found that unknown to Abegunde and Ojo, on August 24, 2017, Assistant United States attorney Debra Ireland of the Western District of Tennessee in Memphis — without any further investigation; without reaching out to Abegunde or Ojo for any clarifications and without reaching out to Leke Adenuga whose contact information had been provided — conveyed a grand jury and without any evidence of actions that rise to the level of crimes, Abegunde and Ojo were indicted on charges of Wire Fraud Conspiracy, Money Laundering Conspiracy and Aggravated Identity Theft. Along with Abegunde and Ojo, several other individuals were indicted in the alleged Conspiracy. Abegunde and Ojo have continually insisted that they have no knowledge of, and have never associated with the other individuals charged in the indictment.

Court records corroborate this key point as no evidence has surfaced of any connection between Abegunde and Ojo on the one hand, and any of the other individuals on the August 24, 2017 indictment on the other hand.

Alonso’s testimony at trial makes it clear that he did not know Abegunde prior to Abegunde’s arrest and subsequent detention at the West Tennessee Detention Facility (WTDF) in Mason, Tennessee. Under direct examination by Alonso’s attorney, Alonso was asked "When is the first time you saw Mr. Abegunde?" In response, Alonso said "When he [Abegunde] get in Mason, in jail." Alonso’s attorney then asked "Have you ever spoken to him before that?" Alonso responded by saying "No, never." Alonso’s attorney further asked "Had any communication with him whatsoever before that?" Alonso answered " No, not, nothing." Finally, Alonso’s attorney asked Alonso "Did you even know that he existed before that?" Alonso said "No". (See document 334: Javier Ramos Alonso testimony, March 18, 2019, Page ID 2500-2501).
Regarding whether Alonso knew the individuals he sent money to, including the funds that were deposited into Ojo’s bank account; the FBI case agent that investigated the case, FBI Special Agent Marcus Vance testified at trial that Alonso did not know these individuals. Under cross examination by Alonso’s attorney, Agent Vance was asked "To your knowledge, is there any indication that Mr. Ramos Alonso knew any of the individuals that the monies were disbursed to?" In response, Agent Vance said "It is my understanding that he neither knew who was sending him the money or who he was sending the money to." (See document 353: Special Agent Marcus Vance testimony, March 12, 2019, Page ID 3139).
These testimonies by FBI Special Agent Vance, and Ramos Alonso make it categorically clear that there was no prior contact between Alonso on the one hand; and either Abegunde or Ojo, on the other hand.

Lamenting his predicament, Ojo said "they never replied to my mails ever since then [March 2017] and when they did not get back to me, I did not envisage there were issues especially because Alonso’s $9,000 was reversed from my account. There was no loss, no victim, no damage and no beneficiary."

According to Abegunde and Ojo, they were neither aware that they were under a federal investigation in the U.S. nor were they aware that they had been indicted. But this changed on February 7, 2018, six months after the Grand Jury in the Western District of Tennessee returned the initial indictment.

  Sign this petition to demand justice for Abegunde !!!