One former star of the luxury Instagram influencer circuit will spend some time behind bars after he admitted to gaining much of his wealth through a massive, international money laundering and fraud scheme.
A federal judge sentenced Ramon Abbas, 40, to 11 years in jail after he pleaded guilty in April last year. Federal prosecutors said Abbas worked within a large, global money laundering operation alongside his now-defunct Instagram account that had 2.5 million followers. That money laundering amounted to nearly $1.3 billion, according to prosecutors, some of which was the result of a cyber heist allegedly executed by North Korean hackers.
In the original complaint, the U.S. Attorney’s Office called Abbas “one of the leaders of a transnational network” of hackers and fraudsters, in effect laundering tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars at a time. Prosecutors alleged that starting in 2019, Abbas helped launder money by swapping it between his and his co-conspirator’s bank accounts. Prosecutors also said the pair worked a Business Email Compromise fraud scheme by contacting companies under false pretenses then offering instructions on how to wire them money to their bad accounts as well as pull off a similar grift with SWIFT transfer requests to banks.
A long-form piece about Abbas by Bloomberg earlier this year said he was a pop culture celebrity in Nigeria due to his supposed luxury lifestyle, though online social circles often referred to him as “a Nigerian big boy” which was a sly way of saying he was some sort of scammer. Though as evidenced by lingering pictures and videos from his Instagram, his public life was a barrage of world travel and posing in front of many Ferraris.
In his plea, Abbas admitted to also helping convicted money launderer Ghaleb Alaumary set up overseas bank accounts so he could help launder 13 million taken from a Maltese bank originally stolen by North Korean-linked hackers. Alaumary, who was living in Ontario, Canada at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in September.
Abbas’ attorney John Iweanoge did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. He did tell Bloomberg directly after the Monday sentencing “everything is on the table” regarding Abbas’ 11-year jail time, though appealing the decision may be difficult considering his guilty plea. Iweanoge told reporters that they originally thought Abbas would likely only get four or five years.
Letters sent to the judge on behalf of Abbas before his sentencing pleaded for leniency. One, sent by Regina Mariam Manneh, said his arrest had “a huge impact on her family” as well as the four-year-old son she had with Abbas, Raymond Abbas.
Reports from the trial also said Abbas appealed to the judge, saying he was “desperate” in 2019 when he started accepting offers to help launder the funds. Abbas has used the name “hushpuppi” since at least 2014 and was active only all the way through 2020 when he was arrested, according to court records.
The Nigeria-born Abbas was reportedly living in the lap of luxury in Dubai, surrounded by his private jet and other luxury vehicles, when he was arrested by Dubai police alongside alleged co-conspirator Olalekan Jacob Ponle, who went by @mrwoodbery on Instagram. Police SWAT teams seized Abbas’ 13 luxury cars and $40.9 million in cash before extraditing him to the U.S. Dubai’s police also claimed they found the addresses of nearly 2 million “victims” and more evidence of a planned $435 million “heist.”
The latest available court documents show that Ponle was still in the middle of plea negotiations.
The fact that Dubai does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. didn’t seem to phase international police with the U.S. Department of Justice writing he was “expelled” from the United Arab Emirates. Abbas’ lawyer at the time called it a “kidnapping.”