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The Nigerian Romance Scammers Who Set Up Shop Right in the American Heartland

The multi-state scam network operating out of Norman, Oklahoma broke countless hearts and stole millions in cash

He called himself Carlos Hoods. He was from Norman, Oklahoma, and she was from Centerville, Ohio. They met on Match.com, where they chatted and, over time, fell in love. Because they were in love, she didn’t find it odd when Hoods asked for money (first via iTunes gift cards) to help him travel to Oman to build an oil refinery. In just three days’ time, she handed over nearly $200,000 to Hoods. Their relationship started in May, and by the end of June, she’d sent her entire life savings to her internet boyfriend — a Nigerian man she’d never actually met.

The Nigerian Romance Scam is one of the internet’s oldest ongoing cons, and yet, no one expects it to come from inside the house — and especially not from Norman, Oklahoma. The small college town in America’s heartland is probably best known for its Boomer Sooner football fervor. It’s not the sort of place you’d expect a criminal mastermind to set up and run a multi-state network of Nigerian romance scammers. But that’s exactly what 36-year-old Afeez Adebara did. In fact, from 2017 to 2019, Adebara and nine other men stole at least $2.5 million from their victims. 

Adebara’s downfall, however, actually started in Alpharetta, Georgia. That’s where 35-year-old John Martin Hill was arrested for stealing more than $80,000 from a woman he too met on Match.com. In a rare twist, the scammer and the scammed met in person and went out on a real date. It should’ve all sounded too good to be true: He was a single, attractive millionaire who wanted to get married within a week of meeting. The police told the media that, in the course of their whirlwind romance, he convinced his betrothed that they should buy a house together. After going house-hunting, she gave him $83,000 to invest in their future home

That was the last she ever heard from him.

Police soon discovered that Hill was a wanted man in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia, and that he was living with another woman and her child in Duluth, Georgia. When news of his arrest broke, other women recognized him as well and informed the police he was their boyfriend. Over two-and-half years, Hill had legally changed his name four times — from Gregory William Davis, to Gregory Davis Dutton, to Gregory W. Hill, to my personal favorite, Maverick Bryson McCray.

Hill’s arrest encouraged law enforcement officers to dig for more cases like his, which is when they discovered the scam Adebara was running. In 2019, when Adebara and his fellow con artists in Oklahoma got popped, resulting in 80 people being charged from co-related cases, U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said, “We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in U.S. history.” Investigators were stunned by how Adebara and his network had concocted layers of obfuscation, including fake passports, multiple legal identities and bank accounts to match. Along the way, they sent funds back home to Nigeria in the form of iTunes gift cards, cars and car parts. 

The con itself, though, was almost always the same. For instance, in June 2017, a Nigerian romance scammer going by the name of Wilson told his online girlfriend that “he was traveling to Hong Kong to complete a project and that he wanted to continue to communicate while he was overseas,” per federal court documents. The next month, he asked if she could send some emergency funds to keep his project going and directed her to send money to multiple different people. In total, she sent $201,740 in bank wire transfers. 

Meanwhile, in February 2018, a woman from Pryor, Oklahoma, started an online relationship with the aforementioned “Carlos Hoods.” They also met on Match.com before quickly moving to texts and emails. Hoods said he was in the oil business and worked as an environmental engineer, which was why he needed to travel to Oman. After she bought him iTunes gift cards, Hoods asked her to “purchase an internationally unlocked Samsung S9 phone and send it to an address in Pennsylvania” so they could continue to chat while he was overseas. Next, she sent him roughly $20,000 in cash through the mail to Brooklyn, to a man using the alias John Olu. Three days later, she sent $41,000 more. When he informed her that things weren’t going well with his project in Oman, she purchased three cashier’s checks, each for approximately $50,000. In total, she sent $546,000 to her online boyfriend and his imaginary refinery. 

For their crimes, Adebara and his cabal of fellow con artists — Paul Usoro, 25; Joshua Ditep, 26; Todiloba Kehinde, 29; and Jamiu Adedeji, 25 (all of whom were Nigerian citizens living in Norman, Oklahoma); and John Ogundele, 32, of New York, and Chibuzo Obiefuna, 28, of California — were all recently convicted and sentenced to time in federal prison. Adebara, being the ringleader, received the harshest punishment — four years. 

He was also ordered to pay back $500,740 in restitution and to forfeit his 2015 Mercedes C300 sedan. That, however, was just a fraction of the savings and retirement funds he stole. To say nothing of the emotional toll he exacted. Because he didn’t just leave them broke, he left them broken-hearted, too. 

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