Can Tho City, Vietnam : Nigerian man, Michael Ikechukwu Leonard, 45, was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he was convicted on Thursday of “deceiving others to steal their assets” in a scam which targeted wealthy Vietnamese women. His Vietnamese wife Huynh Ha Binh got 12 years prison for her role in the elaborate scams.
A Southern Vietnam court sentenced Michael Ikechukwu Leonard over a fake customs enforcement scam, state media reported on Friday.
The court in Can Tho city determined that Leonard gained his victims’ trust on messaging apps using various alter egos, including a U.S. army officer.
Michael IkeChukwu Leonard, 44, was only one of three Nigerians arrested along with 3 Vietnamese accomplices for cheating more than 100 victims around the country out of more than $900,000. While Ihugba Augustine Chinonso, 30, Onu Chinonso Peter, 31, and 5 Vietnamese were arrested earlier in the month, for tricking many victims into paying $450,000.
Micheal Ikechukwu Leonard’s accomplices Huynh Ha Binh, Huynh Ha Uyen and Nguyen Tran Quynh Nhi, all from Ho Chi Minh City, got between 12 to 15 years each.
According to the indictment, Micheal Ikechukwu Leonard and Huynh Ha Binh, 27, started living together as husband and wife in August 2014 in Ho Chi Minh City before moving to Cambodia and opening a fashion shop.
While in Cambodia, the duo hatched a plan to con rich Vietnamese women via the social media. Facebook’s Messenger and Zalo are the two most popular chat apps in Vietnam.
The Nigerian man used fake accounts and described himself as a rich man or even a U.S. Army officer who had just gone through a divorce and was “lonely.” He approached wealthy women and tried to build a relationship with them, and as many as 37 fell for the trick.
To gain their trust, Leonard told the women he would send them valuable gifts such as laptops, cellphones, jewelry and cosmetics from the U.S. When the women were sucked in, Binh, Uyen and Nhi pretended to be Vietnamese customs officers and contacted the women, telling them that packages sent to them contained expensive goods or large amounts of foreign currency, so the women would have to pay a customs fee or even a fine.
In late March 2016, after the group had conned a woman in Can Tho City out of VND650 million ($28,500), Leonard and the other three were arrested. They all confessed to their crimes in court. Binh and Leonard have a child together, and the baby is now with Binh’s parents.
In 2016, Vietnamese police arrested three Nigerians and eight locals belonging to two different gangs for allegedly conning people out of more than $1.3 million.
The gangs tricked the victims by informing them they had won big prizes or gift packages from abroad but had to pay a fee to collect the prize or bribe police and customs officers because they were worth a lot of money.
They used bank accounts created with stolen or fake ID cards to collect the money.