Monday, November 01, 2021

Money Laundering Conspiracy Statute Reaches Defendant Overseas

US v. Ojedokun: Ojedokun lived in Nigeria while he was involved in a “romance scam,” in which people online posed as potential romantic partners of victims while siphoning away their money. Ojedokun’s part of the scheme was to take funds and transfers from the front-line scammers, some of whom were in the United States, and launder them before redistributing them. During the run of the scheme he never set foot in the United States. However, after the conspiracy ended he came to Illinois for college and was eventually charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was convicted after a jury trial and sentenced to 108 months in prison.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Ojedokun’s conviction and sentence. First, the court rejected Ojedokun’s argument that the money laundering conspiracy statute could not reach his actions that occurred entirely in Nigeria. At issue here was the extraterritoriality provision of 18 USC 1956 which applies its provisions to “conduct” that partly occurs in the United States. Ojedokun argued that because money laundering conspiracy does not require an overt act, only an agreement, that it did not involve “conduct” within the meaning of the statute. The court disagreed, reading “conduct” broadly to include agreements of conspirators, not just specific acts taken in furtherance of the conspiracy. The court also concluded that some conduct occurred in the United States, given that some of the other coconspirators were located there. Second, the court rejected Ojedokun’s indictment was untimely. The original indictment charged a money laundering conspiracy, the object of which was conspiracy to commit wire fraud – which is not one of the listed objects in the statute. The Government got a superseding indictment changing it to actual wire fraud (which is listed), but that was done after the five-year statute of limitations ran. The court concluded that the superseding indictment related back to the original one, as the facts underlying it were the same and Ojedokun had notice of the alleged conduct. The superseding indictment did not change or expand the charge itself. The court also rejected Ojedokun’s plan error argument that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated and declined to consider whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to pursue the Fourth Amendment claims.

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