It's time to check Grandma's DMs.
Though most internet-savvy folks are skeptical of online traps baiting them to send money to some faraway Nigerian, the U.S. State Attorney's Office in South Florida says at least a dozen elderly people — "generally lonely older women" — were contacted via social media with promises of romance and investment opportunities and then persuaded to send money to Sean Kerwin Bindranauth, a Key West man who received a percentage of the nearly $1 million he relayed to Nigeria.
Bindranauth will learn to respect his elders the hard way: with hard time.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore sentenced Bindranauth to 15 years in federal prison after a jury found him guilty of one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, six counts of substantive money laundering, and one count of conducting an unlicensed money-transmitting business.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)'s South Florida office, Bindranauth's co-conspirators would contact single, older women online, develop relationships with them, and then convince the women to send money to Bindranauth, also known as "Mr. Sean," who would then transfer the funds via gift cards and international wire services to several unidentified individuals in Nigeria between March 2018 and April 2019.
An indictment from the U.S. Southern District Court of Florida (embedded below) states that Bindranauth received and sent $86,938. But the DOJ says the fraud took in far more than that.
"The trial evidence showed that, once Bindranauth received the money, he sent it from the United States to Nigeria by using international money transfer companies, initiating direct bank transfers, purchasing gift cards and relaying the gift card information, and other means," reads a DOJ press release. "Over a dozen seniors and other victims were tricked into sending Bindranauth and his co-conspirators approximately $1 million."
Bindranauth was indicted in September 2019 after investigators probed his bank information.
Messages between Bindranauth and a contact saved in his phone as "Nancy" from September 2019 show that the Key West resident was instructed by his Nigerian counterparts to tell Homeland Security agents he was sending money to his wife and that they traded in "gold" and "expensive ointment."
"I don't know why they're so nosy," "Nancy" wrote to Bindranauth after the latter frantically called and texted saying federal agents were going to question him.
Though he was indicted nearly three years ago and pleaded not guilty, Bindranauth's jury trial did not take place until last September.
Now he can look forward to three years of supervised release after completing his prison term.