Two more sentenced for “Sweepstakes” scheme targeting elderly victims


Date: January 27, 2023


Austin, TX — A Nigerian national residing in Canada and a Dallas woman operating a marketing leads business were sentenced in Austin on Thursday for their roles in a fraudulent "sweepstakes" scheme that sent more than $250 million in counterfeit checks with fraudulent lottery award letters to elderly U.S. victims.

Tony Akinbobola, of Toronto, Ontario, was sentenced to 78 months in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering. According to court documents, Akinbobola laundered money for the scheme beginning in 2015, receiving fraudulently obtained funds by way of wire transfers and money orders from the U.S., which he would deposit into a Canadian bank account in the name of his business. Investigators have identified at least 300 victims, all over the age of 60, sustaining a total of more than $1 million in actual losses with intended losses of more than $9.5 million. Akinbobola was arrested in Canada on Jan. 20, 2022 and was transferred to federal custody on Feb. 11, 2022, where he has remained since. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering on Sept. 30, 2022.  In addition to spending more than six years in federal prison, Akinbobola was ordered to pay $111,870.25 in restitution.

Donna Lundy, of Dallas, was sentenced to 30 months and ordered to pay $111,870.25 in restitution for wire fraud. Lundy owned and operated a lead broker business near Dallas, through which she purchased people's names and contact information to sell to customers. Lundy sold and emailed numerous lists containing Personal Identifiable Information (PII) of elderly people to the scheming organization's leader, Harry Cole, making more than $700,000 from him between 2007 and 2016. She pleaded guilty to the charge in January 2019. Cole was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison in February 2022. Another co-defendant, Joel Calvin, was sentenced to three years in December 2022.

The scheme ran from 2012 to 2016 and involved purchasing lists of potential elderly victims and their mailing addresses. Organization members based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada sent packages containing fraudulent sweepstakes information to conspirators residing in the U.S. The packages contained thousands of mailers to be mailed to victims notifying them that they had won a sweepstakes. Each mailer included a fraudulent check issued to the name of the victim, usually in the amount of $8,000, and a pre-addressed envelope.

Victims were instructed to deposit the check into their bank account, then immediately withdraw between $5,000 and $7,000 in cash or money orders and send the money to a "sweepstakes representative" to facilitate the collection of the prize. By the time the bank notified the victim that the deposited check was fraudulent, the victim would have already sent the cash or money order to the defendants or conspirators.

"I applaud the hard work of the investigating agencies in bringing these defendants to justice—and thank Canadian authorities and the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs for their help in the extradition of Akinbobola," said U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza of the Western District of Texas. "This case demonstrates my office's commitment to hold all those responsible for defrauding our senior citizens. Whether supplying the personal information and addresses of elderly citizens or assisting the scam by laundering funds in Canada, our office will pursue all of those that enable these vicious scams to steal from our seniors."

"Lundy and Akinbobola were part of a criminal enterprise that operated both within and outside the U.S. while preying on innocent victims located here. Now the two will pay for their crimes serving time in a U.S. prison," said Special Agent in Charge Ramsey E. Covington of IRS Criminal Investigation's (IRS-CI) Houston Field Office. "This investigation shows our special agents will continue to fight for justice to be served for victims of fraud and other financial crimes, and the criminals who orchestrate such crimes, even internationally, are not out of our reach."

"This sentence reaffirms HSI's commitment to working with global law enforcement partners to disrupt transnational financial fraud syndicates," said Acting Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee of the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Antonio Division. "HSI is uniquely positioned to combat criminal organizations that exploit the U.S. financial networks by utilizing our expansive criminal and administrative authorities."

"Tony Akinbobola and his co-conspirators devised a scheme that targeted and took advantage of one of our country's most vulnerable populations, senior citizens," said Inspector in Charge Scott Fix of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Houston Division. "The USPIS remains resolute in our mission to bring to justice those who fraudulently use the U.S. Mail in the furtherance of their deceptive schemes. Postal Inspectors will continue to work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners, including HSI and IRS-CI, to ensure these individuals are held accountable."

IRS-CI, HSI, and the USPIS investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Galdo and Keith Henneke prosecuted the case. Attorneys with the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs assisted with extraditions from Canada.