Hushpuppi was arrested in Dubai in June 2020. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

LOS ANGELES: A Nigerian social media influencer who called himself Ray Hushpuppi and flaunted a lavish lifestyle fueled by his efforts to launder millions of stolen dollars was sentenced Monday in Los Angeles to more than 11 years in federal prison.

Ramon Abbas, 40, also was ordered by a federal judge to pay $1.7 million in restitution to two fraud victims, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice.

Abbas, under the name “Ray Hushpuppi,” had more than 2 million Instagram followers before he was arrested in June 2020 in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Abbas was “one of the most prolific money launderers in the world,” Don Alway, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said in the statement.

Prosecutors said Abbas and a Canadian man laundered money from various online crimes including bank cyberheists and business email compromise, or BEC, a prolific crime in which crooks hack into email accounts, pretend to be someone they’re not and fool victims into wiring money where it doesn’t belong.

In 2019, he helped launder some $14.7 million stolen by North Korean hackers from a bank in Malta, funneling the money through banks in Romania and Bulgaria, prosecutors said.

He also helped launder millions of pounds stolen from a British company and a professional soccer club in the United Kingdom, got a New York-based law firm to transfer nearly $923,000 to a criminal account and acknowledged in a plea agreement that he helped defraud someone in Qatar who sought a $15 million loan to build a school, federal prosecutors said.

At Monday’s sentencing, Abbas was sentenced to to 135 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $922,857 in restitution to the law firm and $809,983 in restitution to the victim in Qatar.

“By his own admission, during just an 18-month period defendant conspired to launder over $300 million,’’ prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum, although they said much of the intended loss “did not ultimately materialize.’’

His social media posts showed him living a life of luxury, complete with private jets, ultra-expensive cars and high-end clothes and watches.

“I hope someday I will be inspiring more young people to join me on this path,’’ read one Instagram post by Abbas, who pleaded guilty in April 2021 to one count of conspiracy to engage in money laundering.

Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, of Mississauga in Ontario, Canada, was charged separately. He pleaded guilty in 2020 to one count of conspiracy to engage in money laundering, prosecutors said. He was sentenced to nearly 12 years in federal prison and was ordered to pay more than $30 million in restitution.

'Family man' picture

“He was an equal opportunity criminal,” prosecutors said in a court filing, citing his “long history as a scammer and money launderer.” Abbas “is, by all accounts, an ambitious individual, but his ambition has long been directed towards crime and its rewards,” the government said. His “conduct was reprehensible and deserves serious punishment.”

US District Judge Otis Wright said he felt prosecutors and defence lawyers were talking about two different people in their depictions of Abbas.

Abbas’s lawyers painted a picture of a family man and successful businessman who strayed into a world of crime and did little more than provide access to bank accounts to fraudsters.

Abbas, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and handcuffed, told the judge he was in deep financial trouble in 2019 when he accepted offers from some associates to help them launder money.

“I was desperate, your honour,” he said. “I was very desperate.”

He apologised to his victims and promised to repay them in full by selling his two Rolls Royces, a Ferrari and a Range Rover.