A US court on Friday sentenced Air Peace CEO Allen Onyema to three years probation for a US conspiracy in the $20 million fraud allegedly orchestrated.
The court also awarded $4,000 as a fine against Ebony Mayfiled, who, in June, pleaded guilty to the charge of signing and submitting false documents to facilitate the alleged fraud.
The US government accused her of signing and submitting the fabricated documents between 2016 and 2018, to help Mr. Onyema, the owner of Air Peace, a major Nigerian commercial airline, transfer $20 million out of Nigeria in a money laundering scheme .
Indicted in 2019, she initially pleaded “not guilty” to all eight charges in the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta.
But she pleaded guilty to one of the charges in June, following a plea deal that saw the US government drop the remaining seven charges against her.
The law under which she was charged provided for a maximum prison term of five years for the offense to which she pleaded guilty.
After pleading guilty, her lawyer filed for a variance of sentence on October 13, to plead that she be sentenced to probation or what is known as supervised release, instead of prison.
PREMIUMS it was reported earlier on Friday that the US government, in its response, agreed to a lower sentence limit that should include house arrest for six months.
At the sentencing on Friday, the judge, Mr. Ross, after discussing the pre-sentence report with lawyers for the parties, and hearing briefly from Mr. Mayfield, imposed “THREE (3) YEARS of probation” on her.
The judge also “imposed a $4,000 fine (interest waived); $100 special assessment; and additional requirements.”
So the judge gave her limited appeal rights, and noted that she was ready for bail.
The court’s decision is a concession to the defendant’s request probationary sentence or what his lawyer called conditional discharge.
Defense lawyer Manubir Arora said that “imprisonment is not the only form of punishment” and emphasized that “probation is another viable form of punishment.”
Under the probationary sentence, Ms Mayfield’s lawyers said, her travel would be restricted and her associations would be controlled.
She would also be subject to random searches of her person and premises and subject to other special conditions such as house arrest and intermittent confinement.
A probation officer would also be appointed to monitor her during the three-year period.
“In Ms. Mayfield’s case, probation serves all the goals of sentencing even though the guidelines may call for incarceration,” her lawyer wrote.
Hoping to “put this series of unfortunate choices behind her,” she added admitted that Mr. Onyema paid her a total of $20,000 for her part in the scheme between 2016 and 2018.
She told her too participation in the alleged crime brought shame to her family.
I am innocent – Onyema
Again, Mr. Onyema, denied any wrongdoing regarding the allegations on Friday.
Mr. Onyema and another Air Peace officer, Ejiroghene Eghagha, maintained their innocence in a press statement by their lawyers.
The statement by law firm AO Alegeh & Co was silent on the 36 charges of fraud and money laundering still pending against Mr Onyema and his co-defendant at the same court where Ms Mayfield was prosecuted.
But they claimed in their press release that the fact that no prison sentence, confinement or house arrest was handed down by the court to Mr. Mayfield confirmed that there was no fraud in the $20 million deal.
“This confirms the position of our clients that there was no fraudulent intent in all the Letters of Credit, that there was no victim in any way, manner or form.
” All the funds involved were legitimate funds of Our Client. There was no loss of money or any damage to any third party,” read the press release.
He added that the US government, which still has 36 charges pending against Mr. Onyema and his co-defendant, “admitted in court today that no bank has suffered any financial loss in this matter.”
The statement also denied that Mr Onyema paid Mr Mayfield $20,000 for his role in the alleged fraud.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that Ms Mayfield claimed to have received $20,000 for her involvement in the “conspiracy” between 2016 and 2018.
Denying the claim, Mr. Onyema’s lawyers said: “Our Clients never took loans or credit from any US Bank and at no time was $20,000.00 paid to Ebony to commit any fraud, as is being peddlered by a section of the Nigerian Press. Ebony, like other Springfield Aviation Company Inc. staff, was not paid. but her salary and/or allowances per week.
“These stories are far from the truth and are being deliberately propagated by a section of the Nigerian Press for ulterior motives.”
Mr. Onyema and his co-defendant argued that “every action taken in relation to the Letters of Credit was taken in good faith and with legitimate funds.”
“All the aircraft in question were brought into Nigeria and used in the operations of Air Peace Limited. There was no victim. No money was lost to anyone and there was no criminal intent.”
The law firm reviewed the case by various law enforcement agencies in Nigeria and “no evidence of criminality was established against our Client.”
Mayfield’s case closed, Mr. Onyema’s charges remain
Ms Mayfield’s sentencing on Friday concluded her trial, the judge said.
But the particular case in which Mr. Onyema and an Air Peace officer have been charged remains.
Mr. Onyema and the Head of Administration and Finance of Air Peace Limited, Ejiroghene Eghagha, have 36 charges of fraud and money laundering pending against them since 2019 at the same court.
Prosecutors said Mr. Onyema employed Ms. Mayfield, a bartender and nightclub dancer, as manager of his Atlanta, Georgia-based Springfield Aviation Company LLC in 2016.
The company was established by the founder of Air Peace to “specialize in the wholesale, trading and sale of commercial aircraft and parts”.
But the US government said, Mr. Onyema hired Ms. Mayfield to perform aviation-related contracts on behalf of Springfield Aviation, despite her lack of education, training or licensing in the review and evaluation of aircraft and aircraft components.
In her plea bargain filed in June, Ms. Mayfield admitted to signing and submitting fake documents authorizing a $20 million credit disbursement from Nigeria to US bank accounts, purportedly for Air Peace’s five passenger planes Purchase of Boeing 737 from Springfield Aviation.
The fake documents allegedly submitted by the conspirators included fabricated purchase agreements, bills of sale and valuations.
Air Peace, a major Nigerian commercial airline, and the purported aircraft seller, Springfield Aviation, are owned by My Onyema.
Prosecutors alleged that the aircraft referred to in the letters of credit and other fictitious documents submitted in relation to the deal were already owned by Aer Síochána. None of them ever belonged to Springfield Aviation, the prosecution said
They also alleged that Mr. Onyema established and used Springfield Aviation “to facilitate large transfers of funds from his bank accounts from Nigeria to the United States.”
He allegedly moved about $15 million from a Springfield Aviation account with a Wells Fargo Bank branch in Atlanta, Georgia, to his personal savings account with the same bank in 27 transactions in 2017.
The 27 flagship transactions took place between 22 March and 29 November 2017.
Mr. Onyema and the Head of Administration and Finance of Air Peace Limited, Ejiroghene Eghagha, are facing 36 charges in the District Court in Atlanta, in relation to the alleged $20 million fraudulent scheme.
The top charges against them include bank fraud, credit application fraud and money laundering.
Each of Mr. Onyema’s 27 flagship online transfers within nine months in 2017 involved values ranging from $100,000 to $1 million.
The transactions totaled $15.14 million.
Each of the 27 transactions stands alone as a money laundering charge.
Under the money laundering charges, prosecutors alleged that both Messrs. Onyema and Eghagha, with the aid and abetment of others, “attempted to engage in monetary transactions” involving a financial institution, with effect on “interstate and foreign commerce”.
They alleged that each of the transactions involved more than $10,000 “criminally derived from illegal activities” including bank fraud and credit application fraud.
In November 2020, the Georgia state government dissolved Springfield Aviation for failure to file its annual registration and/or failure to maintain a registered agent or registered office in this state.
Mr. Onyema denied all the allegations a fraud leveled against him when the US government revealed the charges against him in 2019.
Although he said the charges did not reflect his personality as a business owner, he and his co-defendant have yet to appear in court.
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