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Air Peace CEO, Allen Onyema On The Run From US Fraud Charges as His Conspirator is Convicted

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Allen Onyema, the founder of Air Peace airline, is still wanted in the United States after his alleged conspirator in a $20 million bank fraud case was sentenced by an American court on Friday..




The US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, in Atlanta, on Friday, sentenced Ebony Mayfield, an American woman, to three years probation for her roles in helping to facilitate the alleged fraud.

Under the probated sentence or supervised release, Ms Mayfield would be monitored for good behaviour by a probation officer for three years.

She escaped prison sentence because she pleaded guilty early before her trial began.

Her lawyer also anchored her plea for probated sentence on the grounds that she was remorseful and cooperated with the government during investigations.

The defence team also said she benefitted only little from the alleged fraud, with Ms Mayfield confessing that she received only a total of $20,000 for her roles in the alleged conspiracy between 2016 to 2018.

Mr Onyema maintained his innocence in a statement issued by his lawyers after Ms Mayfield’s sentencing on Friday.

Some Nigerian blogs and newspapers, that reported the press statement, claimed that the court acquitted Mr Onyema of all pending charges in its ruling on Ms Mayfield’s case.

But contrary to the false reports, Mr Onyema and Air Peace Limited’s Head of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha, still have a case comprising 36 charges pending against them at the same court.

While Ms Mayfield was battling with her trial, Messrs Onyema and Eghagha were on the run from the charges and arrest warrants.

US government named Messrs Onyema and Eghagha in the 36 charges of conspiracy, money laundering, bank fraud, credit application fraud, and identity theft filed against them on 19 November 2019.

American authorities have obtained court warrants for the arrest of the two men in the US and Canada, where part of the suspected proceeds of fraud was said to have been moved to.

Earlier, before the filing of the charges, Russell Vineyard, a magistrate at the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, on 5 September 2019, issued a corresponding warrant of arrest for Messrs Onyema and Eghagha in Canada.

In another arrest warrant issued on 19 November 2019, Justin Anand, an American magistrate of the same court, ordered the US Marshals Service to take them into custody.

Both men have succeeded in evading arrest by American or Canadian authorities since then.

But US authorities arrested Ms Mayfield on 7 June 2019.

In December 2019, they charged her with signing and submitting fake documents to help Mr Onyema to facilitate the $20 million fraud between May 2016 and February 2018.

She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit credit application fraud on 29 June, after she entered into a plea agreement that saw the US government drop seven other fraud charges against her.

US authorities accused Mr Onyema of moving suspicious funds from Nigeria to American bank accounts between 2017 and 2018 with the funds allegedly disguised as being meant to be used to purchase aircraft.

Mr Onyema and his co-defendant, Mr Eghagha, allegedly organised the fraud by applying for export letters of credit for the transfer of funds from a Nigerian bank account to the bank account of Mr Onyema’s Atlanta-Georgia-based firm, Springfield Aviation LLC, between 2016 and 2017.

The defendants, according to US prosecutors, applied for the funds purportedly for the purchase of aircraft by Air Peace from Springfield Aviation.

Both Air Peace, a major Nigerian commercial airline, and the US-based Springfield Aviation, are owned by Mr Onyema.

Prosecutors also said the aircraft referenced in each of the export letters of credit sent to the American banks was never owned or sold by Springfield Aviation.

They said the defendants made false statements and reports, and willfully overvalued property to influence the actions of the American banks.

Mr Eghagha was said to have sent the false documents, including fabricated purchase agreements, bills of sale, and valuation documents, to Ms Mayfield to sign and submit to the respective banks in support of the letters of credit.

Mr Onyema had engaged Ms Mayfield, who was at various times, a bartender, restaurant waitress, and nightclub dancer, in 2016, to act as a manager of Springfield Aviation, and enter into contracts on the firm’s behalf.

Prosecutors said she “had no connection to the aviation business outside of her role with Springfield Aviation and had no education, training, or licensing in the review and valuation of aircraft, including aircraft components.”

They alleged that Mr Onyema founded and used Springfield Aviation “to facilitate large transfers of funds from his Nigerian bank accounts to the United States.”

Mr Onyema allegedly moved about $15 million from Springfield Aviation’s account with a Wells Fargo Bank branch in Atlanta, Georgia, to his personal savings account with the same bank in 27 transactions in 2017.

Each of the 27 transactions stands alone as a charge of money laundering.

Messrs Onyema and Eghagha have denied the charges in press statements, the latest being the one he issued through a Nigerian law firm after the court sentenced Ms Mayfield on Friday.

The statement by A.O. Alegeh & Co law firm 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 maintained in the press release that the fact that Ms Mayfield was not given any prison sentence, confinement or home detention by the court confirmed that there was no fraud in the $20 million deal.

They added that the US government, which has yet to terminate the pending 36 charges against them, “admitted in court today that no bank suffered any financial loss in this matter.”

The statement also denied that Mr Onyema paid Ms Mayfield $20,000 for her roles in the alleged fraud, and insisted that “all steps taken in respect of the Letters of Credit were taken in good faith and with legitimate funds.”

“All the aircraft involved were brought into Nigeria and utilised in the operations of Air Peace Limited. There was no victim. There was no loss of funds to any person and there was no criminal intent whatsoever.”

The law firm added that various law enforcement agencies in Nigeria had reviewed the case and “no evidence of criminality” was established against them.

In the earlier statement he issued in the wake of unveiling of the charges in November 2019, Mr Onyema vowed: “to defend my innocence in the US courts.”

But despite the vow, Mr Onyema and his co-defendant have yet to appear before the court to take their plea..

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