This story was written by journalist, Mathilde Salomé Bonnet
A few years ago, the internet was awash with news that popular Gucci millionaire and Instagram influencer Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, aka Hushpuppi, was arrested in the UAE for fraud and extradited to the US.
Well, he’s at it again. This time, right behind bars. US prosecutors presented documents before the United States District Court of California on Wednesday with fresh evidence indicting Hushpuppi of committing fraud and money laundering in a US federal correctional facility.
In court documents obtained from the US Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Central District of California, Hushpuppi, while in a US federal correctional facility, participated in the purchase and laundering of Economic Impact Payment (EIP) debit cards fraudulently obtained from compromised data of US citizens and residents.
EIPs are financial support offered by the US government to residents according to the CARES Act. It is also called stimulus package or stimulus check. One of the ways eligible US residents obtain their EIP is by debit cards. From the documents presented in court, it was found that hackers use data of US residents to file and obtain those debit cards. They sell off these EIP cards in underground marketplaces to other cybercriminals.
US prosecutors said Hushpuppi’s recent frequent internet usage triggered a red flag and they monitored and recorded his internet activity. The court document read:
Security alerts on Abbas’ activities
- Inmates in correctional facilities across the US are allowed certain activities which includes access to phone calls, video calls, the internet, and computers with limited and regulated usage
- Inmates have constitutional rights to their privacy. Phone calls from correctional facilities by inmates are not recorded except when necessary and a warrant is obtained for this purpose. Inmates’ internet activities are not logged or recorded except when necessary and a warrant is obtained for this purpose.
- Abbas was also allowed these privileges like every other inmate.
- Between 28th January 2022 and 4th March 2022, security officers at the US Federal correctional facility, Central District of California, observed more frequent usage of the internet by Abbas. With the knowledge that the crimes Abbas committed which he is being charged for are all internet related crimes, security officers were concerned and informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
- On 7th March 2022, investigators obtained a federal search warrant, issued by Central District of California, to monitor and record Abbas’ internet activities.
- Security officers at the US Federal correctional facility, Central District of California, were instructed to setup a dedicated computer for Abbas. Any time Abbas requests for access to the internet, he should be given that dedicated computer. Only Abbas should be given that computer.
- From 7th March 2022 to 13th March 2022, investigators monitored and recorded Abbas’ internet activities. In this period, he requested internet access daily. He spent an average of 55 minutes for each session.
- During this period, we found out that Abbas was actively buying Economic Impact Payments debit cards from an underground cybercriminal marketplace where hackers sell EIP debit cards for Bitcoins.
The document went further to detail their shocking findings while recording Hushpuppi’s activities
EIP debit cards purchase and money laundering
- Investigators found out that Abbas uses an underground cybercriminal marketplace for hackers to sell EIP debit cards for Bitcoins.
- On the marketplace, hackers listed EIP debit cards with different balances. Investigators found EIP debit cards with $1,400 balance to as high as $8,000. These EIP cards were applied for by hackers using compromised and stolen data of US citizens and residents.
- Investigators found out that criminals can order a virtual option of EIP debit cards and receive it instantly. They use this for online purchases. Criminals can also order for the plastic version of EIP debit cards and they receive it to their mail address.
- Abbas bought between seven to 10 EIP debit cards daily for the period he was recorded. He purchased a total of 58 EIP debit cards in this period, with a total value of $429,800.
- Of the 58 EIP debit cards, Abbas chose the virtual card option for 36 EIP cards and he selected the plastic physical card option for 22 EIP cards.
- Abbas was in constant communication with one AJ. Abbas sent all the cards he bought from the marketplace to AJ. Abbas gave instructions to AJ on what to shop online. He gave instructions on what to do with the purchased items. Abbas also gave instructions on cash withdrawal from ATMs with the plastic cards.
In the document, the prosecutors mentioned Hushpuppi was constantly buying high-end gadgets such as iPhones, gaming consoles, MacBooks and iPads through his primary contact AJ. Investigators could not ascertain the total proceeds Hushpuppi has laundered from this fraud. Their recorded evidence was for a total of $429,800.
US prosecutors said they are on a mission to unmask the identity of Abbas’ accomplice AJ. They said they are also working with relevant authorities and bodies to take down the underground cybercriminal marketplace.