An American woman linked to the $20 million fraud allegedly organised by Air Peace CEO, Allen Onyema, has expressed regrets over her involvement in the scheme.
Ebony Mayfield said her participation in the alleged fraud brought shame upon her family.
The United States government arrested her on 7 June 2019, and subsequently charged her with eight counts of fraud at the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
She initially pleaded “not guilty” to all charges, but later changed her plea to “guilty” on 29 June.
The judge, Eleanor Ross, then fixed 28 October (Friday, tomorrow) for her sentencing.
She now faces five years jail term, aside agreeing to make full restitution of all the proceeds she benefitted from the alleged fraud.
Ahead of the sentencing, however, Ms Mayfield’s lawyer, Manubir Arora, on 13 October, filed for a “downward variance” of sentence.
She pleaded with the judge in her court filing to sentence her to a “conditional release” instead of imprisonment.
“Over the past 3 years, Ms. Mayfield has tried to move forward with her life,” her lawyer wrote.
Her defence lawyer noted that she had “tried to make amends for her actions by confessing to law enforcement when arrested, cooperating with federal authorities as the investigation continued, and finally, accepting responsibility.”
Hoping “to put this unfortunate series of choices behind her,” she confessed that Mr Onyema paid her a total of $20,000 for the part she played in the scheme between 2016 and 2018.
She conceded that she behaved “irrationally” by signing fake documents to help Mr Onyema carry out the money laundering and bank fraud involving $20 million.
Impact on relatives, family background
On the impact her conduct had on her relatives, she admitted that her “actions have caused shame and embarrassment upon the family.”
She was born in Houston, Texas, but her family later moved to New Orleans. Her parents separated when she was age nine.
She then moved to Atlanta with her mother, and then attended college at Atlanta Metropolitan College. She graduated in 2006 with a degree in Business Education.
In her adult life, Ms Mayfield said she had been a bartender, an “adult dancer”, and most recently ran a nail salon.
She said since her arrest in 2019, she had been unable to pass “a background check” and had to return to working in nightclubs to make ends meet.
Ms Mayfield said she lost numerous friends due to her charges.
She noted that the shame she brought upon her family “was further exacerbated as this story was in the press and on the internet (due to federal government’s press conference / press releases.”
Mr Onyema engaged the bartender and nightclub dancer as a manager for his Atlanta, Gerogia-based Springfield Aviation Company LLC in 2016.
The Air Peace founder set up the firm to, purportedly, “specialise in the wholesaling, trading, and sale of commercial aircraft and parts”.
The US government said, Mr Onyema engaged Ms Mayfield to enter into aviation-related contracts on behalf of Springfield Aviation, despite her lack of education, training, or licensing in the review and valuation of aircraft and aircraft components.
In her plea bargain that she filed in June, she confessed to signing and submitting fake documents enabling a $20 million credit disbursement from Nigeria to US bank accounts, purportedly for Air Peace to buy five Boeing 737 passenger planes from Springfield Aviation.
The fake documents allegedly submitted by the conspirators, according to the US prosecutors, included fabricated purchase agreements, bills of sale, and valuation.
Both Air Peace, a major Nigerian commercial airline, and the purported aircraft seller, Springfield Aviation, are owned by My Onyema.
Prosecutors alleged that the aircraft referenced in the letters of credit and other fake documents submitted with respect to the deal were already owned by Air Peace. None of them ever belonged to Springfield Aviation, the prosecution said
They also 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 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.
The flagged 27 transactions took place between 22 March and 29 November 2017.
Prior to the alleged $20 million deal, the US government alleged
Mr Onyema and Air Peace Limited’s Head of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha, are facing 36 charges at the District Court in Atlanta, in connection with the alleged $20 million fraudulent scheme.
Among the charges preferred against them are bank fraud, credit application fraud and money laundering.
Each of the flagged 27 online transfers carried out by Mr Onyema within nine months in 2017 involved values ranging from $100,000 to $1 million.
The transactions totalled $15.14 million.
Each of the 27 transactions stands alone as a charge of money laundering.
Under the money laundering charges, prosecutors alleged that both Messrs Onyema and Eghagha, aided and abetted by others, “attempted to engage in a monetary transaction” 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 unlawful activities” including bank fraud and credit application fraud.
In November 2020, the government of the state of Georgia dissolved Springfield Aviation over its 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 of fraud levelled against him when the charges against him were unveiled by the US government 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.