A Winston-Salem man will spend five years in prison for his role in several online schemes that stole more than $400,000 from people and businesses.
James Ragland, 29, pleaded guilty on Nov. 18 to one count of conspiracy to launder money, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.
U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen Jr. sentenced Ragland on Friday to five years in prison. He placed Ragland on three years of supervised release once he gets out of federal prison and ordered Ragland to pay $312,014 in restitution to the victims. Ragland also is subject to a forfeiture money judgment of $369,464.
Federal prosecutors said Ragland was the middle-man in at least eight different online fraud schemes that led to the lost of at least $414,492, court papers and a news release said. Ragland worked with co-conspirators who lived outside the United States, primarily in West Africa.
Ragland set up personal and business accounts to collect and launder money from fraudulent wire transfers and then withdraw that money from those accounts, according to court documents.
Co-conspirators used three methods to defraud people. One is known as Business Email Compromise. In those cases, co-conspirators would set up legitimate-looking emails to trick attorneys in real-estate deals to send money transfers to them. After the money is transferred, bank accounts are rapidly drained and laundered to escape detection, according to the court documents and news releases.
Another method is called "romance scams." In those cases, co-conspirators pose as potential love interests who contact victims on online dating sites and eventually ask for financial assistance. The victims would then send money transfers to the co-conspirators.
And a third method is "account takeover schemes," which is what they sound like — co-conspirators hack into people's financial accounts and take control of them so they can make unauthorized money transfers.
As a result, federal prosecutors said, Ragland helped drain $56,593 from a single mother in California who was planning to use the money to buy a house. He also helped co-conspirators steal $40,000 of life savings from a Missouri woman as a result of a romance scam.
Ragland also helped steal $96,584 in California and another $151,330 in Florida, both a result of a Business Email Compromise scheme, federal prosecutors said.
According to court documents, Ragland recruited a couple who were his neighbors and his friends in a scheme that allowed their bank accounts to be used to receive money gained fraudulently through a Business Email Compromise scheme.
"We are going after those who use the Internet to scam people, especially our elders," U.S. Attorney G.T. Martin for the Middle District of North Carolina said in a statement. "This defendant was a critical player in a large fraud conspiracy. He moved money through bank accounts to avoid fraud controls and get it overseas, handsomely profiting in the process."
According to the news release, the case was investigated by the FBI's Cyber Squad and Anand Ramaswamy, Cybercrime prosecutor for the Middle District of North Carolina, handled the prosecution.
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