Mr Woodberry asks U.S. court to reduce eight-year prison sentence in fraud conviction

Olalekan Ponle

Olalekan Jacob Ponle, Mr Woodberry, who was convicted in 2023 for scamming individuals and businesses of millions of dollars, has asked the United States Court of Appeals to reduce his eight-year jail term on the grounds that the sentence was wrongly calculated.

Mr Woodberry argued he is being unfairly imprisoned with harsh restitution both for the crimes he planned to commit and the ones he actually committed, according to U.S. Seventh Circuit court documents reviewed by Peoples Gazette.

Mr Woodberry had set out to defraud individuals and entities of over $51 million but only ended up scamming his victims of approximately $8 million because some of them were quick to catch on to his schemes and refused to transfer their money. He was asked to pay the $8 million as restitution to seven of his identified victims.

American prosecutors had relied on a sentencing guideline that recommended Mr Woodberry’s offence level be enhanced by 22 levels, which inflicted harsher punishment on the infamous internet fraudster first arrested in Dubai in 2020 and promptly transferred to Chicago to stand trial. The 14-year prison recommendation was reduced to 11 years at sentencing by the presiding judge, Robert Gettleman of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

According to the guideline, “loss” was determined to be “the greater of the actual or intended loss.” In this case, $51 million, being the higher figure victims would have lost to Mr Woodberry’s email fraud scheme, was used to calculate his eight-year sentence.

Since Mr Woodberry’s criminal conduct exceeded $25 million, his offence level was raised by 22 levels with a corresponding jail term, prosecutors said in a January 8 brief to the appeals court.

But the convict, who was sentenced after his ally Ramon ‘Hushpuppi’ Abbas was handed 11 years for similar crimes in November 2022, argued “that the district court should use only actual loss, not intended loss, to calculate the proper offence level” and shorten his jail term.

He further contended that only seven of the 12 targeted victim companies actually experienced losses, and he begged not to be held accountable for crimes that, although planned, he did not commit.

U.S. prosecutors, in their defence, maintained that the lower court did not err in determining Mr Woodberry’s sentence and that the decision was consistent with similar cases decided in the past. They further pointed out that the word “loss” is “genuinely ambiguous” and does not necessarily refer to only “actual loss.”

The prosecutors stressed that Mr Woodberry himself had previously admitted guilt of using the email credentials of more than 10 people to commit fraud and was, therefore, deserving of the sentence.

Mr Woodberry was sentenced on July 11, 2023, to 100 months in prison over a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme and has already forfeited about 152 bitcoins and luxury vehicles and accessories to the U.S. government. He promptly filed an appeal to minimise his punishment, and his plea asking the Seventh Circuit to let him file the case without paying court fees was approved.

He would be deported to Nigeria after serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, where his family members, especially his American fiancée, would be allowed to visit him.

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