Nigerian Convicted in Relation to ‘Butch’ Ballow Fraud Scheme
HOUSTON—Sikiru Olubunmi Bonojo, 44, a citizen of Nigeria residing in Houston, has admitted to laundering the proceeds of a fraud scheme directed by Harris Dempsey “Butch” Ballow, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.
Bonojo and Ballow met in prison in fall 2003 when they were both in custody on unrelated criminal charges. Ballow, 71, formerly of Galveston County, pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering in September 2003 and was permitted release pending sentencing. However, he fled to Mexico and remained a fugitive for more than five years. After Bonojo’s release from prison, he continued to communicate with the fugitive Ballow.
In 2004, Bonojo helped obtain fraudulent British passports for Ballow. In 2005, while living in Mexico under the alias of “John Gel,” Ballow gained control of E-SOL International Corp. (E-SOL), a Nevada company with shares traded on the over-the-counter securities market under the symbol ESIT. Ballow then carried out a fraudulent scheme to sell stock in E-SOL and interests in a non-existent Mexican vacation resort supposedly developed by E-SOL to unsuspecting investors. The victims included citizens of the United States and Canada who wire transferred money to a bank account in the name of E-SOL at Wells Fargo Bank in Reno, Nev.
In 2006, Ballow began causing large sums of money to be wire transferred from E-SOL’s bank account at Wells Fargo to accounts controlled by Bonojo at banks in the Houston area, including an account in the name of Guiding Angels EMS Inc. at Trustmark National Bank. Bonojo admitted in today’s court proceedings that he knew the money sent from Wells Fargo was proceeds of some kind of felony, further acknowledging he withdrew much of the money in cash in order to conceal and disguise its source. Bonojo used a lot of the cash to make payments Ballow directed, including to his grandson who was living in or near Houston.
U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, who accepted the guilty plea, has set sentencing for March 3, 2015, at which time Bonojo faces up to 20 years of federal imprisonment and a possible $500,000 fine. He will remain in custody pending that hearing.
Four others were also charged in this case—James David Wright, 59, of Corinth; Christopher Robert Harless, 61, of Gerogetown; Patrick Lanier, 66, of Austin; and Clarence LaFey Hudgens Jr., 58, of Lebanon, Ore. Hudgens, Wright and Harless each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud arising from the E-SOL stock sale scheme. Lanier was convicted Feb. 27, 2014, after a lengthy trial on 16 counts to include conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, harboring and concealing Ballow from arrest and assisting a federal offender.
A second, but related, case against Ballow and five others is pending. Ballow is in custody, while the others are located in foreign countries. Those six are considered innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.
The cases were investigated by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigation with the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The governments of Mexico and Canada also provided extensive and valuable assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys John R. Lewis and Belinda Beek are prosecuting the case.