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Traffic stop in St. Johns County leads to arrest of man suspected in international theft ring

Olusegun Odunwole among 4 indicted in Texas on charges of organized criminal activity

A traffic stop in St. Johns County led to an arrest in an international theft ring based out of Africa. News4Jax reporter Erik Avanier has been looking into this international crime ring investigation, and who it targeted.

A traffic stop in St. Johns County led to the arrest of a man suspected in an international theft operation based out of Africa.

Olusegun Odunwole, 33, was one of four people recently indicted in Fort Worth, Texas, on charges of organized criminal activity.

Following the indictment, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Odunwole was captured Wednesday morning during a traffic stop on Interstate 95. St. Johns County deputies pulled him over after receiving 911 complaints about a freight truck with a roof that appeared to be coming off.

“I’m very glad to hear that he was captured without incident and I’m looking for his extradition back to Texas to answer charges of engaging in organized criminal activity, which is a first-degree felony here in Texas," said Tarrant County, Texas, Prosecutor Lori Varnell.

According to authorities in multiple U.S. jurisdictions, Odunwole and the other three suspects who were indicted were part of a criminal organization, based in Africa, that targets seniors by stealing their retirement money via convincing phone calls.

“These schemes involve millions -- not thousands or hundreds of thousands -- but millions of our retirement funds from this country," Varnell said.

Authorities also say the organization targets widows and widowers looking for love on dating websites. Varnell says there are countless victims from California to Georgia.

Investigators say the stolen money is laundered out of the U.S. to operation ring leaders in Nigeria and Ghana. Varnell says there could be thousands of people in the U.S. legally who are part of the organized scheme and they all have regular jobs.

“If I were to guess, I would say thousands in the United States -- thousands of individuals laundering money back to a country that was committing the fraud to get it. In this country, they call it a hawala scheme," Varnell said. “This is a great way to make extra money for them. A percentage of money going overseas, in general, is how they get paid for their efforts of using their bank accounts and time to launder funds."

Varnell is warning people that it’s happening every day in the U.S.

“If you’re not accustomed to wiring money, don’t wire money. If you don’t know who you are wiring the money to or if you have not seen the whites of their eyes, then you shouldn’t be wiring money. You shouldn’t be buying postal money orders or sending cash through the mail. All of these are hallmarks of this type of scheme," Varnell said.

Varnell says that if you have an elderly loved one who lives alone, you need to check up on them to make sure they have not been in contact with someone they don' know who is asking for money.

At some point, Odunwole will be extradited back to Texas.

Investigators say they plan to identify and arrest more people involved.

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