Ramon Abbas isn’t a real estate developer, but he played one on Instagram.
He flaunted a lavish lifestyle with private jets, luxury cars, gourmet meals and opulent international trips. But the Nigerian man popularly known as Ray Hushpuppi on social media was really a prolific money launderer who swindled millions of dollars from companies in the U.S. and abroad, according to CNN.
Abbas was sentenced in federal court last week to 11 years in prison and ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution to two victims.
All told, he and co-conspirators stole or conspired to launder more than $300 million through various fraudulent online activities, the Department of Justice said.
In one case, Abbas and Ghaleb Alaumary induced a paralegal at an unnamed New York law firm to wire more than $900,000, which was meant for a client’s real estate refinancing, to a bank account controlled by the fraudsters.
In 2019, he helped launder $14.7 million stolen by North Korean hackers from a bank in Malta, funneling the money through banks in Romania and Bulgaria. Other victims include a U.K.-based soccer club and a person who was trying to build a school in Qatar, officials said.
Until his June 2020 arrest, Abbas had quite a ride — in some cases literally — with his ill-gotten gains.
In addition to photos of him with various sports stars and celebrities, Abbas’ posts included pictures of him posing with Bentleys, Rolls Royces and Ferraris, with the hashtag #AllMine.
“Started out my day having sushi down at Nobu in Monte Carlo, Monaco, then decided to book a helicopter to have … facials at the Christian Dior spa in Paris then ended my day having champagne in Gucci,” Abbas wrote in a caption on his now-defunct Instagram account, CNN reported.
But Abbas’ active social media presence, which had millions of followers, also helped bring him down, as officials linked the email address and phone number he used to register his Instagram account to transactions he was believed to have made with his co-conspirators.
His posts were also useful. Investigators, for example, verified his birthday by matching the one he listed on a U.S. visa application with the date of a post of a birthday cake that was topped with a Fendi logo.
Abbas, 40, was arrested by United Arab Emirates authorities at a Dubai resort in June 2020. He was subsequently turned over to the FBI, who charged him with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
At the time of his arrest, authorities seized more than $40 million, as well as 13 luxury cars worth nearly $7 million and email addresses of millions of potential victims.
Prior to his sentencing, Abbas struck a different tone than the flamboyance on display during his spree. In a letter to United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II, he expressed regret for “letting greed ruin the good name of my family, my blessing and my name.”
— Ted Glanzer