EXCLUSIVE: Air Peace founder, Allen Onyema’s alleged co-conspirator pleads guilty to $20m bank fraud

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Ebony Mayfield, a co-conspirator in an alleged $20 million fraud involving Nigeria’s Allen Onyema, has pleaded guilty, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report.

Ms Mayfield pleaded guilty to one of the eight counts filed against her by the U.S. government at the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, in Atlanta, on June 29.

The fraud allegedly spearheaded by Mr Onyema was allegedly perpetrated under the guise of obtaining credit to buy aircraft for Air Peace, a frontline Nigerian airline, in the U.S.

Ms Mayfield was accused of helping Mr Onyema to facilitate a $20 million bank fraud between May 2016 and February 2018 when she worked as the manager for Springfield Aviation Company LLC, owned by the Air Peace founder.

U.S. prosecutors accused her of signing and submitting the false documents used by Mr Onyema to perpetuate the bank fraud in the U.S.

Ms Mayfield, who was arrested on June 7, 2019, for her alleged roles in the alleged scheme, had previously pleaded not guilty to all eight charges filed against her in December 2019.

Her trial was, in March this year, rescheduled to start on August 8.

But weeks before the trial date, she changed her plea from not guilty to guilty when she appeared before the trial judge, Eleanor Ross, on June 29.

A copy of the plea agreement she and her lawyer signed with U.S. prosecutors shows she specifically pleaded guilty to Count 5, which is a conspiracy to commit credit application fraud.

“The Defendant (Ebony Mayfield) admits that she is pleading guilty because she is in fact guilty of the crime(s) charged in Count 5,” a copy of the plea agreement obtained by PREMIUM TIMES read in part.

Likely sentence

She risks up to five years’ jail term based on the plea agreement.

Five years’ imprisonment is the maximum jail term provided for in Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, under which she was charged with the offence in Count 5.

There are, however, indications that she would get less than five years at her sentencing already scheduled for September 21.

The plea agreement said if her “cooperation” with the government continues to qualify as “substantial assistance”, prosecutors “will file a motion at sentencing recommending a downward departure from the applicable guideline range.”

If her cooperation continues to qualify as substantial assistance after sentencing, the government said, it would again file “a motion for reduction of sentence.”

The U.S. federal prosecutors in Northern Georgia also agreed “not to bring additional charges against the defendant with the exception of charges resulting from or related to violent criminal activity based on any information provided by the Defendant in connection with the cooperation that was not known to the Government prior to the cooperation.”

Other penalties as Ms Mayfield pleads guilty

Aside from the risk of a maximum five years jail term she faces, the plea agreement also recommends she be fined $250,000, or twice the gain or twice the loss whichever is greatest. The fine is due and payable immediately.

She will also make full restitution due and payable immediately to all victims of the offence(s) and relevant conduct.

The plea agreement also recommends the forfeiture of any and all proceeds from the commission of the offence and any and all property used or intended to be used to facilitate the offence.

She will be subjected to a mandatory special assessment of $100, due and payable immediately.

She also, by pleading guilty, gave up the right to plead not guilty, the right to be tried by a jury, and the right to appeal against her conviction.

If she is not a U.S. citizen, she stands the risk of being expelled from the country after completing her jail term.

“The Defendant recognises that pleading guilty may have consequences with respect to her immigration status if she is not a citizen of the United States. Under federal law, a broad range of crimes are removable offences including the offence to which the Defendant is pleading guilty,” the document said.

But Manubir Arora, Ms Mayfield’s lawyer, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that his client is a U.S. citizen and as such is free from being removed from the country.

Alleged Fraud

Prosecutors say Mr Onyema recruited Ms Mayfield to act as a manager of his Springfield Aviation Company LLC, which he allegedly used for perpetrating the alleged $20 million fraud between May 2016 and February 2018.

Springfield Aviation, according to court documents, was established by Mr Onyema in the U.S. State of Georgia in April 2016 purportedly to specialise in “the wholesaling, trading/ and sale of commercial aircraft and parts”.

Prosecutors say Ms Mayfield was recruited as a manager of Springfield Aviation with the role of entering into aviation-related contracts on behalf of the firm, despite her lack of education, training, or licensing in the review and valuation of aircraft, including aircraft components.

Between November 2016 and October 2017, prosecutors said, Mr Onyema applied for export letters of credit to cause the transfer of funds from a Nigerian bank account for Air Peace to Springfield Aviation’s bank account, “purportedly to fund the purchase of aircraft by Air Peace from Springfield Aviation”.

“The aircraft that was referenced in each of the export letters of credit was never owned or sold by Springfield Aviation,” the prosecutors said.

They added that also the defendants submitted false documents to Wells Fargo (American bank), including fabricated purchase agreements, bills of sale, and valuation documents, in support of the letter of credit to causing the disbursement of funds from Wells Fargo into Springfield Aviation’s account.

Mr Onyema and Air Peace Limited’s Head of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha, also face 36 charges at the U.S. court in connection with the alleged fraudulent scheme.

But they have yet to show up or send a lawyer to represent them in court.

Chiamaka Okafor is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe.


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