‘Billionaire Gucci Master’ gets 11 years in prison for fraud

Ramon Abbas, known as the Billionaire Gucci Master, plead guilty in April 2021 to conspiracy to engage in money laundering. PHOTO: HUSHPUPPI/INSTAGRAM

LOS ANGELES – The Nigerian Instagram influencer who flaunted his wealth on social media as @hushpuppi and the Billionaire Gucci Master was ordered to spend the next 11 years in a US prison for his role in a global theft and money-laundering scam.

Ramon Abbas, 40, was sentenced on Monday in Los Angeles to 135 months in prison after pleading guilty in April 2021 to conspiracy to engage in money laundering, which included helping North Korean hackers launder money from their attempts to steal more than US$1.3 billion (S$1.8 billion) through cyber-enabled bank heists, according to the United States government.

In agreeing to plead guilty, Abbas waived most of his rights to appeal the sentence, although he can still do so under limited circumstances.

“Everything is on the table,” Abbas’ lawyer John Iweanoge said after the sentencing hearing in Los Angeles, where he suggested an appropriate sentence would have been four to five years.

“It was way, way more than we thought,” he said of the prison term imposed by the judge.

Abbas, born in Nigeria, gained fame in Instagram posts to his more than two million followers, often smiling in front of one of his Rolls-Royces or his Ferrari, or kicking back in a seat on a private jet.

On gossip blogs, he was known as a “Nigerian big boy”, shorthand for an online fraudster.

“He was an equal opportunity criminal,” prosecutors said in a court filing, citing his “long history as a scammer and money launderer”.

Abbas “is, by all accounts, an ambitious individual, but his ambition has long been directed towards crime and its rewards”, the government said. His “conduct was reprehensible and deserves serious punishment”.

US District Judge Otis Wright said he felt prosecutors and defence lawyers were talking about two different people in their depictions of Abbas.

Abbas’ lawyers painted a picture of a family man and successful businessman who strayed into a world of crime and did little more than provide access to bank accounts to fraudsters.

Abbas, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and handcuffed, told the judge he was in deep financial trouble in 2019 when he accepted offers from some associates to help them launder money.

“I was desperate, your honour,” he said. “I was very desperate.”

He apologised to his victims and promised to repay them in full by selling his two Rolls-Royces, a Ferrari and a Range Rover.

In his plea agreement, Abbas admitted to setting up bank accounts in Romania and Bulgaria for Ghaleb Alaumary, a convicted money launderer, through which money from a Maltese bank heist was laundered. The US charged North Korean hackers with stealing, or planning to steal, €13 million (S$18 million) from the Maltese bank.

Abbas also set up a bank account in Mexico to help launder money from e-mail scams that targeted a British professional football club and a British company. Those scams would have ripped off the British victims of £6 million (S$9.7 million), the US said.

He also admitted to helping launder money from other victims of fraud, including a New York City law firm and a company in Qatar, according to the US.

Ramon Abbas gained fame in Instagram posts to his more than two million followers, often smiling in front of one of his Rolls Royces or his Ferrari, or kicking back in a seat on a private jet PHOTO: HUSHPUPPI/INSTAGRAM

Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Abbas to 11 years and three months in prison. 

Abbas did not know how many people were involved in the conspiracy, nor how much money was involved, his lawyers said. They blamed his involvement on his naivete and poor judgment.

“Mr Abbas was not the leader, organiser, or supervisor in the commission of this offence,” his attorneys said. “Mr Abbas has done everything in his power to right his wrongful acts.”

Alaumary, of Mississauga, Ontario, was sentenced to more than 11 years’ jail in September, after pleading guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

In a letter to the judge, Abbas apologised for his actions.

“If I could turn back the hands of time I would make an entirely different decision and be more careful in the choices and friends I make,” he said in the handwritten letter. BLOOMBERG

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