CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Huntington woman has been indicted as part of an international Nigerian fraud scheme for laundering schemes, according to justice officials.
Mike Stuart, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, announced the 12 count indictment returned against Patricia Dudding, 68, in what he called the largest elder fraud scheme ever prosecuted in West Virginia.
The charges include conspiracy to commit money laundering, bank fraud and unlawful money transactions in the alleged actions that scammed money from individuals, many of whom were elderly, in 20 states and six foreign countries.
“Elder fraud is an important priority for Attorney General Barr and me,” Stuart said. ” Elder fraud is a diabolical crime that preys on the vulnerabilities of some of the most vulnerable among us.
“By all outward appearances, Mrs. Dudding was just an ordinary neighbor but, instead, the indictment alleges she was what we call a “money mule” actively engaged in facilitating a money laundering scheme that left many, many victims in its wake.”
Stuart called some of the victim stories in the scheme “tragic” including using fake deaths and becoming Facebook friends after earning trust to gain money.
According to Stuart’s office, the indictment alleges that Dudding acted as a money mule for a Nigerian scammer. According to the indictment, Dudding met someone online identified as “Lucas” in the early spring of 2018, and communicated via email and text messaging.
The indictment further alleges that Dudding set up numerous bank accounts in her name at over 10 different banks and that she would use these bank accounts to wire and receive fraudulent funds.
The Huntington native received over $3 million in numerous deposits in those bank accounts from more than two dozen individuals located in the United States and abroad.
According to Stuart’s office, Dudding, and unnamed co-conspirators, ten transferred over $1.6 million to Nigeria during this period.
“This Nigerian fraudster clearly is a wrongdoer but the aiding and abetting, and acting as a money mule to transfer these funds to make it possible for these schemes to continue is a tragedy,” Stuart said at a press conference Wednesday.
Dunning, who faces 20 years in prison if convicted on all counts, allegedly used over $100,000 of victim funds for her personal benefit over the course of the scheme.
That includes using the funds to pay for her utility bills, satellite television service, groceries, drug store purchases, gasoline purchases, department store purchases, restaurants and took numerous cash withdrawals, officials said.
Stuart said the total cash withdrawals amounted to nearly $42,000.
$1.9 million related to the alleged scheme has been recovered by Stuart’s office along with the United States Secret Service, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) – Office of Inspector General and the South Charleston Police Department.
Officials said the investigation is ongoing and could result in additional federal and state charges in the future.