Obinwanne Okeke was supposed to be a rags-to-riches Nigerian success story. Then the feds followed the money.
There he was, smiling on the cover of Forbes Africa magazine, dollar bills raining like confetti. It was June 2016, and Obinwanne Okeke, then 28, was on top of the world; he had just landed a coveted spot on the magazine’s prestigious 30 under 30 list of African entrepreneurs. In the article, he was one of many whiz kids described as “Africa’s bright young things.”
The 17th child of a polygamous father whose mother was the fourth wife, Okeke’s father died when he was 16, and his mother, a teacher, worked multiple jobs to put him and his siblings through school. Growing up in Ukpor, a village in southeastern Nigeria, was tough, and luxuries like sneakers or a Game Boy were hard to come by, he said in a 2018 BBC interview.
Turns out, Okeke had been involved in a string of sophisticated online scams since at least 2015 — including when he was gracing that glossy Forbes Africa cover. He was arrested at Dulles International Airport, Virginia, on August 6, 2019, for defrauding a company of nearly $11 million. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud on June 18, 2020, and now faces up to 20 years in prison at his sentencing in October.