October 27, 2021

4th Circuit affirms extraterritorial reach of MLCA

In an October 26, 2021 opinion, the Fourth Circuit rejected a criminal defendant’s motion for reconsideration of his unsuccessful motion for a new trial.  The defendant-appellant, Nigerian national Seun Banjo Ojedokun, was convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering under Section (h) of the Money Laundering Control Act, 18 USC § 1956.  The conspiracy involved an internet romance scheme aimed at defrauding elderly individuals in the US, and distributing the proceeds of the fraud through multiple bank accounts in the US and Nigeria.  For the duration of the conspiracy, which took place between 2011 and 2015, the defendant did not enter the US.  His role consisted primarily of sending and receiving email confirmation of the fraud victims’ payments.  He was arrested in 2019 after moving to the US to study, and convicted and sentenced in the US District Court for the District of Maryland to 108 months of imprisonment.

Several grounds were asserted on appeal, among them the question whether the extraterritorial provision of the Money Laundering Control Act (18 USC § 1956(f)) granted the district court subject matter jurisdiction over the one-count 18 USC § 1956(h) conspiracy charge. 

Section (f) of the MLCA provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction over conduct prohibited by the statute if (1) the conduct is by a US citizen, or occurs in part in the United States, and (2) over $10,000 is involved.  Affirming the district court’s opinion, the 4th Circuit rejected the defendant’s jurisdictional argument, concluding that Section(f) explicitly overcomes the general presumption against the extraterritorial application of federal statutes, and that Ojedokun’s conduct fell within Section (f)(1) in that the conspiratorial conduct – sending and receiving emails and information about payments to and from the mastermind of the fraud scheme, a US citizen residing in Laurel, Maryland — occurred “in part in the United States.”  Furthermore, the court rejected Ojedokun’s argument that Section (h) of the statute, which subjects persons who conspire to commit the prescribed offenses to the same penalties imposed for commission of the object of the conspiracy, could not apply because Ojedokun’s offense consisted of entering into an agreement, not engaging in “conduct.”  The court applied the ordinary meaning of the word conduct, concluding that the term covers action, inaction, verbal and nonverbal – “the manner in which a person behaves” – and that Ojedokun’s agreement with Gbenga Benson Ogundele, the Maryland resident, to launder money, was sufficient to incur liability under 18 USC § 1956 (h).

The defendant also unsuccessfully argued that the superseding indictment under which he was charged was time-barred, and that his Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.