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Three West African defendants pleaded guilty to federal charges of running an advance-fee scheme that targeted U.S. victims with promises of millions of dollars, including money from an estate and a lottery.

The guilty plea proceedings were held this week before US Magistrate Judge Ramon E. Reyes, Jr. at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York.

Nnamdi Chizuba Anisiobi, Anthony Friday Ehis and Kesandu Egwuonwu were extradited from the Netherlands after police raids in February 2006. Following these arrests Dutch police started Operation Apollo to fight internet fraud scams operated by West Africans and notably Nigerians.

Using names such as Yellowman, Abdul Rahman, Michael Anderson, Edmund Walter, Nancy White, Jiggaman and Namo, the men sent spam emails to thousands of potential victims, in which they falsely claimed to control millions of dollars located abroad.

In one scenario, the defendants sent emails purporting to be from an individual suffering from terminal throat cancer who needed assistance distributing approximately $55m to charity.

A fourth defendant fled to Nigeria, but was later arrested by the Nigerian Economic & Financial Crimes Commission. He also will be extradited to the US. The maximum penalty for mail and wire fraud in North America is 20 years in prison.

So far, most Nigerian scammers arrested in Europe have been deported back to Nigeria or sentenced locally. However, assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division this week that online scam artists should be "on notice that we will continue to work closely with our international partners to ensure that there are no safe geographic boundaries for committing these crimes." ®

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