A Maryland man pleaded guilty Monday to his role in a scheme that prosecutors say generated more than $158,000 by pretending to sell pit bull puppies online.
The scheme unfolded between January 2019 and September 2020, according to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, and involved more than 100 people in 40 states looking to adopt pets.
In court documents, prosecutors said Azoh lured potential victims with websites advertising pit bull puppy adoption and then directed them to pay for the dogs through a money transfer service. He later asked the victims for more money to cover “unanticipated expenses,” like increased transportation costs for the animal that would never arrive.
One victim interviewed in the criminal complaint said he paid $550 for a pit bull and then received a call from the purported owner of the adoption website requesting an additional $1,200 for problems shipping the animal in inclement weather. The victim told law enforcement that he spoke to the self-identified website owner on the phone and heard the sound of dogs barking in the background of the call, the criminal complaint said.
The probe began when Walmart representatives contacted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s investigative arm concerning suspicious financial activity in the Washington region. Over the course of the investigation, agents with Homeland Security Investigations found that Azoh used a global money transfer service called Walmart2Walmart to carry out the scheme, according to court documents. Azoh used more than 200 different identities to receive transactions at Walmart stores across the District and surrounding states, prosecutors said.
In an interview with law enforcement, Azoh said he sells cars and bitcoin to people in Africa for a living, according to the criminal complaint. He ultimately admitted to being involved in the fraud but said he was the “middle man” and only takes a 30 percent cut of the money. He said he sends the rest to Africa, according to the complaint.
Azoh spoke briefly during the hearing Monday to enter his guilty plea.
He also agreed to a restitution order of at least $158,000 and to forfeit $67,000 seized by law enforcement during the investigation, among other payments.
Co-conspirators in the scheme have not been identified.
Azoh’s sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 17.