Pittsburg, Pennsylvania - A citizen of Cameroon pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in a scheme to trick American consumers into paying fees for pets that were never delivered and for using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to extract higher fees from victims.
According to court documents and proceedings, from around June 2018 to around June 2020, Desmond Fodje Bobga, 28, of Cameroon, knowingly conspired with others to offer pets for sale on internet websites. He and others communicated by text message and email with potential victims to induce purchases. Following each purchase, Bobga and co-conspirators claimed that a transportation company would deliver the pet and provided a false tracking number for the pet. Bobga and his co-conspirators, posing as the transportation company, then claimed the pet transport was delayed and that the victim needed to pay additional money for delivery of the pet.
Bobga and co-conspirators told some victims that they needed to pay more money for delivery because the pet had been exposed to the coronavirus. The perpetrators used false promises and fake documents regarding shipping fees and coronavirus exposure to extract successive payments from victims. After Bobga and the co-conspirators received money directly and indirectly through wire communications from the victims, they never delivered any pets.
“The Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting fraud schemes that take advantage of American consumers, including schemes that seek to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “We are grateful to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and to the FBI for their partnership on this matter, and we greatly appreciate the efforts of Romanian law enforcement.”
“Desmond Fodje Bobga exploited consumers who were seeking the companionship of a pet to alleviate the isolation and stress caused by the COVID pandemic,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman for the Western District of Pennsylvania. “Today he acknowledged his deceitful and unlawful acts, and we will seek a sentence commensurate with the harm he caused by his criminal conduct.”
“Mr. Bobga preyed on American citizens looking for comfort from a pet during the COVID pandemic,” said Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall of FBI Pittsburgh. “His admission of guilt today will give his victims some solace in knowing someone is being held accountable. This investigation should also be a reminder to everyone to be careful who they’re buying from on the internet.”
The criminal charges detail the dealings of Bobga and his co-conspirators with victims in western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. For example:
- One victim, of New Brighton, Pennsylvania, was seeking to purchase a mini-dachshund for her mother in mid-March of 2020. Victim 1 was induced to pay $9,100 due to false claims that the pet was being shipped, needed insurance, and was exposed to COVID-19;
- Another victim, of Fruitland, Iowa, was seeking to purchase a mini-dachshund for herself in mid-March of 2020. False claims induced Victim 2 to lose $1,840; and
- A couple in Dallas, Texas, was seeking to purchase a dog. The victims were induced to make successive payments based on false claims about transportation issues and other matters and lost $1,800.
The criminal charges include a reference to a website, lovelyhappypuppy.com, to which Bobga directed numerous victims to view pets that he fraudulently claimed to sell:
Bobga pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 8, 2022 and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher M. Cook of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Trial Attorney Wei Xiang of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.
The FBI Pittsburgh Field Office investigated the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance. Law enforcement authorities in Romania, including the Romanian National Police, Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and the Cluj Brigade for Combating Organized Crime, provided significant cooperation.