​Prosecutors allege that​ Osmond Eweka, a member of the royal family of the Benin Kingdom ​in Nigeria, rented an office in the Empire State Building for a bogus job-placement company. Picture: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters (Archives) ANA

New York - There are countless stories of people getting scammed online by someone claiming to be Nigerian royalty. There are decidedly fewer stories of people getting scammed in person by an actual member of Nigerian royalty.

But prosecutors say that is exactly what happened to at least 250 victims of a scheme carried out by Osmond Eweka, a member of the royal family of the Benin Kingdom, and his associate Kamel McKay, who is from the Bronx.

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R Vance Jr, announced on Thursday that Eweka and McKay had been indicted on charges that they stole more than $54 000 (about R715 000) from people searching for employment.

Eweka, 31, a US citizen who lives in Montclair, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of larceny and scheme to defraud before Justice Daniel P. Conviser in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, who released him without bail. McKay, 27, was arraigned on the same indictment last week and freed on $200 000 bail.

One of Eweka’s lawyers, Thomas A Kenniff, said his client did nothing illegal. “The reality is that Mr Eweka provided honest services to many satisfied clients,” he said.

Prosecutors say Eweka rented an office in the Empire State Building for a bogus job-placement company, Stamford Consulting Firm LLC, and located job seekers through the website Indeed.com. He then had an unidentified woman lure them into his office with the promise of a job interview, prosecutors said. The applicants were instructed to bring money to pay a fee for licensing and training should they be hired.

When the victims met Eweka in person, he introduced himself as Sean Jackson and claimed to have connections with employers across New York City, prosecutors said. After being told they were hired, the applicants paid fees ...ranging from $289 to $600.

Eweka told the job seekers that paying higher fees would land them positions with higher wages, prosecutors said. The victims were instructed to return to Eweka’s office at a later date. He then sent them to the Fire Department headquarters in downtown Brooklyn to obtain a fire guard license, telling them it was necessary for their new positions. When they passed the test, Eweka advised the victims to wait for a call from a job-placement coordinator.

For some, the call never came. For others, the caller, who used a blocked number, instructed them to go to fake addresses, prosecutors said. Others reported showing up to real businesses that were not expecting them and had no connection to Stamford Consulting Firm.

From May 18 to June 12, Eweka and McKay also worked together to orchestrate a similar scheme out of an office at 521 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, using a company named Howard Consulting Group LLC, prosecutors said.

Uku Akpolopolo Ewuare II, the oba of the Benin Kingdom in Nigeria, leads the royal family of Benin today, which dates to the 11th century. The Benin Kingdom is centered in Benin City, which has a population of about 1.5 million.

Eweka’s precise position in the royal family of Benin remains unclear. Prosecutors said in court that he was a member of the family and had strong ties to Nigeria. There are websites identifying him as a prince, featuring photos and videos of his royal wedding in 2016.

Two representatives of the family who answered the telephone at offices in Texas and New Jersey said they did not know Eweka. “There is no way to verify who he is, because it is a very large family,” said one representative at the New Jersey office, who declined to give his name.

New York Times