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Las Vegan convicted of fraud in massive Nigerian oil scheme

A Las Vegas resident who served in the U.S. Marine Corps was convicted in federal court Wednesday of defrauding investors and the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department in a large-scale multimillion-dollar Nigerian oil scheme, according to a Justice Department news release.

Anton Paul Drago, formerly known as Evan Fogarty, 65, was convicted after an eight-day trial. He was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, two counts of wire fraud, three counts of submitting false claims to the Veterans Affairs Department, one count of theft of government funds, one count of passing a ficticious financial instrument, one count of making false statements to federal agents and one count of failing to file a federal income tax return.

From at least 2004 through 2012, Drago had orchestrated a large-scale Nigerian oil investment fraud scheme, according to the release.

He told investors that the money they invested would be used for legal fees and business expenses to fund the production, refinement and shipping of crude oil from Nigeria to the Bahamas and that the money would fund the purchase of an oil refinery in the Bahamas.

Drago lied to investors about his background and falsely claimed that he was an engineer and expert in the oil industry with over 30 years of experience working worldwide. He also falsely told investors that he was the grandson of the Shell Oil founder and heir to a $500 million trust that he had already spent on the Nigerian oil investment deal.

Investors gave Drago and his co-conspirator, Joseph Rizzuti, more than $2 million that they had used on personal expenses such as rent, groceries, membership at the Tournament Players Club Summerlin golf club, car maintenance, jewelry and travel and luxury purchases at Louis Vuitton among other stores. Drago also failed to file his 2007 federal income tax return in a timely manner, according to the release.

Drago attempted to negotiate a fictitious financial instrument purporting to be an International Bill of Exchange worth $10 million at a Wells Fargo branch in Las Vegas.

Drago also lied to federal agents of the Internal Revenue Service who were investigating him and told them that all of the investor money went to Nigeria.

At the same time Drago was perpetrating the oil scheme, he falsely claimed individual unemployability compensation benefits from the Veterans Affairs.

For decades, Drago claimed to have a debilitating military service-connected knee injury and was unable to work in any capacity, when, in fact, he was self-employed and had been running several businesses. Based upon his false claims, he received thousands of dollars in monthly veterans benefits, the release stated.

U.S. District Judge James Mahan set Drago’s sentencing for June 14. Drago faces a statutory maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison. He also faces mandatory restitution and financial penalties, more than $2 million in fines and the costs of prosecution.

“Today’s verdict sends a strong message to would-be fraudsters that the Tax Division is committed to not only pursuing defendants who seek to steal from the U.S. Treasury, but also those who take advantage of their fellow citizens through the use of schemes like the one perpetrated by Mr. Drago,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo said.

Contact Jessica Terrones at jterrones@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Find her on Twitter: @JessATerrones

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