A jury convicted a Laurel woman late today of taking part in an extortion scheme against a neurosurgeon with whom she had an affair.Queen Nwoye, 28, was accused of conspiring to extort $180,000 from Ikemba Iweala, a doctor at Providence Hospital. Prosecutors said Nwoye and a partner — who has not been charged in the case — threatened to reveal the affair unless Iweala turned over the money. Iweala, who is married, paid the money but then alerted authorities, prosecutors said.
Jurors deliberated less than two hours before returning their verdict. Nwoye likely faces a prison term of 30 to 37 months under federal sentencing guidelines, prosecutors said. U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle set a Jan. 18 sentencing date.
The 59-year-old Nigerian neurosurgeon at Providence Hospital confessed that he started an affair with Nwoye, a nurse who hailed from his native country.
He told the jury yesterday that his stupidity sullied his and his family’s reputation and seriously wounded his marriage.
“Things will never be the same,” a frail-looking, gray-bearded Iweala said with a sigh as he testified this week. “I am still married. . . . But I feel very angry at myself. And, I have lost a lot of money.”
Iweala hoped to conceal the affair and protect his community standing in the United States and in Nigeria, he acknowledged to prosecutors. Other members of his family, based in the cozy suburb of Potomac and with high profiles in their own fields, had much at stake as well.
His wife, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is a former foreign and finance minister for Nigeria and a veteran employee of the World Bank. She is a Harvard-educated economist and was mentioned as a possible successor to Paul D. Wolfowitz, who resigned as president in June. This month, the new World Bank president, Robert B. Zoellick, made her one of his top deputies.
Uzodinma Iweala, the couple’s son, who graduated from St. Albans and Harvard, is the author of the critically acclaimed “Beasts of No Nation,” his first novel. The fictionalized story of an African child warrior was released last year.
Nwoye insisted that she, too, was a victim.
Testifying in her own defense, she admitted yesterday that she helped collect the money and helped her boyfriend, Adriane Osuagwu, pretend to be her cousin so he could conceal his identity. But with a sullen face and insistent cries, Nwoye testified that she was powerless to resist the orders of Osuagwu, whom she described as a physically abusive, controlling man and as the scheme’s mastermind.
“This is a sad case,” Nwoye’s attorney, John Iweanoge, told jurors in opening statements earlier in the week. “You’re going to hear evidence of adultery, no question. You’re going to hear about money going into Ms. Nwoye’s accounts.”
But, the defense attorney continued, “Ms. Nwoye was a victim too, She made the mistake of her life falling in love in the middle of a divorce with the wrong man.”
According to court papers, the story began in early 2002 when Nwoye, then a nurse in training, noticed the doctor’s name in a hospital directory. She said she recognized Iweala as a fellow Nigerian and introduced herself. They became friends, and, in September 2002, they became lovers. The sexual relationship ended in August 2003, they both say, but their friendship continued.
Nearly three years later, in February 2006, Iweala testified, he received a surprise call from Nwoye. She told Iweala that he must call her cousin “Ufondu” in Georgia. It was then that “Ufondu,” an alias that the nurse’s new boyfriend was using, demanded that the doctor pay $20,000 or he would tell Iweala’s wife about the affair. Within a week, the man demanded another $20,000, prosecutors said.
On March 10, 2006, Nwoye called Iweala to suggest that they meet because “she said she had not had sex in a while,” according to court papers. While the two were having sex in the parking lot in Nwoye’s car, someone approached and began taking photographs. That night, “Ufondu” called Iweala again to demand an additional $100,000, the court papers said.
Iweala said the demands by “Ufondu” continued. Authorities say Nwoye picked up some of the checks and cash and deposited the money into her and her boyfriend’s bank accounts. “There is a lot I could have done,” she told the jury. “I really wanted something to be done, but I couldn’t help myself.”
Iweala brought the case to the FBI’s attention and agreed to help authorities in the prosecution. “He felt compelled to bring the culprits to justice in order to prevent others from falling prey to a similar scheme,” said Iweala’s attorney, Vincent Cohen.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela Hart-Edwards told jurors that the case is not about getting the money back. “That’s gone,” she said.
One unanswered question for the jury so far concerns the boyfriend, Osuagwu. If he orchestrated this extortion plot along with the nurse, as the government alleges, where is he, and why hasn’t he been charged, too?
“Beats me,” Nwoye’s attorney said. “I’m surprised he’s not here now, as a defendant.”
Prosecutors declined to comment on why Osuagwu has not been charged.
– Washington Post