20 charged in money laundering-scheme with Youngstown ties

Investigators say the group was led by Zachary Howell, found murdered in a burning car in Youngstown earlier this year

Note: Croom and Conner were arrested after Wednesday's press conference.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Twenty people are facing charges in what FBI investigators in Youngstown called an international money-laundering scheme.

Investigators say the group was involved in laundering $16 million in stolen money as part of an international fraud ring operating in Canada, Africa and other parts of the U.S.

Investigators said the group obtained financial account information by tricking the victims into believing that they were engaging in legitimate business. Those victims then transferred money to bank accounts in control of the suspects, according to an indictment.

Police said the schemes also involved computer hacking, spoofed emails and computer takeovers. Some of the suspects acted as if they were in online relationships with their victims, according to investigators.

A mid-level operator identified by investigators as Zachary Howell was accused of recruiting and managing a group of “low-level conspirators” in the crime by maintaining shell corporations that had no legitimate business.

Howell was murdered in February, found in a burning car in Youngstown. He had been collecting signatures to appear on the ballot in the Youngstown mayoral race before he was reported missing.

Investigators believe that the murder was unrelated to the fraud ring.

Ten people have already pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. Three suspects are still at large.