By Soni Daniel
ABUJA — Details emerged, yesterday, of how a Nigerian, Emmanuel Ekhator, successfully ripped off unsuspecting persons across the United States and Canada to the tune of $11 million (N1.782 billion) in a major mail and wire fraud.
Ekhator, who was handed a three-year jail term by a Pennsylvania District Court judge, was first arrested and investigated by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, before being extradited to stand trial in the US
The 42-year-old man was also ordered by Justice Yvette Kane to forfeit $11 million (N1.782 billion) to his victims as restitution, after pleading guilty to the charges brought against him.
Justice Kane ordered Ehkator’s forfeiture of property he acquired with the illicit funds in Canada and cash lodged in several banks in Nigeria.
How he did it
While the trial lasted, the prosecutor informed the court that Ekhator was part of an attorney collection scam.
Under the scam, the convict contacted many US and Canadian law firms by e-mail, claiming to be individuals or businesses outside North America who were owed money by entities in the United States and asked for legal representation to collect the money.
The prosecutor narrated to the court that, “often, the prospective ‘clients’ said the money owed came from a real estate transaction, tort claim, or divorce settlement.
“Once the law firm agreed to represent the out-of-country client, it would be contacted by the US entity purportedly owing money with an offer to pay the client by cheque.
“The client would then instruct the law firm to deposit the cheque in the law firm’s trust account, retain the law firm’s fee, and wire the remaining funds to accounts in Asia.”
The clique, it was disclosed, often mailed counterfeit cheques to law firms once they gave their consent for representations and most of them got to know about the sham cheque after funds from their trust accounts had been wired to Asian banks.
The counterfeit cheques, which appeared to be drawn on legitimate accounts from well-established financial institutions, often included a telephone number for the financial institutions.
Lawyers attempting to determine the validity of the cheque would call the number only to reach another conspirator who would falsely verify the cheque.
The court was also told that Ekhator’s involvement in the scheme made him responsible for losses of more than $7 million and up to $20 million.
Ekhator’s co-defendant, Yvette Mathurin, has also been charged for conspiracy and is awaiting extradition from Canada, while another co-conspirator, Kingsley Osagie, was arrested as he arrived in Atlanta area from Nigeria.
He is currently awaiting trial in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Other co-conspirators are awaiting extradition from several foreign countries as investigation continues against other members of the large, multi-national conspiracy.
Aside from EFCC, other agencies that investigated the crime were the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, the Toronto Police Services and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
It was prosecuted by Assistant US Attorney, Christy Fawcett.