You are here: HomeNews2021 11 25Article 499804

General News of Thursday, 25 November 2021


US court jails Nigerian mechanic for defrauding 10 banks

Photo used to illustrate the story Photo used to illustrate the story

A Nigerian man has been sentenced to three and half years in federal prison for his role in an identity theft scheme in which conspirators tricked 10 banks into sending duplicate debit and credit cards, then used them to buy merchandise for resale in Nigeria.

The lawyer of the man identified simply as Sulemon Arowokoko, 32, said the suspect's criminal cohorts "took advantage" of him.

Arowokoko pleaded guilty in June.

The court in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania is led by US District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan.

Samiat Akinyemi, another Nigerian man was indicted with Arowokoko in 2020 on charges of conspiracy, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

Arowokoko admitted that indeed he was part of the conspiracy to steal the identity of bank customers to get duplicate debit and credit cards in the customers' names.

He said the criminal group then uses the cards to buy more than $250,000 worth of gift cards, clothes, perfume, jewelry, and furniture. Arowokoko shipped some of the items back to Nigeria.

Assistant US Attorney Jeff Bengel said the theft ring was sophisticated. One member used personal information from a victim and contacted the person's bank to "hijack their account."

Once inside, the group asked for new bank cards to be issued in the person's name and sent to an address connected to the conspiracy. One of those addresses was Arowokoko's house in Pittsburgh; a second was a house where he had previously worked as a home health care aide, according to SaharaReporters.

After a raid by the US Department of Homeland Security, it was discovered that Arowokoko used the cards hundreds of times to buy merchandise between the fall of 2017 and 2019.

"This is not a case where Arowokoko strayed into criminal conduct as the result of a momentary lapse in judgment," Mr. Bengel said. "Instead, Arowokoko systematically broke the law for almost two full years."

The fraud caused losses to dozens of customers at numerous banks and financial institutions.

"The result of the fraud was a clear benefit to Arowokoko: Reselling merchandise abroad is more profitable if it is bought in the first instance with someone else’s money," Mr. Bengel said.

Arowokoko only stopped when federal agents caught him.

His lawyer, Robert Carey Jr., asked for leniency, saying Arowokoko merely used the cards but wasn't the one who duped the banks into providing them or stole people's identities.

He said Arowokoko was born in Nigeria in 1989 and came to the US when he was 19, first to Rhode Island and then to Pittsburgh in 2011, and is a trained mechanic and nurse with no criminal past until now, according to SaharaReporters.

Mr. Carey said the criminal operation originated in Nigeria, where American goods are in demand and fraud schemes are common, pointing out that the FBI maintains a website dedicated to Nigerian "419" schemes. The number refers to the Nigerian crimes code.

"Sulemon's connections in Africa took advantage of him," Mr. Carey said. "Initially, Mr. Arowokoko was sending legitimately purchased American goods to contacts in Africa. Unfortunately, the arrangement slipped into criminal activity. Mr. Arowokoko was provided with third-party credit cards that he used to make unauthorized purchases. His role in the offense was limited to entering stores and making transactions."

He asked for no more than 36 months for his client.

But the judge imposed a term of 44 months and ordered Arowokoko to pay $116,000 (approximately N48 million) in restitution. Akinyemi, the other Nigerian man already indicted, pleaded guilty in September and is awaiting sentencing.