NBC 10 I-Team: Agents arrest man on bank fraud involving Nigerian passports
A Rhode Island man who allegedly duped a number of banks out of more than $100,000 faced a federal judge on Friday after being arrested on April 10 and charged on four, federal criminal charges.
Agents from the Dept. of Homeland Security said Opeyemi Abdulahi Orekan, a citizen of Nigeria, was involved in an organized fraud ring that used fake passports from Nigeria and Ghana and fraudulent identities to defraud a number of banks out of tens of thousands of dollars.
The federal government is charging him with bank fraud, passport fraud, identity theft and access device fraud.
Investigators say Orekan used nine different identities, including a number of passports from Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana, to open bank accounts at a number of bank branches including Bank of America, Webster Bank and Santander to deposit counterfeit checks and then withdraw bank funds. Counterfeit checks from NRG Residential Solar Solutions, the Viking Corporation and Bosch were deposited into accounts, according to the affidavit.
Orekan would then allegedly send the funds to an individual in Nigeria.
The transactions occurred at a number of bank branches in Johnston, Lincoln, Pawtucket, Providence and Warwick. Bank America reported nearly $37,000 in losses from at least one of the accounts and another $26,000 from another one of Orekan’s accounts. Santander reported a near $20,000 loss in connection with Orekan.
He also allegedly used fake identities to open accounts at TD Bank, Wells Fargo and Chase Bank.
“Orekan has been engaged in lengthy pattern of fraud that has been perpetuated across at least 10 different financial institutions,” says Keith Holleran, a special agent with the Dept. of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Providence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Vilker told the court that investigators have gathered a number of records and evidence including passports that were found in a ceiling crawl space which, he said, has made their case stronger. A bag filled with passports was also found in an old, rolled-up carpet found by the property manager of one of the apartments where Orekan resided. That's when the property manager contacted the FBI.
Forensic tests of the passports determined that two Republic of Nigeria passports were altered and two Republic of Ghana passports were counterfeit. Four additional US admission stamps, machine readable visas adn two Ghana drivers licenses were also tested and determined to be counterfeit.
“He has a contact in Africa that is sending him these passports,” Vilker told Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan during a hearing on Friday, as two of Orekan’s supporters sat behind him. “ICE tells me he can absolutely flee the country.”
Attorney John F. Cicilline, who is representing Orekan (who is currently being detained), asked Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan to release Orekan as has ties to a number of family members in Rhode Island and is not a flight risk. He asked the judge to possibly release Orekan with conditions such as electronic monitoring.
The judge denied Cicilline’s request saying electronic monitoring isn’t a full proof tool adding that the evidence against Orekan is strong and that the investigation shows it’s become even stronger.
“The defendant has significant ties to a different country…the affidavit mentions a substantial amount of passports that have passed muster at a number of banks…wiring of tens of thousands to the defendant’s mother in Nigeria,” Sullivan said.
“Finally, and very significant, the defendant had contact with law enforcement in November 2016, was released and continued the behavior and then charged in January 2017, released and again continued the behavior,” Sullivan added. “Now facing federal charges knitting together what is now unlike instances in November and January, a very substantial charge exposing him to a period of incarceration and risk of deportation.”