The scam involved several conspirators and their targets were lawyers.
A Nigerian man who defrauded American and Canadian lawyers of millions of dollars in a multi-national mail and wire scam, has been convicted and jailed by United States authorities.
Emmanuel Ehkator, 42, from Edo state, was sentenced by District Court Judge, Middle District of Pennsylvania, Yvette Kane, to three years in prison for criminal conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in the US.
His sentence was reduced from the stipulated 20 years because of a plea agreement in which he admitted the crime that drew more than half a dozen law enforcement agencies in the US and Canada. He is to repay $11,092,028 to his victims.
Justice Kane also ordered Ehkator’s forfeiture of properties in Canada and the contents of several bank accounts in Nigeria.
Mr. Ehkator admitted he was the ring leader of the group that also consist of other Nigerians.
He was arrested in Nigeria by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in August 2010 and was extradited to the United States in August 2011.
Mr. Ehkator was part of a fraudulent attorney collection ring.
Their modus operandi, was to contact U.S. 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.
Often, the prospective “clients” would say the money owed came from a real estate transaction, tort claim, or divorce settlement, the court heard.
Once the law firm agreed to represent the out-of-country client, the law firm would be contacted by the U.S. entity purportedly owing money with an offer to pay the client by cheque. The client would 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 law firm would only realize the cheque in its trust was a counterfeit after funds from the account had been wired to the Asian bank, the prosecution said.
The counterfeit cheques, which appeared to be drawn on legitimate accounts from well-established financial institutions, often included a telephone number for the financial institution.
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 Mr. Ehkator’s involvement in the scheme makes him responsible for losses of more than $7 million and up to $20 million.
Mr. Ehkator’s co-defendant, Yvette Mathurin, was also been charged for conspiracy and is awaiting extradition from Canada while another co-conspirator, Kingsley Osagie, was arrested as he arrived in the Atlanta from Nigeria. He is currently awaiting trial in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Other co-conspirators are pending extradition from several foreign countries as investigation continues against other members of the large, multi-national scam.
Aside from the 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 U.S. Attorney Christy H. Fawcett.