Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Nigerian Who Opened 470 Fraudulent Bank Accounts Pleads Guilty In US


 

The Nigerian will be sentenced on 20 January by a US district court for using about 470 bank accounts to defraud at least 10 American banks.

A Nigerian man, Ahmed Ponle, has pleaded guilty to opening and using 470 fake bank accounts to defraud American banks.

The 42-year-old prolific fraudster pleaded guilty to a bank fraud charge at the US District Court, District of New Jersey, in April last year, according to court documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES.

He faces as much as 30 years jail time for an offence involving defrauding at least 10 American banks with nearly $6 million exposure.

The district court judge, Noel Hillman, has now scheduled Mr Ponle’s sentencing for 20 January, after series of adjournments since the defendant’s guilty plea last year.

US investigators revealed in court documents that Mr Ponle used suspected fraudulent foreign passports bearing fake American visas to open approximately 470 bank accounts at various American banks’ branches in various states.

The fraudulent passports bearing his image but with fake names were said to include West African, Kenyan, and Senegalese passports.


He used from a pool of tens of fake names to open the different accounts which also bore his photograph.

According to US investigators, the acounts had a total exposure of almost $5.7 million, implying the amount the victim banks could have lost to the scam that went on for nearly four years.



“I want to plead guilty pursuant to this plea agreement,” Mr Ponle stated in a letter he signed on 15 August 2021 after reviewing the plea agreement he entered into with the US government with his lawyer Caroline Cinquanto.

On 7 April 2022, he and his lawyer signed an application for the court’s permission to plead guilty.

“My lawyer has also explained to me, and I understand, that if I plead guilty, I waive my right not to incriminate myself and I will have to acknowledge my guilt as charged by setting forth my actions so that the judge is satisfied that I am, indeed, guilty,” he stated.

The US government confirmed in the plea agreement filed in court on 7 August 2022, that Mr Ponle cooperated with authorities in investigating his case.

But Mr Ponle faces up to 30 years in jail with a $1 million fine and restitution, the maximum penalty for the bank fraud charge preferred against him.

Although he and the prosecution have recommended a reduction in jail time in the plea agreement, the suggestion is not binding on the judge.

The plea agreement between the defendant and the US government stated that “the sentence to be imposed upon Ahmed Bamidele Ponle is within the sole discretion of the sentencing judge, subject to the provisions of the Sentencing Reform Act and the sentencing judge’s consideration of the United States Sentencing Guidelines.”



The court document, seen by PREMIUM TIMES, added that “the Sentencing Guidelines are advisory, not mandatory and the judge may impose any reasonable sentence up to and including the statutory maximum term of imprisonment and the maximum statutory fine.”

Mr Ponle as part of the guilty plea agreed to forfeit specific property derived directly and indirectly from proceeds traceable to the commission of the offense.



The forfeiture includes $99,700 in Western Union money orders seized by federal agents on June 25, 2020 from Snapbox Self Storage Unit 4100, 2240 Island Avenue, Philadelphia.

Not being a US citizen, he will be deported or removed from the US after serving out his jail time.


How 470 bank accounts were opened


American investigators said Mr Ponle opened at least 470 sham bank accounts in various states in the US between June 2016 and June 2020, a period of three months and nine months, to defraud at least 10 American banks.

The prosecution said Mr Ponle, in Camden County, in the District of New Jersey, and elsewhere, knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with co-conspirators to defraud a financial institution, namely TD Bank and other victim banks.

Mr Ponle of Darby, Pennsylvania, is part of a prolific criminal organisation engaged in a massive bank fraud in several states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Rhode Island, between June 2016 and March 2020.

He perpetrated the fraud by opening bank accounts using suspected

fraudulent foreign passports and visas at banks’ branches located in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Mr Ponle, along with other conspirators, whose identities have not been revealed, stole numerous business cheques from the United States mail, altered the names of the payees on the cheques to fraudulent names.

On or about 16 August, 2017, an investigator in one of the Victim Banks affected by the fraudulent activities of Mr Ponle contacted the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) concerning several bank accounts that were closed by the bank due to suspected fraudulent activity.

A representative told USPIS that the accounts were opened using suspected fraudulent foreign passports and visas at branches located in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The accounts had minimal activities in the first two months of its opening which consisted of Western Union, MoneyGram, US Postal money orders, or cash deposits.

After the two-month period, individuals deposited large business cheques into the account and quickly withdrew the funds either by ATM withdrawals or by purchasing money orders at various money order vendors such as grocery and discount stores.


Shortly after the cheques were deposited, the banks started receiving claims stating the cheques were stolen and the payee section was altered to show someone that was not intended to receive the cheque. Although the payee on the cheque was altered, the amount was not changed.

By October 2017, over 30 fraudulent accounts with a total exposure of approximately $800,000 to several financial institutions were identified.

“To date, the total loss to the victim banks is approximately $6 million,” US Department of Justice said.

The accounts were opened at numerous financial institutions in the state of New Jersey under the assumed names of Wunmi Akrana, Emanuel Kuti, Olawale Johnson, Steven Akpan, Olawole Adefarasin, and Anthony Tunde Camara.

Mr Ponle deposited the cheques into bank accounts that had been opened with forged foreign passport documents (Kenya and Senegal) and fraudulent U.S. visas that matched the names on the stolen cheques.


Different names


Mentioning other accounts opened by Mr Ponle to defraud banks, the court document noted, “from 23 November, 2016 through 29 March, 2019, bank records revealed that Ponle opened approximately nine accounts under the assumed name Stephen Snow, eight accounts under the assumed name Macheal Kurum, six accounts under the assumed name Moussa Traore, eight accounts under the assumed name Boubou Niakate, four accounts under the assumed name Michael Houle, six accounts under the assumed name Jasper Darrell, one account under the assumed name Emeka Ayanyinka.

“Three accounts under the assumed name Olaribigbe Niakate, seven accounts under the assumed name Kuponu Suszy, six accounts under the assumed name Ebele Johnson, seven accounts under the assumed name Alassane Mbaye, three accounts under the assumed name Chuks Godwin, three accounts under the assumed name of Olajimi Moyo, one account under the assumed name of David Akinyi, one account under the assumed name of Luis Thompson, and one account under the assumed name of Owoola Agada for an estimated intended loss of $1,113,061.66,” the court documents revealed.

“To date, the investigation has revealed that the full extent of the criminal activity identified thus far involves approximately 470 fraudulent bank accounts with an estimated exposure of $5.7 million,” it said.


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