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Scammer admits guilt-Doctor brings in cops to nab fraudster

By DEAN PRITCHARD, SUN MEDIA

Winnipeg justice officials have secured a rare conviction for a Nigerian e-mail scam after a prominent local doctor contacted police and turned the tables on the fraudsters.

Toluwalada Owolabi, 37, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud after police caught him and the doctor discussing the transfer of $7,800 to a bank in Guyana.

“This is one of a very few prosecutions in Canada for this sort of allegation,” Crown attorney Steve Johnston told court.

Nigerian e-mail scams have been mushrooming for more than a decade and are purported to be one of the country’s most profitable industries. Arrests are a rarity because victims almost always transfer the money by wire, making it next to impossible to trace.

Many victims are also reluctant to admit they’ve been duped.

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Court heard the doctor — a world-renowned malaria expert who lives in Winnipeg and abroad — began receiving a series of e-mails in April 2007 detailing a tragic tale of woe and a promise of a $10-million payday.

The first e-mails were signed by a woman who claimed her family had been killed in a car accident and she was dying of bone cancer. The woman said she wanted to pass on her father’s $10-million estate to someone trustworthy who would use it for good works.

The catch? Money would be required to protect the estate from “confiscation” by corrupt government officials.

In correspondence with the fraudsters, the doctor said he would invest the money in malaria research. The doctor paid out $35,000 in wire transfers before becoming suspicious and contacting police last August.

Police set up a sting operation and arrested Owolabi after a meeting at the doctor’s Winnipeg home on Sept. 7.

Johnston conceded Owolabi wasn’t the brains of the scam, but a “bag man” sent to collect the money.

RELATED CONVICTION

Owolabi has a related conviction for wire fraud in New York in 2003. He served 27 months in prison before being deported to Nigeria.

He didn’t stay long. Eighteen months later, he arrived in Toronto, claimed refugee status and married a Canadian woman with four children.

Johnston urged Judge Mary-Kate Harvie to sentence Owolabi to 30 months in prison, a sentence that will invite automatic deportation.

Defence lawyer Kathy Bueti requested a sentence of two years less a day, a sentence that would require a hearing be held to decide whether Owalabi be deported.

Bueti said Owolabi wants to remain in Winnipeg and build a life for his family. Bueti said Owolabi never met the man believed to be the mastermind behind the scam and his involvement was for “one time only.”

Owolabi will return to court for sentencing on May 29.

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June 5, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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