Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Accused fraudster fights extradition to U.S.

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HE spent five years on the run avoiding arrest for one of the largest international scams ever uncovered.

Now, an American is seeking to extend his stay in Winnipeg by fighting extradition and the lengthy prison sentence he's facing if convicted.

Lord Kofi Agyapong Mensah appeared in court Thursday as part of an ongoing judicial process.

He has filed notice to resist any bid from the Canadian government to ship him south and is stalling proceedings by seeking further disclosure from the Crown on his criminal charges.

No date for the extradition hearing has been set as preliminary legal matters drag through the courts. Mensah, 33, was arrested in Winnipeg last October after RCMP officers, working in conjunction with the FBI, tracked him to a home on Anderson Avenue near Salter Street.

He is facing mail-fraud and wire-fraud charges for allegedly being a key player in a criminal enterprise that bilked hundreds of vulnerable, mostly elderly victims, out of at least $280 million.

Mensah spent a stint behind bars at the remand centre but was released on bail with stringent conditions, including turning over his passport and not leaving the city.

Nearly 200 suspects in Canada and the U.S. have been arrested since the Project Colt investigation began in 2004. Mensah allegedly worked for what police have dubbed the "Bellini organization." The head of the group, John Bellini, has already pleaded guilty in the U.S. to wire fraud and received 87 months in prison as part of a deal struck with justice officials. In exchange, Bellini is providing evidence against others, including Mensah.

The crime group allegedly targeted more than 1,000 senior citizens in North America, calling them out of the blue with the story they'd just won the lottery or a major sweepstakes.

In return, the lucky "winners" were prodded to send payments to cover taxes, insurance or other small fees through MoneyGram and Western Union.

One elderly man lost more than $400,000.

A California woman, now deceased, was conned out of her life savings of close to $60,000.

Several other victims have also died, as many were in their late 80s or early 90s at the time of the scam.

According to a police affidavit obtained by the Free Press, Mensah worked out of an office in Montreal as one of the alleged "pitchers" of the scam.

He and others would allegedly gather nightly at a restaurant Bellini owned where they would "brag about their conquests and laugh at the victims."

Police built their case against Mensah and his co-accused through dozens of wiretaps in which they secretly recorded thousands of phone conversations between 2004 and 2006.

There was also surveillance of several properties, including Mensah's home in LaSalle, Que., which police say was used as a "boiler room" for the scam.

Investigators made their first major series of arrests in 2007, but Mensah eluded capture.

RCMP learned last year he had surfaced in Winnipeg.

Mensah's undoing proved to be an arrest in February 2012 on a domestic assault charge for which city police released him on a promise to appear, apparently unaware of his wanted status.

It's not clear in court documents whether Mensah, who is known to use other aliases, duped police at the time.

Police believe Mensah has been living in Winnipeg for several years, as they learned he was briefly employed at a McPhillips Street car dealership in 2009.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2013 B1

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