May 18, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
FARGO, N.D. -- A Canadian man accused of masterminding one of the largest high-tech bank robberies in U.S. history was sentenced to nearly 18 years in prison Monday following a years-long investigation into fake debt collection agencies that stole the identities of about 38,000 people.
Authorities believe Adekunle Adetiloye organized a scheme to open nearly 600 fraudulent bank accounts and bilk 22 major banks, potentially costing those banks and credit card firms up to $5 million. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Chase in North Dakota, where the case was handled, said the 40-year-old had an "insatiable hunger for other people's money."
Investigators said Adetiloye incorporated two different companies in Delaware -- Syspac Financial Services and Commet Consultant Inc. -- that claimed to be debt collection companies. He gained access to commercial data providers, including large-scale outfits LexisNexis and ChoicePoint that only allow access to law enforcement, financial services and debt collection companies.
With access to those data providers, Adetiloye and others obtained the personal identification information to about 38,000 people, most of whom were medical professionals. They used that information to open credit card, debit and checking accounts, prosecutors said.
Those data providers said it was only the second such breach of that scale.
"Characterizing this fraud scheme as massive, if anything, is an understatement," Chase said.
Defence attorneys had argued that their client, the only person charged in the case, was a "marginal and minimal participant" whose role was to handle mail and withdraw money from ATMs. But prosecutors and the judge believed otherwise.
Investigators' interest in Adetiloye, a native of Nigeria, was piqued after figuring out he was unemployed and receiving welfare yet living lavishly, complete with a Range Rover vehicle, extended trips to England and an expensive condominium. Then there were two credit cards tucked away in his wallet, each bore different names that seemed to confirm suspicions that he was up to something nefarious.
The complexity of the scheme -- which took five years to investigate and litigate -- was highlighted in a sentencing phase that has lasted nearly a year and included numerous hearings and briefings, and some 12,000 pages of court documents. The case wound up in North Dakota after U.S. Bank's customer service centre in Fargo intercepted calls by Adetiloye and others.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson handed down a 214-month prison term and scheduled a Feb. 15 hearing to discuss returning nearly $1.5 million in losses to credit card companies and banks. The judge has said losses may have been as much as $5 million.
-- The Associated Press
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 24, 2012 A9