Winnipeg student awaits sentence for role in global fraud ring


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They went online looking for work, or a place to live, or someone to love.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/04/2017 (2243 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They went online looking for work, or a place to live, or someone to love.

But in the end, more than 50 people across Canada, the United States and Europe fell victim to an international mass-marketing scheme facilitated by a Winnipeg business-school student who laundered nearly half a million dollars in three years.

Michael Odine, 26, is headed to prison and faces deportation back to Nigeria after he pleaded guilty to 24 criminal offences, including fraud over $5,000, money laundering and using forged documents. Crown prosecutors are seeking a five-year sentence, while Odine’s defence lawyer asked he serve 31/2 years behind bars. Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Vic Toews has reserved his decision.

“I realize that what I did was terrible,” Odine told the judge Tuesday in a courtroom half-full of his supporters. “I have learned my lesson, and I fully intend to pay back whatever restitution this court orders me to. And I will continue working on myself to become a better person and make sure I never repeat such actions in the future.”

In the meantime, a key question remains largely unanswered: how did a “brilliant” young Nigerian man who came to Canada on a student visa — with dreams of earning a business degree from the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business — get involved in a sophisticated scheme that saw him set up at least eight different bank accounts using three false identities to forward fraudulently obtained money to unknown agents in the U.S., Ukraine, South Africa, Malaysia, Nigeria and Pakistan?

Spent money on travel, clothing, tuition

Over the course of slightly more than three years, from February 2013 till his arrest on March 8, 2016, Odine handled about $442,000 that arrived in his illegitimate bank accounts from people who believed they were sending money at the request of a new employer, or to participate in a charity, or to secure a much-needed rental agreement, or to help out a romantic interest who had gained their trust through online dating sites.

The 53 victims, including a university student in Winnipeg who had advertised her services as an independent housekeeper on an online classifieds site, were subjected to various online scams. In most cases, they were sent fraudulent cheques and then asked to deposit them and transfer some of the funds to other individuals.

The original cheques would bounce, and the victims would be on the hook for the money they had transferred to other bank accounts — including the ones set up in Winnipeg by Odine.

Odine didn’t communicate directly with any of the victims, but he followed instructions from others who mailed him high-quality, forged driver’s licences and passports bearing false names and his real photo. He forwarded some of the money he received and kept some for himself — splurging on flights, designer clothes and nightclub tabs as well as paying for his U of M tuiton and textbooks.

“Suffice it to say, the accused was living a good life,” Crown prosecutor Don Melnyk said Tuesday.

Melnyk said Odine was “vague” when police asked him how he got into the international fraud — which they determined wouldn’t have been successful if Odine hadn’t been willing to open a network of Winnipeg-based bank accounts to transfer money to other fraudsters around the world. He said his job didn’t pay the bills.

While attending university, he worked part-time at a not-for-profit supported living organization helping people with disabilities — the irony of which was noted by both Crown and defence lawyers during Odine’s sentencing hearing Tuesday. Odine said he was mailed letters and eventually the forged documents after looking online for a job, court heard.

Hopes to stay in Canada

The Winnipeg Police Service’s commercial crime unit launched an investigation after a Vancouver police officer asked for help in October 2015 with a case involving a B.C. victim who had been defrauded out of money that ended up in a Winnipeg bank account.

Odine was arrested the following March carrying forged driver’s licences and passports he would use to open the bank accounts. Police were not able to find the source of those forged documents or lay charges against others who may have been involved in the scheme.

Odine, who was described as “brilliant” by family members interviewed in a pre-sentence report, hopes to stay in Canada. He’s six credits short of the business degree he was pursuing while he was involved in the online fraud, defence lawyer Steven Keesic told court.

Keesic said Odine’s family and friends had been surprised to learn the young man with a bright future had been involved in organized crime.

“I do believe he was absolutely manipulated, duped, but he gave in to the temptation,” he said.

Odine’s parents — his father a pharmacist and his mother a nurse — sent him to Canada when he was 18 so he could receive a quality education, according to the pre-sentence report. He spent a year in Fort St. John, B.C., before moving to Winnipeg and transferring to the U of M.

A bank account he opened in his own name in Fort St. John collected more than $208,000 from a woman in Switzerland who had been duped by an online dating scam.

None of the victims has been repaid. Justice Toews is considering whether to order restitution as part of Odine’s prison sentence. Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.


Updated on Wednesday, June 7, 2017 4:44 PM CDT: The student laundered nearly half a million dollars in three years.

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