A Nigerian national charged in connection with a multi-national scheme that bilked more than $70 million from U.S. and Canadian lawyers was sentenced to serve 100 months in federal prison.
According to United States Attorney Peter J. Smith, Emmanuel Ekhator, age 42, of Mississauga, Canada, and Benin, Nigeria, was sentenced Wednesday following his plea of guilty to criminal conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. Ekhator was ordered to pay $11,092,028 restitution to victims and serve a three-year term of supervised release following his incarceration. Judge Yvette Kane also directed the forfeiture of properties in Canada and the contents of several bank accounts in Nigeria.
According to the information the prosecutor provided to the court during the guilty plea proceeding, Ekhator was part of an attorney collection scam. Conspirators contacted U.S. and Canadian law firms by e-mail claiming to be individuals or businesses outside North America who were owed money by entities in the U.S. and asking for legal representation to collect the money. Often, the prospective “clients” said the monies owed came from a real estate transaction, tort claim, or divorce settlement. Once the law firm agreed to represent the out-of-country “client”, the law firm would be contacted by the U.S. entity purportedly owing money with an offer to pay the “client” by check. The “client” would instruct the law firm to deposit the check in the law firm’s trust account, retain the law firm’s fee, and wire the remaining funds to accounts in Asia. The check that was then mailed to the law firm would be a counterfeit check, a fact that would be discovered only after funds from the law firm’s trust account had been wired to the Asian bank.
The counterfeit checks, which appeared to be drawn on legitimate accounts from well-established financial institutions, often included a telephone number for the financial institution. Lawyers attempting to determine the validity of the check would call the number only to reach another conspirator who would falsely verify the check.
Ekhator’s co-defendant, Yvette Mathurin, has been charged in connection with this aspect of the conspiracy and is awaiting extradition from Canada. Investigation continues against other members of the large, multi-national conspiracy. Another co-conspirator, Kingsley Osagie, was arrested as he arrived in the Atlanta area from Nigeria and is currently awaiting trial in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Other co-conspirators are pending extradition from several foreign countries.
As part of the agreement between lawyers for Ekhator and the government, the lawyers told the court that Ekhator’s involvement in the scheme makes him responsible for losses of more than $7 million and up to $20,000,000. Ekhator also admitted to being a leader in the criminal enterprise and that sophisticated means were used to commit the crime.
Ekhator was arrested in Nigeria in August 2010, and extradited to the United States in August 2011.
This case was investigated by a task force including the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, the Toronto Police Services, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.