Victor Rapu, Richard Mbaoma and Sanura Bogere charged in Nigerian 419 scam
Vancouver woman accused in U.S. mail fraud case remains at large
Accused woman one of three people from Vancouver charged by California grand jury
By TRACY SHERLOCK, Vancouver Sun
April 4, 2010
VANCOUVER – A woman charged in a mail-fraud scheme that allegedly scammed more than $4 million from more than 1,200 victims in the U.S. remains free in B.C.
On March 18 a grand jury in California approved charges against three Vancouver-area residents in the mail-fraud scheme: Victor Rapu, Richard Mbaoma and Sanura Bogere. Mbaoma and Rapu were arrested in July 2009, but a warrant has not yet been issued for Bogere’s arrest.
It is alleged that the three charged took part in a phoney lottery scheme in which the victims were told, either by phone or mail, that they had won a prize, but would have to pay taxes and fees before the winnings would be released, according to the indictment. In some cases, the letter would include a cheque to cover the expenses, but the cheque would later bounce. Victims were told to send the money through MoneyGram, a company used to wire money.
“They do these mass, mass mailings, and people respond because they send these cheques,” said Assistant United States Attorney Ellyn Lindsay. “Most of the lottery-scam-type victims are senior citizens.”
Bogere owns Malaika Hair Supply, a store selling hair pieces on Edmonds Street near Kingsway in Burnaby, according to the indictment. The Vancouver Sun went to the store to talk to Bogere, but she was not there and the person working in the store said she was not expected to return.
Margo Hamilton, who works for the CARE Elder Fraud Program in Riverside County, Calif., said both loneliness and a fear of outliving their money can tempt seniors into falling for these schemes.
“[The end result is often] the loss of family and friends who have tried again and again to reason with the victim, the loss of their savings, their homes, their dignity, and the loss of their faith in themselves to make responsible decisions — all eventually resulting in guilt and depression, and a sense of hopelessness for the future,” Hamilton said.
It is alleged that Bogere, Mbaoma and Rapu operated MoneyGram outlets that were used in the lottery-fraud scam.
“Our allegation is that the [store] is a front for the fraudulent MoneyGram business,” Lindsay said.
Bogere’s lawyer, Laird Cruickshank, told The Vancouver Sun that his client “denies any involvement in any fraudulent scheme whatsoever.”
RCMP Staff Sgt. Tim Olmstead said Bogere is aware of the charges against her in the U.S., but that she is not charged in Canada with any offence. The process for the U.S. authorities to obtain an arrest warrant for her could take months, and her possible extradition to the United States to face the charges could be years.
“These people will be your best friend to get your money,” Olmstead said. “They’re relentless, they’re heartless and they’re only concerned with your money.
“There are no fees whatsoever attached to Canadian lottery winnings, and no taxes.”
Last October, the RCMP “E” Division Federal Commercial Crime Section said they were “very pleased” with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s announcement of an $18-million settlement to compensate victims of fraud with MoneyGram International Inc.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission charged that between 2004 and 2008, MoneyGram agents helped fraudulent telemarketers and other con artists who tricked U.S. consumers into wiring more than $84 million within the United States and to Canada. The $84 million in losses is based on consumer complaints to MoneyGram — actual consumer losses likely are much higher, the FTC said in a statement.
“Money transfer services have a responsibility to make sure their systems don’t become conduits to rip people off,” David C. Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said in a press release. “In this case, MoneyGram not only ducked this responsibility, but also looked the other way while its agents took part in the scams.”
MoneyGram spokeswoman Lynda Michielutti would not comment on this specific case, but she said that MoneyGram takes consumer fraud very seriously.
“We have committed significant resources to building a state-of-the-art consumer anti-fraud program and we continue to improve the program,” Michielutti said in a statement. “ … We have been effective at stopping millions of dollars in fraudulent transactions every year. In fact, our global compliant data shows that less than one-half of one per cent of our total transactions represent fraud-induced money transfers.”
Prosecuting this type of crime in the United States instead of Canada may result in stiffer sentences, Lindsay said.
“Traditionally Canadian sentences for fraud are very light, which does not deter this type of activity,” Lindsay said. She said she knew of one American case in which a person found guilty of a similar crime was sentenced to eight years in prison, with only up to 15 per cent of the sentence reduced for good time.
A civil suit in the same matter was filed Aug. 21, 2009, in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Bogere’s statement of defence in the civil matter says she denies each and every allegation, and says that she is not a telemarketer.
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