Long­time fraud­ster gets 14 years

The Washington Post - - RELIGION - BY RACHEL WEINER

A long­time fraud­ster who hired pros­ti­tutes to steal peo­ple’s iden­ti­ties was sen­tenced to 14 years in prison Fri­day.

Michael Oginni stole more than $650,000 over two years, spend­ing the money on call girls, high­end ap­pli­ances for his Rockville home and tu­ition for his four chil­dren at ex­clu­sive pri­vate schools, ac­cord­ing to prose­cu­tors.

When he was ar­rested at a su­per­mar­ket in Ohio last July, court pa­pers say, Oginni was car­ry­ing 54 fake credit cards, 35 debit cards, sev­eral phones and a lap­top filled with hack­ing and coun­ter­feit­ing soft­ware un­der the file­name “Very Big Fraud Pack­age.zip.”

Dur­ing his sen­tenc­ing hear­ing Fri­day in fed­eral court in Alexan­dria, Oginni said he had not ap­pre­ci­ated the hu­man cost of his crimes af­ter plead­ing guilty to fraud and iden­tity theft.

“I’m not a mon­ster,” he said. “I’m not an evil man.”

But pros­e­cu­tor Laura Fong called him a “chill­ing . . . crim­i­nal master­mind” who hired vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple to do his dirty work and beat them when they failed to com­ply.

A na­tive of Nige­ria, Oginni came to the United States in 2007 af­ter get­ting out of prison in the United King­dom for stu­dent-loan fraud. In the Washington area, ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings, he re­cruited a band of pros­ti­tutes and heroin ad­dicts to buy gift cards at con­ve­nience stores, wash the mark­ings off with ace­tone and en­code them with stolen credit card in­for­ma­tion.

From a lap­top at a Rockville Star­bucks, Oginni would in­struct his co-con­spir­a­tors on what to wear and say when they used the cards, Fong said.

When credit card com­pa­nies be­gan us­ing chips to pre­vent this kind of fraud, Oginni turned to open­ing new credit ac­counts in strangers’ names. He scouted on­line records for peo­ple with high credit scores and sub­stan­tial wealth, then or­dered coun­ter­feit driv­ers’ li­censes with their in­for­ma­tion but his sub­or­di­nates’ pho­tos. Oginni then di­rected his team to fraud­u­lently lease apart­ments in the Dis­trict so the cards would be sent there.

“This is the best job in the whole world!!!!” he texted An­draliesha Jef­fer­son in 2015. He met Jef­fer­son through the es­cort ads on Back­page.com and re­cruited as first a lover and then a fraud­ster.

At the time, ac­cord­ing to the text mes­sages pro­duced in court, Jef­fer­son was telling Oginni she was go­ing to quit the scheme, say­ing she was risk­ing fed­eral prison with­out get­ting paid for it.

Oginni called her dra­matic and said he was go­ing to start work­ing with men only, adding, “I will take my chances with the feds thank you.”

Jef­fer­son was ar­rested about a year later, along with two oth­ers work­ing for Oginni. It took more time for fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors to pin­point Oginni as the master­mind, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments; in a Fe­bru­ary 2016 in­ter­view with law en­force­ment, he claimed to be a vic­tim him­self. He moved his fam­ily to a new Mary­land home and ob­ses­sively checked fed­eral court records for up­dates on his co-con­spir­a­tors, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

But he also be­gan tak­ing risks he had pre­vi­ously del­e­gated, prose­cu­tors said, al­though he ven­tured out­side the D.C. area to do so. He was caught in north­east Ohio us­ing a fake credit card him­self to buy gift cards.

Oginni will prob­a­bly be de­ported af­ter his re­lease from prison. Fong pre­dicted he would con­tinue to com­mit fraud, “maybe from an In­ter­net cafe in Nige­ria.”

De­fense at­tor­neys say Oginni came to Amer­ica with plans to be­come a com­puter pro­gram­mer but could not find em­ploy­ment be­cause of the re­ces­sion and his lack of a se­cu­rity clear­ance. He had to pay med­i­cal bills for his par­ents; want­ing the best ed­u­ca­tion for his chil­dren, he paid tu­ition for Lan­don School and St. John’s Episcopal School.

Since his ar­rest, his at­tor­ney said, Oginni’s fam­ily has been evicted and many of their pos­ses­sions sold off.

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