A 27-year-old man, Mfon Obot Essien, was Wednesday sentenced to prison for tricking an American family to pay $3,000 for a fake kidnap of their daughter.
Essien, from Akwa Ibom State and goes by the pseudonyms: David Morris and Femi James, was arrested in 2013 following a petition written to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC by the United States (US) Department of Homeland Security.
They had written the petition, urging the Commission to investigate a criminal organization involved in drug smuggling, money laundering and fraud.
According to the petition, “A US family whose daughter traveled to Argentina got a call from her boyfriend claiming that they had both been kidnapped.
“The kidnappers demanded a ransom of $7,000, which should be sent through money transfer to their associates in Nigeria with the details “David Morris, 302, Apapa Expressway, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria 23401.
“Investigation in the US however revealed that the girl was not kidnapped but was under arrest in Argentina for attempting to smuggle cocaine out of that country after being cajoled to do so by her boyfriend of Nigerian descent.
“The US authorities then contacted MoneyGram to issue a false money order for $3,000, as against the $7,000 demanded, to enable the arrest of Morris whenever he showed up to receive the money in Lagos,” the petition had divulged.
Following this, Essien’s attempt to withdraw the $3,000 on August 2, 2013 at Chevron Lekki Drive branch of Access Bank failed.
He reportedly tried the following day at the Ikota Branch of the bank and then returned again on August 5, not knowing that a query had been lodged concerning his transaction.
In his next attempt on September 5, 2013 at the same branch, he was arrested.
Essien was unaware that a trap had been set. Operatives of the EFCC burgled him up when he identified himself as David Morris and asked for his $3,000.
Following his arrest, items recovered from him included a forged drivers’ license with No. KSF08417AA2 bearing the name: ‘James Femi’ but with Essien’s picture.
According to reports, EFCC investigation also showed that on July 28, 2013, Essien fraudulently received N237, 537.68 from another American, one Mark Mentor, using a forged drivers’ license with No. FFF14411AB6 bearing the name: David Morris but with Essien’s picture as well.
He was found to have represented himself to Mentor as David Morris.
Subsequently, Essien had also received, on different occasions, $460 and $900 from another US Citizen, Dylan Johnson, through MoneyGram.
During his arraignment in 2013, Essien pleaded not guilty to the charges, but when trial began, he asked to change his plea and was re-arraigned.
The EFCC Prosecuting Counsel, Mrs Zainab Ettu, in her address on December 9, 2015, had reportedly told the court that investigations by the Commission showed that Essien belonged to “a syndicate of fraudsters.
“These fraudsters use different machinations to fraudulently obtain money from unsuspecting and vulnerable victims,” Ettu had said, noting that the offences contravened sections 8(a)(b) (c), 1(3) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act No. 14 of 2006 and sections 409 and 363 the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011 and urged the court to convict him.
However, at his arraignment yesterday at a High Court in Igbosere, after he pleaded guilty to a six-count charge of conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretence and forgery, Essien bagged a total of 28-year jail term.
The Chief Judge, Justice Ralikat Adebiyi sentenced Essien to a minimum of seven years each on the first three counts, and one and a half year on count four.
The defendant was also sentenced to three years each on two counts of forgery, bringing the total to 28 and half years.