He was unemployed and receiving welfare, but Adekunle Adetiloye was somehow still living lavishly, complete with a Range Rover vehicle, extended trips to England and an expensive condominium.
That alone piqued authorities' interest, but then there were two credit cards tucked away in his wallet that seemed to confirm suspicions that the Nigerian-born Adetiloye, a Canadian citizen, was up to something nefarious. The pieces of plastic each bore different names — Donald Douglas and Vincent Andriole — and helped authorities prosecute a case they describe as one of the largest high-tech bank robberies in U.S. history.
"Characterizing this fraud scheme as massive, if anything, is an understatement," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Chase from North Dakota said in court documents.
Adetiloye, 40, was sentenced Monday to nearly 18 years in prison on fraud charges. He was convicted of mail fraud, but authorities believe he masterminded a scheme to open nearly 600 fraudulent bank accounts and bilk 22 major banks out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Federal prosecutor Nick Chase said during the sentencing hearing in North Dakota that Adetiloye had an "insatiable hunger for other people's money."
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson handed down a 214-month prison term and scheduled a Feb. 15 hearing to discuss returning the nearly $1.5 million in losses to credit card companies and banks.
Defense attorney Richard Henderson had asked for a sentence of fewer than 16 years. Henderson said any prison time for his client, a native of Nigeria, is more difficult than it would be for American citizens because he has no family in the United States.
Investigators' efforts to deconstruct the multifarious case are laid out in the nearly 12,000 pages of court documents filed by lawyers in federal court.
Greg Krier, lead credit card fraud investigator for U.S. Bank, testified that it was the most complex case he had ever seen. His company, which has its own fraud unit, launched special training sessions focusing on the case in hopes of catching the culprits.
The case wound up in North Dakota after U.S. Bank's customer service center in Fargo intercepted calls by Adetiloye and others. The complexity of the scheme, which took five years to investigate and litigate, was highlighted in a sentencing phase that has lasted nearly a year and included numerous hearings and briefings.
The lead investigator, one of 25 people who worked on the case, put in 2,000 hours, authorities said.
Defense attorneys had argued that their client, the only person charged in the case, was a "marginal and minimal participant" whose role was to handle mail and withdraw money from ATMs. The government and the judge have said otherwise.
Investigators said the operation accessed information of nearly 16,000 people, about 500 of whom had their identities stolen for the purpose of obtaining credit cards. It's alleged that more than 100 commercial mailboxes were opened under false or stolen identities.
The government said Adetiloye went so far as to mask his handwriting after a judge ordered a test of his calligraphy
Erickson, the federal judge, said in court documents ahead of the sentencing that the evidence "indisputably demonstrates" that Adetiloye was a leader or organizer of the scheme. The judge has calculated losses to banks at about $1.5 million, but said it could have been as high as $5 million if credit limits had been maxed out.
The trauma cannot be measured, Erickson said.
"The non-monetary harm to the victims was substantial," the judge wrote. "They lost sleep, they lost time with their families, they lost time at work, and they lost their sense of security. Some victims spent hours trying to reclaim their credit record and their identities."
Court documents show that U.S. Bank suffered the most number of tainted accounts, at 130, for a total loss of about $76,000. The companies alleged to have lost the most money were Citibank, at about $271,000, and Discover, at about $248,000.
Brett Bogan, the security investigations manager at Reed Elsevier, the parent company of LexisNexis and ChoicePoint, told the court that data breaches of this type are extremely rare and knew of only one other case like it. He said the company sent out notices to more than 32,000 people whose personal information was compromised by the scheme.
"With their combined extensive and nationwide perspective, those entities place this fraud scheme at or near the top of their historical lists in terms of size and complexity," Chase said in court documents.
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