Twin Cities bankers' breaches lead to prison

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2012 - 8:41 PM

Judge says "it's mind boggling" that they'd help a crime ring steal customer ID and account data.

Two former bankers convicted of aggravated identity theft and helping an international crime organization based in the Twin Cities to bilk more than $50 million from U.S. banks apologized for their crimes Wednesday and pleaded with a judge to go easy on them.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis flatly rejected the idea.

"This is one of the most outrageous cases I've ever seen, where we had a breach of security and trust by bankers," Davis said. "It's mind boggling what has occurred in this case."

He sentenced former Wells Fargo banker Fawsiyo Hassan Farah to 33 months in prison plus five years of supervised release and ordered her to pay restitution of $94,500. He also ordered that she be banned from the banking industry for life.

Michael Kweku Asibu, who worked as a personal banker at Bremer Bank and Associated Bank, got 42 months in prison and five years of supervised release. The amount of restitution Asibu must pay will be determined later.

'Operation Starburst'

The case grew out of a multiyear investigation dubbed "Operation Starburst" by the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force, a joint operation of federal, state and local law enforcement. The government says the scheme was centered in Minnesota, ran from 2006 to 2011 and had operations in California, Massachusetts, Arizona, New York and Texas.

More than 30 people have either pleaded guilty or been convicted in the case, including six bankers. Four of the defendants have been sentenced so far.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Anaya said the ring engaged in bank fraud, credit card fraud, identity theft, takeovers of home equity lines of credit and money laundering. Bank insiders protected the ring by watching for red flags that would trigger investigations or lead authorities to the ringleaders, she said.

Michael Padden, the attorney representing Farah, 43, of Brooklyn Park, said his client had no prior criminal record and played a minor role in the conspiracy. He said she made only about $1,000 for giving the crime ring information and opening a bank account at Wells Fargo that was used to steal $94,500. He asked that she be sentenced to probation.

Lucas Wilson, the attorney representing Asibu, 38, a former Eagan resident now living in Waterbury, Conn., said his client's participation in the fraud ring was not motivated greed, but rather, by the need to help his ailing parents in Ghana. Asibu pleaded guilty in 2011 to embezzling money from certificates of deposit, money market accounts, savings and checking accounts.

Since then, Wilson said, Asibu has turned his life around. He's planning to marry and he's working part-time at a Home Depot while he finishes his master's degree in business administration. Wilson asked for a sentence of 27 months, followed by supervised release.

Anaya asked Davis to sentence Farah and Asibu within the advisory guidelines. Each of the defendants breached the trust of banking customers and helped facilitate a worldwide conspiracy, she said.

Two of the ring's "managers" -- Julian Okeayainneh, 43, of Colton, Calif., and Olugbenga Temidago Adeniran, 35, who split his time between New York and Minneapolis -- were convicted after an 11-day trial in February and are scheduled for sentencing Aug. 13.

"We saw a global impact of victims in this case," Anaya said after their convictions. "Eighty-seven hundred individuals, around the world."

Davis, who presided over the trial, said the fact that bank employees helped to pilfer customer information raises serious questions about the security measures at U.S. banking institutions.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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