An ailing Shakopee woman was duped into withdrawing more than $60,000 from her retirement fund for a man using a false identity on the dating website Match.com, according to lawsuit filed recently in a Minneapolis federal court.
The suit filed by federal prosecutors says that for more than a year, a Nigerian man posing as “John Diaz” charmed the 65-year-old woman into sending wire transfers — ranging from $6,000 to $33,000 — to a bank account in Washington, D.C. Authorities were alerted to the scheme just before Christmas 2016, after the woman’s daughter stumbled across the withdrawals while trying to pay some of her mother’s bills.
The woman had suffered a mild stroke and had developed short-term memory issues. The Nigerian man repeatedly contacted her by phone and by e-mail while she was hospitalized in December 2016. He claimed to be affiliated with a Swedish bank called Sparbanken and provided contact information for several associates, the suit says. Prosecutors want to seize $7,520 remaining in an account at Bank of America before it can be swept overseas.
From Nov. 19, 2015, to Dec. 16, 2016, the woman transferred at least $60,770 to the account. She also reported shipping $14,000 in cash in a box containing empty picture frames and Christmas cards. Her daughter told investigators that her mother took out loans against her 401k retirement account, which have since gone into default.
In March, Shakopee police detective Corey Schneck tracked the Diaz e-mail correspondence to a computer in Lagos, Nigeria. Bank records subpoenaed in the investigation link the account to Ali Baba Djire, who at the time listed himself as an investment associate at a Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm.
Djire could not be reached for comment. His LinkedIn page, which is no longer active, said he switched jobs last summer and now acts as the Nigeria manager for a McLean, Va.-based market research firm focused on Africa. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Djire held a visitor visa from a country in western Africa and left the United States in July 2017 — about the time his LinkedIn page indicates that he changed jobs.
Schneck found a wire transfer dated Dec. 16, 2016, on Djire’s account in the amount of $7,520. The funds originated from Spire Credit Union with a name similar to the woman’s, who is identified only by her initials in the lawsuit. The funds transfer corresponded with instructions from Diaz on the same date, directing the woman to transfer money into a Bank of America account held by Djire.
Prosecutors say in the suit that Djire admits to being the sole account holder, but explained that a Nigerian friend had asked to use the account to relay money to a brother, and he agreed. If true, that would be a violation of banking rules, the suit says. Authorities say it is a method used by online criminals to mask their illicit activities.
Djire has not been charged with a crime, although the lawsuit says the basis for seizing the money is that it’s the proceeds of mail and wire fraud and is traceable to money laundering.