Split verdict in major fraud ring

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 29, 2012 - 12:16 AM

Two out-of-state men were found guilty in the ID theft and bank fraud scheme. Two former Twin Cities bank employees were cleared.

Mountains of bank records, computer records, fake identities, videotapes, voice recordings and testimony from nearly 60 witnesses weren’t enough to persuade a federal jury to convict two former Minnesota bankers charged in an international conspiracy that stole thousands of identities and defrauded banks from coast to coast of more than $50 million.

After 2½ days of deliberation, jurors Tuesday convicted two men from California and New York of conspiring in the fraud ring with roots in West Africa and more than 200 U.S. participants.

But jurors found Nana Osei-Tutu,  a former U.S. Bank employee originally from Ghana, and Fata Leeta Sarnor David,  a former Wells Fargo employee originally from Liberia, not guilty on all counts.

“I am so happy! All the prayers from my family and friends have gone through,” Osei-Tutu said after he left the courtroom. He called his mother in Ghana and when he heard her voice, began jumping up and down.

“Not guilty, Mom! Not guilty!”

David declined to comment after the verdict and dashed toward her husband for a hug.

“God is great to me. Thank you, Jesus!” he said, tears in his eyes.

Speaking for the U.S. attorney’s office, Jeanne Cooney said, “While we stand behind the case presented against all four defendants in the recent trial, we respect the jury’s decision to acquit two of them. Nevertheless, we will continue to pursue the investigation into this matter.”

Exhibits documented fraud

The verdict capped an 11-day trial in which the government introduced 248 exhibits and presented dozens of witnesses.

Prosecutors said the scheme was centered in Minnesota, ran from 2006 to 2011 and had operations in California, Massachusetts, Arizona, New York and Texas.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Anaya  said the organization had managers, middle managers, bank insiders and “runners.” Julian Okeayainneh, 43, of Colton, Calif., was a manager, she said, responsible for supplying thousands of fake identification documents.

She described co-defendant Olugbenga Temidago Adeniran , 35, who split his time between New York and Minneapolis, as a midlevel manager who also defrauded credit card companies with purloined accounts.

Okeayainneh was found guilty of 11 counts of bank fraud or attempted bank fraud, six counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud, four counts of aggravated identity fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and trafficking in false “authentication information.” He was acquitted on one count of aggravated identity fraud.

Adeniran was found guilty of four counts of bank fraud or attempted bank fraud and four counts of aggravated identity theft.

Both men were found guilty of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Louis Stephens,  special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service in Minneapolis, said in an interview that the investigation has been his office’s top priority for the past two years. He credited the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force — made up of local, state and federal agencies — with the success of an investigation that’s been dubbed “Operation Starburst.”

To date, he said, 24 of the 29 people charged have either pleaded guilty or been convicted. Six of the eight bankers charged have pleaded guilty.

“We have numerous other suspects, including some bank employees,” Stephens said. “We are definitely pursuing other cells.”

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