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High Profile Victims of 419 Frauds
Rich and poor alike fall under the spell of Nigerian scammers
Amin George Forji (amingeorge)     Print Article 
Published 2006-08-15 11:00 (KST)   

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Nigerian 419 Fraud

It is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish a legitimate Nigerian business from a fake one. As the saying goes, a fake Nigerian business is better than a genuine one.

As it now stands, e-mails from legitimate Nigerian businesses increasingly fail to reach their intended targets. As a precautionary measure, many people and companies the world over now set their e-mail clients and spam filters to automatically delete all e-mails containing the words "Nigeria" or "Nigerian," or coming from Nigerian IP addresses. To say the least, the involvement of so many Nigerians in 419 scams has seriously tarnished the image of the entire country, thus making it extremely difficult for innocent Nigerians to transact business.

Whatever dimension the 419 scam takes, the targeted victims are usually individuals, small businesses, and banks. Specific corporations, and other kinds of businesses, have also been targeted. But no matter the target, 419 scams have had enormous repercussions.


Here, I elaborate on the operation of the 419 scam (explained in my earlier article) by portraying some of those who have actually fallen victim to it.

1) Mary Winkler

This is perhaps the most recent high profile case involving the Nigerian scam. Mary Winkler was happily married to her pastor husband, Matthew Winkler, until 419 scammers came into her life.

The Tennessee couple was caught up in the scam when the 419 scammers sent a fake business proposal to Mary Winkler. The deal was easy and convincing. Before long, she was sent advance fee checks totaling $17,500 from "agents" in both Nigeria and Canada.

Before the checks could clear the bank, she was asked to send a few thousand dollars for "processing fees," which she did without much hesitation. Since the checks had not cleared yet, the money she sent was her own. The deal then went south. The checks she was sent bounced and the scammers disappeared into thin air.

The Winklers were an average couple said to be living just on the edge of their budget. When Matthew realized how their little budget was seriously wrecked, he became very critical of his wife. Tense arguments over money ensued and persisted. Mary decided she could take no more, and shot her husband on March 22, 2006, as he lay in bed.

Mary was arrested and confessed to the killing, although she pleaded not guilty in court.

"I had gotten a call from the bank and we were having trouble, mostly my fault, bad bookkeeping. He was upset with me about that," she told the police. "He had really been on me lately, criticizing me for things -- the way I walk, what I eat, everything. It was just building up to a point. I was tired of it. I guess I got to a point and snapped."

Mary Winkler is still in jail. Her trial has been set for Oct. 30.

2) David Maka

This is another recent high profile case. The victim in question, David Maka, is a one-time Labor party general election candidate in New Zealand. After 419 scammers contacted Maka with a fake business venture, he believed it.

He was asked to pay advance fees. He solicited cash from his friends, telling them it was intended to release $15 million in stocks in an offshore account. Since he was a man of reputation, his friends had no reason not to believe him.

But they began to doubt him when he continued asking for more and more money. He was receiving nothing in return. Eventually, they refused to give him any more money. Instead, they took him to court.

Maka pleaded guilty before the Auckland District Court, and confessed to being involved in a Nigerian scam, saying he had made a bad judgment. To avoid jail, he sold his house and other investments in order to pay his creditors.

3) Knovack Jones

Another sad victim of the 419 scam, Knovack Jones had been a lawyer in Florida for 25 years. She faced a court hearing July 1, 2006, on charges of grand theft, accused of stealing $371,977 from a client, which she blew on a Nigerian investment scam.

Knovack was contacted by a 419 scammer from Nigeria, in 2001, who purported to be a medical doctor. Jones explained in court that the scammer told her he "had a contract with the [Nigerian] government of $38.6 million, and he needed my participation I was not thinking clearly."

Motivated by a desire to get rich quick, she confessed to stealing the estate of her client, Pauline English, worth $400,000 only to lose almost all of it to the e-mail scammer.

"I am a victim of the 419 Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud Scam, I did not use any of the money for my direct benefit, but I realize that I breached my fiduciary responsibility," Jones wrote. The statement added that she was promised $10 million by the scammer as a reward for her assistance.

"I'm here to humbly ask the court's mercy," Knovack said at the hearing.

The court is expected to sentence her in a couple of weeks.


Not only individuals have fallen prey to the 419 scam. Many companies and banks have also lost millions in this ever-growing spam ordeal.

1) The Brazilian Bank

This case made headlines in November 2005. It was one of Nigeria's biggest spam cases, and the trial took place in Nigeria. It saw the return of $17 million to a Brazilian bank that had fallen victim to the scam.

The fraud in question was an organized crime of the first order, involving a network of people who took on different roles in order to fool the Brazilian bank. The carefully organized scam took place over a long period of time, from 1996 to 2001. Several contacts were established around the world with the same consistent story.

All those arrested -- housewife Amaka Anajemba, lawyer Obum Osakwe, and businessmen Nzeribe Okoli and Emmanuel Nwude -- were major shareholders in a leading Nigerian bank, which made it easy for them to produce verifiable documents.

Four prominent Nigerian companies also collaborated in the scam, notably Ocean Marketing, Fynbaz, Emrus, and the African Shelter Bureau. The scammers wrote to a senior bank official at Sao Paulo's Banco Noroeste, promising him a lucrative share in a new Nigerian airport construction contract, provided he paid the handling fees.

To do so, the bank official siphoned off up to $242 million of the bank's funds and deposited it into various accounts around the world cleverly designated by the scammers.

Before the trial, Nigerian authorities were able to recover $17 million, which was immediately returned to a lawyer representing the now defunct Banco Noroeste. The Nigerian government promised to recover the rest from the scammers by freezing their assets.

Okoli and Nwude were sentenced to 12 years and 35 years imprisonment, respectively. They also forfeited assets worth $121 million. Anajemba received two and a half years and forfeited assets worth over $48 million, including mansions in Nigeria, Switzerland, and the United States. Anajemba's late husband was also convicted, in absentia.

2) The Tijuana Furniture Store

James Adler's case is considered high profile because of its "originality." James Adler, a resident of Chula Vista (near San Diego, Calif.), was the owner of a Tijuana furniture store. He was targeted by 419 scammers and, as the emerging court case proved, members of the Nigerian government in the early 1990s, who asked him to open a bank account so they could deposit $130 million stolen from the previous Nigerian government.

Adler received a "confidential" letter in 1992 from one scammer who identified himself as Chief Abba Ganna. In his mail, the scammer proposed a genuine business transaction between himself, Adler, and the senior accountant of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

As the scammer explained it, all Adler had to do was send certified letterheads and invoices from his Tijuana company, El Surtidor de Hogar, and a bank account number, so the money could be sent over by wire. He was promised a 40 percent cut as a reward for his kind services.

Adler made a trip to Nigeria to meet the government and banking officials, but they were nowhere to be found. Angered, Adler took the matter to court, but the court found that solicitation was in itself even on face value a criminal transaction. He could not be allowed to benefit from his own wrongdoing.

This particular case was significant in that it showed for the first time that some government officials in Nigeria were in fact very actively involved in 419 frauds.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Amin George Forji

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