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ID Theft scam targets soldiers, Staten Island residents

June 16, 2010 3:21:15 PM PDT
An identity theft scam victimized dozens of Staten Island residents and soldiers based at Fort Hood, Texas, investigators said Wednesday. The scam came to a quick end with the arrests of a gang of Nigerian immigrants working on Staten Island.

During raids Tuesday morning, 26 suspects were arrested on Staten Island, in Queens and Brooklyn.

"They stole millions of dollars, perhaps as much as five million dollars," Kelly said.

Investigators say the ring leaders - 38-year-old Kazeem Badru, 46-year-old Ganiu Rilwan and 32-year-old Okoronkwo Okechukwu - accessed the checking, investment and credit card accounts or more than 200 people. Sixty of the victims live on Staten Island, 20 others are military personnel stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, with some deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There was over 25-hundred attempts by this organization to gain access to the identities and credit information of the members down in Fort Hood," Dan Donovan, Staten Island District Attorney, said.

Donovan said the suspects used numerous methods to gain the victim's personal information. One approach: rifle through mailboxes for credit card or bank statements. Police also said the defendants deposited fraudulent checks, leading to financial losses at 27 banks including Richmond County savings, Staten Island Bank and Trust and HSBC.

Lastly, in an effort to not attract attention, authorities said the defendants and their 32 underlings, never showcased their criminal rewards.

"Some worked, mostly low-key in their lifestyle. Some had jobs, but they lived a very simple, frugal existence, very low key," Det. Robert Fitzgibbons said.

The case was cracked after a woman in Libby, Montana, called NYPD detectives to report a Staten Island man writing checks from her home equity line of credit. That case resulted in three arrests, but also led to information about a much bigger identity theft scheme.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the suspects appeared to have inside help gaining the information of the victims.

Some military personnel learned they had been victimized only after returning from duty.

"In fact, one soldier returned home last Christmas only to discover his bank account had been emptied," Kelly said. "It takes a certain kind of detached cruelty to victimize people in this way."

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