|Katie May - Winnipeg Free Press - 17-06-07
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A former business student who laundered nearly a half-a-million dollars as part of an international online fraud scheme has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.
Michael Odine, 26, faces deportation back to Nigeria as a result of his 24 criminal convictions for playing a key role in a mass-marketing scheme that funnelled stolen money into fraudulent bank accounts, stealing $442,000 from 53 victims across Canada, the United States and Europe.
Odine was involved in the scheme for three years from February 2013 until his arrest in March 2016, while he studied business at the University of Manitoba. He opened at least eight different bank accounts to forward fraudulently obtained money to unknown agents in the U.S., Ukraine, South Africa, Malaysia, Nigeria and Pakistan. The money came from dozens of people who fell victim to online fraud: some were looking for work or rental accommodations online, some were responding to online classified ads and some had been duped by people they met on dating sites. In each case, the victims were sent fraudulent cheques and asked to deposit them and transfer some of the funds to other individuals.
The original cheques would bounce, and the victims would be on the hook for the money they had transferred to other bank accounts, including the ones set up in Winnipeg by Odine.
Odine didn’t communicate directly with any of the victims, but he followed instructions from others who mailed him high-quality, forged driver's licences and passports bearing false names and his real photo. He forwarded some of the money he received and kept some for himself — splurging on flights, designer clothes and nightclub tabs, as well as paying for his U of M tuition and textbooks.
"While the accused did not communicate directly with the victims of these fraudulent initiatives, his participation in the financial workings of the scheme was integral to its success," Court of Queen's Bench Justice Vic Toews said as he imposed the prison sentence Wednesday.
The judge ordered Odine to pay restitution of $98,970 — about 25 per cent of the money he laundered. After he was caught, Odine estimated he spent only about 20 per cent of the money he received via the fraudulent bank accounts before forwarding the money, but bank records provided to the police showed his profits were much larger, court heard.
It remains unclear how Odine got involved in the mass-marketing scheme. In a pre-sentence report, he said he did so because his part-time job didn't pay the bills. But with his employment income and financial support from his parents in Nigeria — his father is a pharmacist and his mother a nurse — Odine received more than $39,500 in 2013 without the fraudulently obtained funds, Toews noted in his decision.
"It appears to me that the choice he made in getting involved with this fraudulent activity was based on the desire to obtain extra money to enhance his social activities and relationships. It had nothing to do with being able to meet his basic cost of living and educational expenses," the judge said.
Odine previously said he was mailed letters and eventually the forged documents after looking online for a job, court heard.
The Winnipeg Police Service’s commercial crime unit launched an investigation after a Vancouver police officer asked for help in October 2015 with a case involving a B.C. victim who had been defrauded out of money that ended up in a Winnipeg bank account.
Odine was arrested the following March carrying forged driver’s licences and passports he would use to open the bank accounts. Police were not able to find the source of those forged documents or lay charges against others who may have been involved in the scheme.
Tags: Michael Odine, Nigeria, mass-marketing, money laundering, fraud, online fraud, counterfeit checks, Winnipeg Police Service
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