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The San Diego Union-Tribune

Local resident arrested in Nigerian fraud scheme


May 3, 2008

VISTA - A 24-year-old man has been arrested by sheriff's detectives who said he was involved in a $600,000 Internet fraud scheme with partners in Nigeria.

Officials with the sheriff's financial-crimes unit said Kevin Harper of Vista was paid to create counterfeit checks, which he mailed to addresses provided by his partners. Authorities said he also received Western Union cash transfers from victims and sent the money to Nigeria.

Sheriff's investigators contacted Harper on Thursday as they were following up on a complaint involving a victim in Oregon who was selling a horse over the Internet, Sgt. Mark Varnau said.

The Nigerian suspects had contacted the animal's owner, used a fake name and agreed to buy the horse. Harper sent the victim a check as payment for the horse and asked the seller to send a portion of the payment to a horse shipper named Kevin Harper via Western Union, Varnau said.

The check bounced and was returned to the victim because it was counterfeit.

"He was simply directed to be a middleman, a mail-forwarder for the suspects," Varnau said.

Investigators said Harper admitted he sent out checks for more than six months and estimated he sent his partners about $600,000.

Harper told investigators he made about $50,000 from the transactions, Varnau said.

Detectives have identified two victims in the case, including another horse owner in Jamul, and will go through Harper's computer files to try to identify others, Varnau said.

When detectives searched Harper's apartment, which he shared with his mother, they seized his computer and recovered check-counterfeiting materials and counterfeit U.S. Treasury checks, Varnau said.

Harper was being held on $60,000 bail at the Vista Detention Facility on grand-theft, burglary and other charges.

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