BRIDGEPORT -- For the past six years, Okapo Mike Diamreyan portrayed a doctor, an airport director, a diplomat and a prince in scamming at least 64 victims out of $1.3 million.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall handed Diamreyan another title -- federal inmate.
The judge sentenced Diamreyan, the first Nigerian e-mail scammer caught by federal authorities in Connecticut, to 12 years and seven months in prison. She also ordered him to pay $1,021,560 in restitution to his victims.
However, the mostly elderly victims -- who thought they would earn a good payout by helping move millions from an African bank, company, custom office or warehouse into their accounts -- probably will never see any restitution.
That's because once Diamreyan is released from prison he will be deported back to Africa. He owns what has been described as a comfortable house with a car in Ghana.
And the U.S. government can't access his bank accounts there.
Hall noted that it "is very difficult to catch someone involved in these scams" because "its all done facelessly" over the Internet.
"They'll throw out a net to hundreds of thousands by hitting the send button on the computer and they only need to catch one or two," the judge said.
Diamreyan was caught because he married a woman in Massachusetts, which allowed him to come to the U.S. His mistake was continuing to commit these crimes, particularly by victimizing Michael Pandelos, an elderly, infirm Shelton man.
When advised of the term imposed, Antje Pandelos, Pandelos's wife happily remarked "good" and then "this is wonderful ... I am very grateful."
But she doubts the sentence will give other scammers second thoughts. "It's too profitable," she said of the Advance Fee frauds also known as 419 scams. "They learned a lesson, but that is not to come here."
Her husband, who underwent eye surgery Wednesday, lost $71,587 over several years to various schemes involving Diamreyan.
She said the only way she could stop her husband from sending money was by shutting down her home phone, disconnecting the internet and giving away their computer.
During the sentencing, Hall did hear from a Connecticut doctor identified only as victim 49 who lost $92,142 to schemes in which he thought he was helping African refugees. The doctor, who spoke with a German accent, said he was a refugee during World War II.
"I began to fantasize that I could start a foundation for refugees ... I stopped sending money, but I still have a problem giving up that idea," he said, adding that he became "a laughingstock" among friends and colleagues.
Diamreyan, speaking through an interpreter, showed little remorse for his conviction on three wire fraud charges all involving Pandelos. Instead he took Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Chang and agents from the U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service to task. DCIS became involved because one of the scams involved money allegedly stolen by U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
E-mails seized by Richard Lauria and Christopher Mehring of DCIS disclose that Diamreyan has portrayed himself as a government secretary, a doctor, an airport director, a diplomat and even a prince in the schemes. They offer to share millions in oil contracts, inheritances or boxes of stolen money. All the victim has to do is provide upfront fees to help process the movement. Except after the initial payment is made, the fee request never ends. There's money needed for transportation, lawyers, documents, custom costs and more.
Diamreyan claimed rules were bent to force and intimidate his ex-wife to provide information and testify against him. He further took issue with Chang's claim that for people like Diamreyan "America is a land of opportunity -- for fraud."
Jonathan Einhorn, Diamreyan's court-appointed lawyer, said he will appeal both the conviction and the sentence.
The defendant said he would not be inclined to make "such distasteful comments against this country."
But when Einhorn claimed his client was indigent both Hall and Chang took issue with that.
"I don't know where the proof is to rely on the claim, he's indigent," Hall shot back. "I don't believe it." She cited testimony from the defendant's ex-wife that he owns a "comfortable home" and a car in Ghana.
Additionally, Chang pointed to an e-mail where Diamreyan told his workers he hoped to make "a half million to a million himself."
"This defendant hoped to be come fabulously wealthy and take it back home with him," the prosecutor said. "We know he was a leader of this scheme."
Chang said others referred to Diamreyan as the chairman -- which in these scams, is a high position of respect.