Man Convicted In Nigerian Counterfeit Money Order Scheme

LITTLE ROCK - A Little Rock man has been convicted by a federal jury of participating in a scheme to defraud an possession of counterfeit money orders.  Now a naturalized U.S. citizen and resident of Little Rock, Nigerian born Steven Anayo Onwumere was first suspected when a package addressed to him from the West African country Benin was found to contain counterfeit money orders.  Based on this seizure, a warning was sent to postal employees to be on the lookout for Onwumere.  On March 31, 2006 a postal employee identified Onwumere when he tried to mail nine certified letters to various places in the United States.  The clerk was also alerted by Onwumere's odd behavior and his insistent's on not placing return addresses on the certified letters.  Upon inspection of the letters Postal Inspectors found a total of $51,320 in counterfeit money orders.  After a search of Onwumere's apartment evidence revealed him as the middle man in the scheme to defraud.

The Scheme would usually involve a person claiming to be overseas unable to cash the money orders from where they are located.  They would claim to have been paid in money orders for work they performed. Or the victim will cash the money orders as part of a romantic relationship.  Either way the victim would wire the cash to the perpetrator of the fraud before finding out the money order was counterfeit.  At that point, either the bank or the individual victim sustain the loss.

The counterfeit money orders were soon linked to a much larger scheme that American Express had been investigating since 2005.  Robert Simpson, a fraud investigator for American Express, tied some of the counterfeit money orders that Onwumere mailed to three larger schemes investigated by American Express.

Onwumere was convicted of mail fraud, a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1341 which carries a possible sentence of up to 30 years incarceration and fine of up to $250.000 and possession of counterfeit securities which carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years incarceration and the same possible fine. Sentencing will be scheduled at a later date before United States District Judge James M. Moody.