…Where criminals make more money and commit grievous crimes
By CHIOMA IGBOKWE
Detectives attached to the Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Force headquarters Abuja are currently on a mission to fish out some alleged fraudsters who are in various prisons across the country but still coordinating dangerous criminal gangs, raking in several millions of naira much more than free men. Investigations have so far linked them to series of high profile theft running into millions while awaiting trial or serving their jail sentence in prison.
Top on their list is a middle-aged man simply identified as Ifeanyi Ezenwa who is at Kuje maximum prison, Abuja, awaiting trial over series of fraud related cases. He was declared wanted when several persons especially car dealers petitioned the police alleging that one Ezenwa bought cars from them and disappeared without paying.
His victims lamented that they normally meet him through online transactions and arrange for someone to inspect the vehicle. He will request for an account number and minutes later his victim will receive a bank alert. With the hope that it is genuine, they will release the vehicle or goods to his brother, one Emma who normally stands in for him. Much later after another transaction, his victim will realize that the bank credit was just a fake alert.
According to a police source, as soon as Inspector General of Police (IGP), Abubakar Idris got wind of his activities, a manhunt was declared. Investigations so far had revealed that he collected 15 tractors in Delta, 18 Land Cruiser Prado Jeeps, Hummer buses from Elizade motors, three exotic cars from a car stand in Abuja and 8 trucks from Edo. In each incident, the cases were suspended, as it appeared detectives were searching for a man that never exists.
The unraveling of a kingpin
He however ran out of luck when his recent victim alerted the police that a man who fits the description of Ezenwa’s middleman was spotted at a spare parts market in Abuja.
His real identity was uncovered when policemen traced one of the stolen cars to his house at No 17 Mazi Obilla street, Sahara Estate, Lokogoma, Abuja. An indigene of Achi, Enugu State, Ezenwa was traced to a four-bedroom bungalow in Abuja. They met his wife.
Detectives were thrown into confusion when his wife insisted that her husband was in Italy and that she had not seen him before except through video calls. She even gave the police an international line used by her husband to call her.
She claimed that a family friend introduced her to him and few days to the traditional wedding, he called and requested that his brother would represent him.
She was still trying to convince the police that they were after the wrong person, when Ezenwa called his wife demanding to know who and who were in the house. On the instruction of the police, she told him that it was the car dealer and a friend.
He insisted that he knew the number of persons in the house as he had seen them all. At that point, police discovered that there were CCTVs all over the house from the gate to all the rooms and bathrooms. He was actually monitoring all the activities going on in the house from his prison cell.
The phone number was traced and it was discovered that the call emanated from Kuje maximum prison, Abuja. According to Saturday Sun’s police source, efforts are still on going to properly interrogate him to understand how he operates.
It was revealed that Ezenwa was refused bail by a judge because of the endless cases of fraud against him. He was alleged to have built several houses and a hotel from the loot got from his fraudulent activities while in prison.
Lamenting their ordeal in the hands of Ezenwa, one of his victims, identified as Nwachuwu Lawson, alleged that the suspect directed his brother, one Emma to buy Mercedes Benz G-Wagon spare parts worth N1.9million from him. After the price was agreed, Emma requested for his account number and few minutes later he received an alert. It was after another transaction that he realised the said alert was fake.
Another victim, Mohammed Saleke, a car dealer in Abuja, lamented that Ezenwa swindled him of a Mercedes Benz G-Wagon that was on sale in his stand. According to him, “On the day he defrauded me and made away with my vehicle worth N17million, he sent a man to my car stand and he priced the vehicle and took a picture of it and sent to him. My boy Obinna was the one dealing with them and when they agreed to our price, they took my account number and went to the bank to withdraw the money.
“But instead of paying the cash, they insisted on transferring the money to my bank account. When I gave the account number to them, I received an alert after one hour and I called them to come and pick their vehicle. That was on a Friday, but by Monday when I went to the bank to check my account I discovered there was no money paid in it. When I received the alert, it had my previous balance in it and the total money was balanced. I wondered how he was able to get access into my account. This incident happened in November 2016 and I have been looking for him and the vehicle since them.”
Beyond Kuje prison
Saturday Sun had reported two weeks ago how the taskforce also tracked and unveiled a syndicate which specialises in defrauding women by pretending to be wealthy Nigerian businessmen.
The suspects identified as Onyebuchi Chiege and Ifeanyi Igbokwe who are awaiting trial over a kidnap case succeeded in ripping off several women of millions of naira from within Enugu prison with the aid of smart phones smuggled into the prison for their use.
The discovery led to the arrest of three other suspects identified as Ujunwa Emeribe, Chinedu Adindu and Chidinma Chiege who are allegedly responsible for opening bank accounts and withdrawal of money whenever it is needed.
According to a reliable police source, the activities of the duo became known when one Henry alerted the police that the husband of her relative, Gloria, who is based in USA has been kidnapped. Henry reported to the police that the victim identified as Ekechi Obi who lives at No 10 Euphrates Crescent, Maitama, Abuja has been kidnapped and his Rolls Royce car carted away.
The IGP directed the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) to track down and rescue the victim unharmed. With the aid of the Technical Intelligence Unit, it was discovered that all the calls made with the phone number of the victim and that of his mother emanated from Enugu Prison.
It actually belongs to two inmates identified as Onyebuchi Chiege and Ifeanyi Igbokwe. The duo had spent two years awaiting trial over a case of kidnapping and cultism. Not deterred by the four walls of the prison, the suspects acquired smart phones and started online fraud.
One of their modus operandi is to pose as rich Nigerian businessmen in need of love. Their targets, who are mainly foreigners will be amazed at the possibility of dating a rich man from Nigeria.
On the crime that exposed their activities, the suspects as soon as they convinced their latest victim, Gloria that she was on phone with Ekechi Obi a millionaire based in Abuja, initiated online relationship with the suspects and later proposed to her. Weeks before their agreed date for Gloria to return to start the wedding plans, one of the suspects called her and broke the bad news that her fiancée Ekechi had been kidnapped.
With a fake video call, Gloria spoke with an old woman who claimed to be the mother of his fiancée, Ekechi Obi. Pretending to be sad, she told Gloria that the kidnappers had demanded N20million ransom and that she could only raise N5million. She claimed that her son has millions of naira in bank accounts and that she will refund her as soon as Ekechi regains his freedom.
In an attempt to save her fiancé, she sent N8million to an account number purported to belong to the kidnappers. It was when she was asked to bring more of that. She alerted her relative, Henry to lend her some money.
During interrogation Onyebuchi and Ifeanyi allegedly admitted that they duped several women from the prison. They alleged that prison warders were paid weekly to allow them make use of their phones for video calls at any location of the prison they chose.
Denying any complicity in the crime, the three other suspects claimed that they were used to open bank accounts and withdraw cash when needed. Adindu claimed that he was told that millions of naira in his account was from Igbokwe’s relative based abroad.
Another suspect Chidinma Chiege, claims that she was never convinced that all the money in the account came from a decent source. “I am the girlfriend of Onyebuchi and he was arrested for kidnapping. I normally visit him in the prison and he will give me plenty of money. One of the days, he asked me to open an account for him in my name but use his phone number so that he will be receiving alerts.
“Suddenly millions of naira were deposited into the account. I did not bother to ask them the source because I know why they were in prison. I am not part of them; the only thing I did was to open an account for them.”
Kirikiri prison not excluded
In another development, a senior civil servant, Bose Adeleke lost more than N5million to another inmate at Kirikiri medium prison. Just like so many women who are into online dating, Bose met a guy online and they became friends. He presented himself as a successful Igbo man from Imo State. Bose who is in her late 40s and still single was already desperate to hook up with any man who will marry her.
Both agreed to meet four months after they started their relationship.
Few days to the agreed date, Bose received an emergency call from his online lover that he was in court and they were about to take him to Kirikiri prison. He explained that he had a business deal with an influential man, which backfired.
He alleged that the man had paid the judge to give him a very difficult bail condition and it would be better for him to pay the said amount to get off the hook.
Madly in love, Bose opted to visit him in prison and get to see him personally. On an agreed date, she visited and was even granted conjugal rights. She had an amazing sexual experience with the man and swore to help him regain his freedom.
Unknown to Bose, his lover had been in prison for the past five years. The inmate pleaded with her to pay in the sum of N5million into his lawyer’s account.
She paid the next day and after 24 hours, his lover was yet to regain his freedom. Rather, he requested for more money to be paid. Bose decided to consult her lawyer to take over the case. It was in the course of investigation that they discovered that Bose’s lover was convicted of fraud and had spent five years in jail already.
Trafficking of mobile phones, our biggest problem—NPS
When contacted on the scandalous phenomenon, the Nigerian Prison Service Public Relations Officer, Francis Enabore lamented that smuggling in of phones is one of their biggest challenges.
“Trafficking of mobile phones is one of the biggest problems facing any prison in the whole world and Nigeria’s case is not different. We have been taking decisive actions to reduce to the barest minimum the use of phones in Nigerian prisons. We have dismissed some of our officers while others have their ranks reduced. What should be your concern is if we have the administrative capacity to tackle the menace and the answer is yes.
“This is why in all our prisons, there are boldly written notices on things that visitors are not allowed to bring into the prison. We discovered that visitors, our contractors and religious bodies are also smuggling these forbidden items into the prison”, he stated.
He however denied any such thing happened in the recent time. “It is not true because I haven’t heard of any current case of inmates defrauding people. If there is any such case, am yet to hear about it,” he stated.