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JUSTICE MUST BE WON

Alabama/The Mobile News

Nigerians sentenced in check-altering scam


Men get lighter punishment for help in large-scale probe


Thursday, April 21, 2005

By BRENDAN KIRBY
Staff Reporter

Two Nigerian nationals received breaks on their sentences for bank fraud
Wednesday when a federal judge rewarded them for their assistance in a
much larger investigation.

Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Butler sentenced Adrian Chike Okakpu,
25, to two years in prison and gave Okwudili Umenyiora, 26, 18 months.
Both get credit for the months they've been jailed since their arrests
last summer.

The men, both from the Atlanta area, must make restitution totaling
$131,867 and face likely deportation after completing their sentences.
According to U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigators, the men stole
commercial checks from various companies and altered the payee line. They
then recruited people, including two from Mobile, to cash the checks and
give the money to them in cashier's checks. The total they tried to steal
exceeded $400,000, according to court documents.

An indictment listed three companies whose checks were altered: Coca-Cola
Co. ($6,974), Walter Concrete of Stockbridge, Ga., ($174,200) and
Rock-Tenn Co. of Norcross, Ga. ($124,893).

Federal prosecutors asked the judge to give the defendants prison terms
half as long as the sentences called for under advisory sentencing
guidelines. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michel Nicrosi, however, laid out the
reasons privately. Butler took the recommendation out of earshot of the
public so as not to jeopardize the ongoing investigation.

Nicrosi told Butler in open court that Okakpu's cooperation has been
crucial in the investigation of a check-stealing operation that extends
far beyond Mobile.

"He is high enough in the chain that he was very critical. ... That really
cracked it," she said.

Butler gave the defendants even less time, but sentenced Okakpu to six
more months because of his criminal record. The men, in separate hearings,
said they were sorry.

"I want to apologize to you, your honor, to God, to the United States and
to the victims in this case," Okakpu said. "I'm very sorry, and I promise
it will never happen again. If I could take things back, I would."

Okakpu's attorney, J. Gullatte Hunter III, noted his client's fiancee gave
birth to his son since he has been jailed.

"I don't believe he has seen his baby before today," Hunter said.
Added Okakpu, "He's given me new meaning on life. ... I'm completely
rehabilitated now."

Umenyiora's lawyer, Domingo Soto, said his client has a degree in finance
from Auburn University and a brother, Osi Umenyiora, who plays defensive
end for the New York Giants. He said his client got mixed up in "some
stupid stuff."

Soto said the most serious sanction facing Umenyiora and Okakpu is the
prospect of being sent back to Nigeria, from which they emigrated as
children.

A third co-defendant indicted in Mobile, Oluyomi Oshinakie, remains at
large. Four others, Stanley Ragin and Turvoris Fair of the Atlanta area,
and Rosa Gullett and Kim Williams of Mobile, were granted pretrial
intervention, giving them the opportunity of having the charges dropped if
they stay out of trouble for 18 months.


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