A Reading resident, and newspaper delivery man in Woburn, is allegedly behind a string of identity fraud, forgery and larceny incidents. He was arraigned in court this week.
Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone informed the public Wednesday that Ikponmwosa Ogiugo, 22, of Reading, was arraigned in Woburn District Court on charges of identity fraud (12 counts), forgery (23 counts), larceny over $250 (5 counts), and larceny over $250 by check.
In total the incidents of identity fraud, forgery and larceny totaled more than $200,000, Leone's office stated.
Fearing that the defendant, a native of Nigeria, posed a flight risk, the Commonwealth requested $500,000 cash bail. Woburn District Court Judge Catherine Byrne ordered the defendant held on $5,000 cash bail with conditions that he surrender his passport, and that if he posts bail he remain under house arrest with a monitoring bracelet.
The defendant’s next court date in Woburn District Court is April 10 for a pretrial conference.
“These are very concerning allegations, where a person used his position of trust with long-term newspaper delivery customers, many of them elderly, to gain access to their personal information and then manipulated that information to gain a monetary benefit for himself,” Leone said. “The elderly are our most deserving population and we are dedicated to fully prosecuting this troubling case.”
According to Leone's office, authorities began an investigation in December 2012 after receiving complaints from some of the defendant’s customers in Woburn who noticed that unauthorized checks were being passed through their bank accounts. That investigation allegedly unveiled a complex forgery and larceny scheme wherein the defendant, who was employed during 2012 doing newspaper home delivery to residential customers, would garner personal and bank account information from those customers which he used to create counterfeit checks totaling more than $200,000.
How the scam allegedly worked:
Through their investigation, authorities learned that the defendant encouraged and received gratuities for his service, especially during the holiday season. At least 16 of his subscribers, most of them elderly, gave the defendant a “tip” for his service in the form of a check. The defendant, then, allegedly incorporated the bank routing information and the individual bank account numbers into new computer-generated blank checks, the release states.
According to the district attorney, the defendant would allegedly send the counterfeit checks to individuals residing outside of Massachusetts, where they would be deposited in accounts in New Jersey, New York, Florida, Alabama and Washington. It is believed that some of the payees of the counterfeit checks were duped into believing the checks were legitimate and, at the defendant’s urging, deposited them in their own personal bank account and then forwarded the proceeds via Western Union to recipients, designated by the defendant, residing in India.
Even when victims too the appropriate steps to protect their identities, they were not safe. According to Leone's office, in some instances victims closed their existing accounts after learning that unauthorized checks were being submitted. However, because they were unaware of the suspects involvement they would then issue a substitute gratuity check to the defendant since the old account had been closed. In this way, the defendant was in a position to create more and more new counterfeit checks.
The investigation remains ongoing, the release states. The case is being investigated by Woburn and Reading police and State Police assigned to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, with the assistance of the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Members of the public who may have information that could be helpful to the investigation can contact the Massachusetts State Police at 781-897-6600 or the Woburn Police Detectives’ unit at 781-933-1212.
These charges are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The prosecutor assigned to handle these matters is Assistant District Attorney Doug Cannon.