Many people assume that committing a crime from outside the United States offers protection from federal prosecution here. But a case that ended with a Nigerian man's four-year prison sentence on federal charges of counterfeiting proves otherwise.
The 28-year-old man was accused of working with a distributor in another state to smuggle phony $100 bills that had been sewn into hats. The bills were then passed into retail stores in Wisconsin and elsewhere, providing legitimate currency and goods to the man in exchange.
A U.S. Secret Service agent who was investigating the scam contacted the man, posing as someone who wanted to help him obtain a student visa so he could live in the United States. Another agent posed as his potential American bride. After being assured that the visa was secured and he had been enrolled at Marquette University, the man sent the undercover agent copies of his Nigerian passport, national identity card and high school transcripts via email.
The man was arrested just after landing at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee Dec. 19. He confessed to his crimes and was later convicted of counterfeiting charges through a plea agreement. Although he begged for leniency at his sentencing hearing, the U.S. district judge was less than sympathetic toward his stories of personal hardship, including a brother who died of typhoid and a father who was partially paralyzed by a stroke. The judge said he accepted the man's apology, but not his claims that he was simply naïve and did whatever he could to help his ailing father.
Many Wisconsinites have heard of a type of advance-fee fraud called a "Nigerian scam," and although these scams are by no means restricted to Nigeria, the country has earned a reputation for being the center of fraud. Yet in the past 10 years, only six Nigerians have been extradited to the U.S. to face charges, according to the assistant U.S. attorney in the latest case. This defendant came to the U.S. voluntarily rather than through extradition, but the fact remains that it's possible to be charged and prosecuted for crimes committed in the U.S. even without being in the country.
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Nigerian counterfeiter gets four-year prison term," Nicole Levy, June 21, 2012