In its deposition, exclusively obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, the U.S. authorities opposed the defendant’s plea for a lenient sentence.
“The public must have confidence that the activities of the defendant and his co-conspirators are treated with the utmost seriousness. The public must look at the actions of the defendant, being a participant in the online fraud schemes that have become so very prevalent, and know that such conduct cannot be tolerated.
“Individuals inclined to consider committing crimes like those of the defendant must be made to pause in thinking about the consequences that follow,” Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Raj Parekh, said.
Mr Okeke, 33, also known as Invictus Obi, is due for sentencing on Tuesday, having pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge in June 2019.
Mr Okeke’s attorney, John Iweanoge, had raised objections to some paragraphs in the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR), a document prepared by a probation officer to help the judge decide on a sentence.
The PSR contains background information on the offender and can persuade the judge to reduce or impose the maximum jail term, according to the United States Sentencing Guidelines.
“Mr. Okeke objects to paragraphs 13, 21, and 76 dealing with restitution because Unatrac recovered approximately $2.5 million ($302,000.00 and $2.2000,000.00), which should reduce the actual loss amount to less than the intended fraud amount of $10,979.28,” Mr Iweanoge stated in the objection.
The defence lawyer also objected to the prosecution referring to Mr Okeke as the leader of the conspiracy for the fraud.
“In paragraph 12, in an attempt to justify the conclusion that Mr. Okeke was the leader and organiser, the PSR based this on the references in the emails to him as Chief and Boss.
“The reference to Mr. Okeke as Chief or Boss does not support the assertion that he was the leader and organiser of the conspiracy. Notwithstanding, the word “Chief” does not mean leader but a traditional title conferred by a village or community in Nigeria. Similarly, the use of the word Boss in the emails were used as slangs,” he argued.
Mr Iweanoge also cited the Urban dictionary definition of boss as “A person who knows what he or she wants, knows how to get what he wants, and gets it when he wants.”
He prayed the judge not to impose the 97 to 121 months or 151-188 months stipulated for the crime.
Mr Iweanoge urged the court to, instead, consider the “history and characteristics of the defendant.”
According to him, Mr Okeke has strong ties with his family and plays an indispensable role in the lives of his 19-month-old daughter, his elderly sick mother, friends and beneficiaries of his philanthropies.
“Accordingly, any sentence within the Guidelines range would be far greater than necessary to achieve the §3553 sentencing goals, and time lower than the guideline sentence is warranted.”
Mr Iweanoge urged the court to grant Mr Okeke a considerate sentence because “he is already punished by collateral consequences enumerated above.”
He also objected to the request by the prosecution that “restitution and/or forfeiture should give credit for approximately $2.5 million recovered.”
U.S Govt stance
The prosecution disagreed that the collateral effects of jail term on the defendant should mitigate his sentence.
“The guidelines do not consider many other collateral effects of sentencing – the hardship placed on family, the stigma of a felony conviction and so on, because these are not effects that are germane to the sentencing calculus that the guidelines afford,” the government posited.
On the plea that he is a deportable alien, the U.S. government’s lawyers stressed that Mr Okeke chose to engage in conduct that impacted victims in the United States and also travelled to the United States, where he was arrested.
They insisted his non-citizen status should not be a reason to sentence him to less than 10 years in prison.
“The United States submits that a consideration of the Section 3553(a) factors warrants a guideline sentence as the guidelines substantially do reflect the nature and circumstances of the offence and the defendant’s background. Again, should the Court grant the objections of the parties, the appropriate sentence should not be less than 120 months.”
The lawyers urged the court to consider the need to protect the society, the need for a just punishment, deterrence and Mr Okeke’s criminal records.
“The defendant has no criminal history and the guidelines certainly credit this. But this factor cuts both ways, as the defendant committed this deliberate crime as a mature, educated adult.
Clearly, the defendant could have used his technical skills for productive work, rather than using it to defraud other individuals and entities.”
The chairperson of Abuja-based Invictus Group was arrested in 2019 on allegations of conspiracy with individuals, some of whom remain at large, to defraud American companies and individuals over a period of at least four years.
Although he denied the charge before a federal judge in the U.S. for months, he later pleaded guilty to the allegation of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and agreed to cooperate with the American authorities last June.
The guilty plea helped Mr Okeke, who was initially indicted on two counts of computer and wire fraud, to secure the withdrawal of the second charge that carries a lesser sentence and fines.
As part of his deal with the U.S. government, he would enjoy immunity from prosecution on the same matter in the U.S. Eastern District of Virginia.
The district will also confirm the validity of the plea agreement in case Mr Okeke is charged over the same offence in another jurisdiction.
Although his sentencing was initially scheduled for October 22, 2020, it was postponed to Tuesday.
PREMIUM TIMES had earlier reported how family members, an employee, a pastor, and others related to Mr Okeke have made appeals to the court for leniency, ahead of his sentencing.
In a series of letters of attestation to character sent to Rebecca Smith, the judge handling the case at a Virginia court, they expressed shock about the involvement of Mr Okeke in the unlawful activities and pleaded he be given a second chance.
They also pledged he would not take part in any unlawful act again.
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