A longtime fraudster who hired prostitutes to steal people’s identities was sentenced to 14 years in prison Friday.
Michael Oginni stole more than $650,000 over two years, spending the money on call girls, high-end home appliances for his Rockville home and tuition for his four children at exclusive private schools, according to prosecutors.
When he was arrested at a supermarket in Ohio last July, court papers say, Oginni was carrying 54 fake credit cards, 35 debit cards, several phones and a laptop filled with hacking and counterfeiting software under the filename “Very Big Fraud Package.zip.”
During his sentencing hearing Friday in federal court in Alexandria, Oginni said he had not appreciated the human cost of his crimes after pleading guilty to fraud and identity theft.
“I’m not a monster,” he said. “I’m not an evil man.”
But prosecutor Laura Fong called him a “chilling . . . criminal mastermind” who hired vulnerable people to do his dirty work and beat them when they failed to comply.
A native of Nigeria, Oginni came to the United States in 2007 after getting out of prison in the United Kingdom for student-loan fraud. In the Washington area, according to court filings, he recruited a band of prostitutes and heroin addicts to buy gift cards at convenience stores, wash the markings off with acetone and encode them with stolen credit card information.
From a laptop at Rockville Starbucks, Oginni would instruct his co-conspirators on what to wear and say when they used the cards, Fong said.
When credit card companies began using chips to prevent this kind of fraud, Oginni turned to opening new credit accounts in strangers’ names. He scouted online records for people with high credit scores and substantial wealth, then ordered counterfeit drivers’ licenses with their information but his subordinates’ photos. Oginni then directed his team to fraudulently lease apartments in D.C. so the cards would be sent there.
“This is the best job in the whole world!!!!” he texted Andraliesha Jefferson in 2015. He met Jefferson through the escort ads on Backpage.com and recruited as first a lover and then a fraudster.
At the time, according to the text messages produced in court, Jefferson was telling Oginni she was going to quit the scheme, saying she was risking federal prison without getting paid for it.
Oginni called her dramatic and said he was going to start working with men only, adding, “I will take my chances with the feds thank you.”
Jefferson was arrested about a year later, along with two others working for Oginni. It took more time for federal investigators to pinpoint Oginni as the mastermind, according to court documents; in a February 2016 interview with law enforcement, he claimed to be a victim himself. He moved his family to a new Maryland home and obsessively checked federal court records for updates on his co-conspirators, according to court documents.
But he also began taking risks he had previously delegated, prosecutors said, although he ventured outside the D.C. area to do so. He was caught in northeast Ohio using a fake credit card himself to buy gift cards.
Oginni will likely be deported after his release from prison. Fong predicted he would continue to commit fraud, “maybe from an Internet cafe in Nigeria.”
Defense attorneys say Oginni came to America with plans to become a computer programmer but could not find employment because of the recession and his lack of a security clearance. He had to pay medical bills for his parents; wanting the best education for his children, he paid tuition for Landon School and St. John’s Episcopal School.
Since his arrest, his attorney said, Oginni’s family has been evicted and many of their possessions sold off.