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Feds indict 9 in Twin Cities in sweeping ID theft bust

Nine Twin Cities residents were indicted Wednesday for their alleged roles in a sweeping conspiracy to defraud banks of $10 million through identity theft. 

Of the seven who made initial appearances in federal court in St. Paul, five have worked in banks in the Twin Cities, including U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and Associated Bank, prosecutors said. 

A total of 12 people were arrested as part of "Operation Starburst," a federal investigation that also found alleged co-conspirators in California and New York. 

Three of the defendants were detained after Wednesday's hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Janie Mayeron and remained in jail: Fawsiyo Hassan Farah, 42, and Sundayga Dexter Roberts, 47, both of Brooklyn Park; and Jonathan Sie Earley, 48, of Brooklyn Center. 

Farah, who worked for Wells Fargo as a bank manager, was held because when she was arrested Wednesday authorities allegedly found in her car confidential information on four bank accounts, a safe deposit box and other bank accounts — none of which belonged to her, prosecutors said. 

Roberts, who prosecutors said had worked as a banker until last year, was allegedly found with "identity theft material" at his home Wednesday, and $9,700 in $100 bills in his bedroom. Prosecutors also expressed concern that a search Wednesday of his home found ties to Ghana and Liberia. 

Earley was detained because of a history of fraud arrests and because investigators said they recovered an e-mail from Earley that contained driver's license and phone bill information for a California resident. 

The other defendants appearing before Mayeron on Wednesday were Fata Leeta Sarnor David, 38, and Nana Bempah Osei-Tutu, 35, both of Minneapolis; Jude Obira Okafor, 44, of Fridley; and Charles Tubman Dwamina, 46, of Lino Lakes. 

All seven are due back in court on Friday for arraignment. 

Prosecutors said that starting in 2006, the network of bank insiders and others allegedly used stolen individual and business identification records to open bank accounts, acquire credit cards and obtain loans. They drafted checks against the fraudulent accounts, used the credit cards to make purchases and used home equity lines of credit for their personal benefit. 

One of the most active participants appeared to be Julian Nosa Okeayainneh, 42, of Colton, Calif., who allegedly possessed and trafficked more than 7,000 identification documents, bank account documents and other information between March 2006 and December 2010. 

He was charged with 16 counts of bank fraud and 15 other fraud counts. 

The Minnesota residents indicted Wednesday were charged with various combinations of bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and mail fraud. 

For almost four years starting in 2006, Roberts allegedly possessed and sold bank customer information to others involved in the scam. He was "relieved of his duties" at the unnamed bank that employed him last year, prosecutors said. 

From December 2009 until this month, Osei-Tutu, a personal banker at U.S. Bank, allegedly operated as a bank insider for the network and opened fraudulent accounts for other participants. Farah, at Wells Fargo, was accused of similar misdeeds. 

Two other Minnesotans who were not in court with the seven defendants Wednesday were charged in the indictment: Olugenya Temidayo Adeniran, 35, of Minneapolis and Adetokunbo Olubunmi Adejumo, 34, of Maple Grove allegedly used fraudulently obtained credit cards to make more than $300,000 in purchases at stores in the Mall of America and Southdale from 2009 to January 2010. 

Each has been charged with numerous counts of bank fraud, identity theft and mail fraud. 

Federal prosecutors said the defendants "obtained or attempted to obtain in excess of $10 million in proceeds," but the defendants claimed in court to have next to nothing. When the seven in St. Paul were asked by Mayeron if they had money to hire an attorney, only one claimed to have more than a few thousand dollars. Public defenders were appointed for all. 

"Those who may be tempted to engage in identity theft and financial fraud, particularly when it involves our banking system here in Minnesota and elsewhere, should know that we are paying attention," said B. Todd Jones, U.S. attorney for Minnesota. 

The financial institutions allegedly victimized by the scam also included American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Guaranty Bank, JPMorgan Chase Bank, TCF Bank, Wachovia Bank and Washington Mutual. 

The U.S. attorney's office said that four individuals previously charged were also part of the conspiracy: Chidi David Egbujor, 45, of Elk River; Angela Kay Grigsby, 48, of Minneapolis; and Kabaso Manda, 36, and Jaime Jean Brynteson, 35, neither of whom has a known address. 

John Welbes can be reached at 651-228-2175.

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