Toronto Police helped the FBI uncover a $5-billion fraud and money-laundering conspiracy in a case they say highlights the need for co-operation to track crime proceeds that cross borders more easily than ever.
FBI officers and United States Postal Inspection Service investigators watched Thursday in Toronto police headquarters as Detective Sergeant Ian Nichol traced the evolution of the case, which led to charges against three Toronto-area residents and six south of the border.
"We saw significant linkage with what was going on on the U.S. side … notes were compared, and lo and behold, we were onto something bigger than what we had originally," Sgt. Nichol said.
The three charged locally are alleged to have wired funds through accounts in several countries, including the proceeds of "romance scams."
They came to police attention through a local case: a 63-year-old Canadian widow who was swindled of her life's savings in 2014.
"I will say, just as a personal anecdote, that we went to visit her in the wintertime and found her … at her home, and the heat was barely on," said Deputy Constable Mike Kelly from the financial crimes unit. "She was wearing a jacket and mittens inside, and a jacket and hat, in her house. She's been economically ruined."
The woman had begun what she believed was a romantic relationship with a man she met on a dating site; it turned out to be fabricated, Constable Kelly said. In the course of a few months, believing the man was facing emergencies, she handed over $609,000.
Two men will face extradition to the U.S. when the Canadian fraud and money-laundering charges against them have been resolved: 34-year-old Ikechukwu Amadi of Mississauga and 41-year-old Akohomen Ighedoise of Toronto. A woman, 31-year-old Pineo Molefe, was charged with money-laundering.
"We are concerned there may be more victims, not only in Canada but elsewhere," Sgt. Nichol said. "Because these offences are … largely initiated over the Internet and followed up on over the Internet, borders are essentially meaningless."