- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

Since the roads of the United States became the land of opportunity for overseas runners decades ago, countless athletes have come here in search of riches.

Most of them come here legitimately, through visas granted by their home countries that are typically based on invitations from major U.S. road races such as the New York City, Chicago and Boston marathons and other events like the District’s Cherry Blossom 10-Miler.

But others slip into this country through illegitimate means.

For years, officials of the Marine Corps Marathon included on their elite list a number of athletes from Morocco who were looking for an invitation and a one-way exit from their homeland.

One such scam was just attempted on a local high school track coach attempting to become an agent for an El Omari Moussa of El Attaouia, Morocco. Moussa posted notes to both the Road Race Management online forum and the Lets Run.com message board looking for an invitation to a U.S. road race.

“I am looking for a club in usa so that I can participate in competition to enjoy the high level,” he wrote.

The 22-year-old listed some impressive personal bests, including a 1:01.46 half marathon in Algeria. He also sent an e-mail attachment to the local coach showing the results of his stellar 2:10 marathon in a race in Turkey two months ago, a time the coach questioned. So the coach sent the information to a mutual friend of ours, who forwarded it to me to verify. Strangely, there was little information on Moussa on the Internet.

The results he sent showed him winning the Tarsus Marathon. At the top of the results sheet were the words “6th ANNUAL TARSUS MARATHON AND HALF MARATHON, FAIRFIELD, CT AVRIL [sic] 19, 2009 - Championship Timing by: Tarsusumarathon.COM.”

Of the top 64 names listed on the first page, it was weird that most were Americans in an obscure race in Turkey. The winning woman from Japan ran 2:16, nearly a world record.

I forwarded the results to a veteran agent who represents African athletes, and she recognized one of the finishers, an American living near Fairfield, Conn. She forwarded him the results, who was surprised he ran a 2:24 marathon in April when he didn’t run a marathon in April and he said he would have been happy with a 2:54.

He exposed the scam by realizing the results were from the Fairfield Half Marathon he did run in 2007, which were doctored to make it appear Moussa won a race that now on paper was turned into a marathon. “These results make a great fictional read,” he mused.

Said the veteran agent: “[Moussa] wants an invitation letter for the U.S. Embassy [in Morocco] to issue him a tourist visa. Once he gets that, he’d most likely use it to get in and then stay.”

The major U.S. races employ elite athlete coordinators - either paid or volunteer - to prevent this type of fraud. But when you are a newbie agent or a small-town race, you may not have the resources to snuff out these scams. The newbie agent got lucky this time.

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