- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A Fargo man who was caught in an online advertising scam while authorities were investigating his role in a bank fraud case was sentenced Monday to nearly three years in prison.

Chude Umeh, 29, pleaded guilty in March to seven counts, including bank fraud, mail fraud and theft of public money. His case began when the government was looking into allegations he opened bogus bank accounts under fictitious names that included Richard Amoah, Gregory Suh and Fally Diaputa.

During the investigation, postal inspectors intercepted letters from Umeh that were part of a Craig’s List scheme promising people money for installing advertising wrapping for Miller Lite and Rock Star Energy on their cars. The victims were told they would receive a check in the mail and in turn needed to send money to someone else for the materials. The checks from Umeh were fraudulent.

The government said Umeh received money from about 20 victims who responded to Craig’s List.

Prosecutors said Umeh was not a leader in the bank fraud, but he was found to have 874 blank checks in a storage unit. Losses in the scheme could have been at least $400,000 if Umeh had not been caught, the government said.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson, who sentenced Umeh to 33 months in prison, said it was a serious crime motivated by greed.

“Crimes of this nature are on the increase in this country,” Erickson said.

Umeh’s lawyer, Patrick Rosenquist, said his client, a native of Nigeria, has a degree in mechanical engineering from North Dakota State University and is pursuing a Master’s degree. However, Rosenquist said, Umeh got caught up in a situation that included a gambling addiction, divorce, cultural issues and problems with his work visa.

“He knows what he did was absolutely in the wrong,” Rosenquist said. “He knows that his intellect, his education would be better served elsewhere.”

Umeh told the judge his actions were out of character and he planned to pay full restitution, which will be determined in the next month.

“I’m extremely sorry for what I did,” Umeh said. “I feel sorry for the victims.”

Lawyers spent most of Monday’s hearing arguing about the amount of intended losses in the bank fraud scheme, which was a factor in the sentencing calculation. Rosenquist argued that it was impossible to speculate about losses from checks that were not written, but Erickson compared it to someone who is caught with counterfeit money.

“It seems that the crime is incomplete, but it’s in progress,” the judge said.

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