Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In Liberia, Scratch card scammer exposed, but helped by police to escape justice

By: Sam K Zinnah
Law enforcement officer, State of Delaware

On Thursday September 29, 2011 at approximately 7: 15 pm local time, scammer Alfred Wenyu, the man believed to be behind the major scratch card scamming in Liberia was caught right handed in another attempt to scam one of his many victims. Mr. Sam K Zinnah who was previously scammed by Alfred Wenyu on September 16 and 17 was already on the alert for the suspected scammer.

How he scammed me

On September 16, 2011 while returning to Barnersville, I received a phone call from a lone star cell number “0880978527”. After answering my phone, the caller introduced herself as Senator Gloria Musu-Scott and thanked me for the rating given the government of Liberia during my interview on ELBC radio on September 15, 2011. The caller said she was on her way to Gbarpolu County to campaign for Unity Party. At that point we ended the conversation and terminated the phone call. Few minutes later, I received a phone call from the same lone star cell number “0880978527”. This time, the caller said “Mr. Zinnah, this is Senator Musu-Scott again, I need a favor from you. Am in Gbarpolu County campaigning but I just ran out of scratch card and would like for you to send me $20.00 scratch card or transfer”. I understand you have a meeting with Senator Naatehn on Monday. He invited me to that meeting also. I will pay your money after the meeting. Without hesitating, I immediately call my nephew and instructed him to send the $20.00 scratch card to the designated number “0880978527”.few minutes after my instruction, the scratch card was electronically transferred to the designated number.

On the morning of September 17, 2011, I received another phone call from a 0777201575 number. The caller introduced herself as Cllr. Frances Johnson-Morris and said “Mr. Zinnah, this is Cllr. Frances Johnson-Morris, the head of the anti-corruption commission. I’m in Gbarpolu with Senator Musu-Scott on the campaign trail. We were together last night when you sent the $20.00 transfer to her phone. I too just ran out of scratch card, please send me $20.00 card, I will pay you back when I return to Monrovia on Monday morning”. Again, I instructed the transfer of $20.00 scratch card to the designated number “0777201575”. The transfer was made and confirmed by the recipient. On the evening of September 17, 2011, I discussed the transaction with a government official who happens to be Cllr. Johnson-Morris’s former work mate at the NEC who dismissed the possibility of Cllr. Morris asking for scratch card in such dubious manner. The NEC official informed me that I was a victim of scam.

It was at this point that I became to organize my puzzle to enable me prepare my plans to capture the scammer. On the evening of September 18, 2011, I attempted calling the two suspicious numbers from another phone number. After dialing the 0880978527, the phone rang twice without respond. I hung up and dialed the 0777201575 number. Again, the phone rang twice without respond. After the two attempts, I was at least sure that the numbers were working numbers. On Monday morning (09/19/2011, I drove to Lone star offices to inquire about the process of getting information on any active phone number(s). I was told to file the case with the Liberia National Police who will then order the phone company to release information about the allege phone numbers to a competent court of jurisdiction.

Determined to capture the scammer, I left the lone star office and drove to The Liberia National police headquarters. Upon arrival at the LNP headquarters, I went to the front desk and explain the transaction to a female police officer who then directed me to the second floor CID division. I went upstairs and met with a plain clothes officer who asked me to explain the transaction to him. Again, I explained the transaction to the CID officer. I was sent to another room on the same second floor where I was again asked to explain the case/transaction to another plain clothes officer who was sitting behind the desk with a huge ledger-like log book. I for the third time explained the case or transaction to the officer who later told me to return to the first “CID” room to register the case. I returned to the first room and was place in the queue where I sat for almost 15 minutes without talking to anyone.

After 20 minutes, another plain clothes officer appeared in the office and sat behind the desk with a big ledger like log book. The plain clothes officer asked, “sir, why are you here”? for the fourth time I explained the transaction to the officer who later told me that I had to go to the Barnersville police station to file the case. Frustrated about the handling of the case, I decided to design my own strategy to capture the suspected scammer.

I left the LNP headquarters and return home. While strategizing the capture of the scammer, another call came from the same 0880978527 number. Again, the caller claimed to be Senator Gloria Musu-Scott but this time in Nimba County with the President. She said “Mr. Zinnah, I’m campaigning in Nimba with president Sirleaf. Please send me $20.00 scratch card”. I told the caller that my phone was experiencing some technical problems but I was still willing to help. The caller said “thank you so much” without even asking or knowing how I was going to help. I said to the scammer “my friend Mary Broh is also with the president in Nimba, I will call and ask her to transfer the requested scratch card to your phone”. The caller immediately rejected the offer and said “oh! I’m not in the same group with Mary Broh, I’m in another village with the president but that’s ok, we can do it another time”. My relax tune of conversation gave the caller no clue about my plans to capture him and have him place behind bars.

How he was captured

On September 29, 2011 at about 2 o’clock local time while touring Monrovia city hall, I received a call from 0776853290. The caller introduced himself as Alfred Wenyu “the blind musician”. He said “Mr. Zinnah I’m a blind musician scheduled to travel to Ghana over the weekend. I’m looking for donation to help with my trip. Is there any way you can help?” deep down in my heart, I was convinced that the caller was my target. Relaxed and very confident, I expressed interest in providing some help or donation for the caller’s trip to Ghana but suggested to see him in person to deliver some other items I would also like to donate to him from the U.S. I asked him to direct me to his house to drop off the donation but he became a bit insecure and suggested that he instead meet me at a location other than his home. To give him more assurance or security, I accepted his suggestion but he immediately hung up and put his phone on 21 (to inform callers that his phone is switched off but in actuality, he will receive message for every miss call). I attempted calling him several times but all effort to reach him was not successful. At about 5:25 pm I sent him a text message that read “sir, am trying to reach you to give my contribution but your phone is switched off. I will be going out of town in the next 20 minutes and might not come back until after the elections”. Less than a minute after the text message was sent, Alfred Wenyu called back and asked “where are you now?, I gave him my location and advised him to meet me at the lone star gas station in Jacob town. He said “ok, let me ask motor bike to bring me there”.

I arrived at the gas station and anxiously waited for the arrival of Alfred Wenyu. Few minutes later, a dark skin, skinny criminal looking guy with kids eye glasses arrived on a motorbike and parked in the gas station. He pulled out his old bonanza phone tied with rubber stripes and attempted to call me. I walked to the motorbike and introduced myself to him as Mr. Zinnah. I held his right hand and assisted him to get off the bike. After successfully getting on the ground, Wenyu pretended as if he was a blind man. I held onto his right hand and guided him to the table where he sat while I order a drink for him. The order for cold fanta was placed for Mr. Wenyu who sat and covertly watch me with one eye while I walked around for his cold drink.
The cold fanta was served. Mr. Wenyu took the first drag out of the battle and lay back in the white plastic chair to help settle his thirst. I pulled a nearby chair and sat close to Mr. Wenyu and took a deep breath. My first question to him was “sir, how did you get my number?” he responded by saying “from somebody”. At that point, the suspicion was heating up over his head. My second question to him was “sir, where are you from?”, he responded “my mother is from Gbarolu County””. When asked what was his mother’s name, Alfred Wenyu murmurs his mother’s name and said “you know I just came from campaigning in Gbarpolu. At this point, I was one hundred percent convinced that I was sitting with the man who have succeeded in scamming hundreds of people in Liberia over the past years.

Being so confident that my hands were on my most wanted man, I decided to break the news to Alfred Wenyu. I said to him “sir, I was duped twice few weeks ago by a scam network believed to be operated by you, we can either find a mutual solution to it right here or take it to court where I will present all the evidence against you and be left with the judge to sentence you to jail”. I instructed Wenyu to wait for me at the table while I talk the motorbike man that transported him to the gas station. I slowly approached the motorbike rider and confronted him with the issue. I asked him to talk to his colleague to either tell the true or they both face the full weight of the law. The motorbike man agreed to negotiate the deal. While the two suspected criminals were discussing, I immediately alerted the Jacob’s town police with the help of the Jacob town community leader “Mr. Tokpa” who was at the Lone Star gas station during the incident. When police arrived at the gas station, they questioned Alfred Wenyu who agreed to being the guy behind what is believed to be Liberia’s biggest scratch card scam group. When taken to the police station in Jacob town, Alfred Wenyu confessed to the police and asked for pardon based on his blind condition. I said to Alfred Wenyu, “sir, we are not trying to prosecute you because you are blind, we are trying to prosecute you because you are a suspected criminal”. Wenyu was ordered by inspector Bacuba Jallah to remove his shade from his face. I stood few inches from Wenyu to observe or authenticate his claim of being blind. Wenyu refused to remove the shade from his face and argued that the breeze affects his eyes without the shades. Inspector Bacuba Jallah removed the shade from Wenyu’s face and it was noticed that Wenyu’s left eye is damaged while his right eye was shinning like a bright star. To test Wenyu’s vision, I attempted to poke his right eye with my right hand, Wenyu quickly dodge my hand and took a step backward from where I stood. We were all convinced that Wenyu was not telling the true about his condition.

After Wenyu failed the vision test, Inspector Bacuba Jallah ordered one of the female officers at the station to take statement from both the complainer and the defendant. At this point, I confiscated suspect Wenyu’s cell phone and decided to check his call and other activity logs in his phone. In his incoming call log, I saw calls that I had placed to him prior to our meeting that led to his capture or arrest. My next stop in his phone was his phone book/contacts. In here, shocking contacts were seen. Some of the names I can still vividly recall were: President Sirleaf, H.B. Fahnbulleh, Joseph Boakai, Senator Daniel Naatehn, Senator Musu-Scott, Hon. Frances Johnson Morris, Senator Barlue, Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, Mr. Robert Sirleaf, & Senator Momo. Determined to get the source(s) of Wenyu’s data collection, I moved my search to his text messages box. I discovered text messages from different lone star phone numbers to Wenyu. The question that came to my mind was “why lone star numbers only?”. From one lone star number, a number was text to Wenyu without name. Few minutes after the text was sent, the sender noticed that the number was not named. The same number was resend this time with name to identify the number. The number read “06…… and was named H.B. Fahnbulleh. After figuring out the intent of the message, I was convinced that Wenyu was operating with external help.
Wenyu’s incoming text message box was jammed with transfer messages received from different phone numbers with transfer amount ranging from USD$5.00 to $20.00. One of the numbers I identified was that of Cllr. Jerome Korkoya of The Dunbar &Dunbar law firm and also a representative aspirant in Bong County. At about 8:00 pm local time I placed a call to Cllr. Jerome Korkoya to ask him whether he had been dubbed by any scratch card scammer. At the top of his soft spoken voice, he answered in the affirmative, “yes!” He (Cllr. Korkoya) in turn asked, what happen Sam?, I said to him, “Sir, I’m also a victim but I got hold of the guy and we are currently at the Jacob Town Police Station. I asked Cllr. Korkoya, “how much did you transfer to him?” he said he transfer $60.00 total to the scammer before realizing that it was a scam. I asked Cllr. Korkoya to text me the number he transferred the credit to. In less than a minute he text me a number 0880978527 which matched the number used as Musu-Scott to scam me. When asked Cllr. Korkoya what name was used during the transaction, he said the caller posed as Senator John Barlue and that he (Senator Barlue) was stranded on the highway.

Cllr. Korkoya was very excited about the apprehension of the scammer but said he could not make it to the police station because he was in Bong County. He promised to follow up on the case upon his return from Bong County after the elections.
After concluding with Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, I called Senator Musu-Scott who was also campaigning in her County. She too was very interested in the details of the story.
I completed my few contacts and got back to the female police officer who was ordered to take statement from me and Wenyu. I prepared my statement and presented it to the officer in charge. Again, I pulled out my cell phone and this time, placed a call to True FM. I spoke to Chris Salee and broke the news to him about the capture of the man believed to be behind the scratch card scam group in Monrovia. I was interviewed live during the 9:00 o’clock pm news hour on True F.M. After the news, calls began pouring in from Alfred Wenyu’s victims from different parts of Monrovia.

Evidence beyond reasonable doubt

On the morning of September 30, 2011, I returned to the Jacob Town police Station and ask for two police officers to escort me to the suspect’s house. CID commander Stephen McClain and CID officer Ballah along with the motor bike driver and suspect Alfred Wenyu escorted me to the suspect’s house. Upon arrival to the suspect’s house, we identify a lady claiming to be the suspect’s girl friend. Suspect Alfred Wenyu, led by his girl friend, entered the room. Using his hands as guide to locate his bag, suspect Wenyu walked by the walls and reach out to the Colombo block window where his bag was hanging. He grabbed his bag and began searching in the smaller packets where he had his numeral sim cards. He pulled out three sim (subscriber identity module) cards and handed them to CID officer Ballah.

After suspect Wenyu handed the sim cards to officer Ballah, I asked suspect Wenyu, “do you have anything in here that we need to include in our investigation?” suspect Wenyu responded, “no”. I turned to suspect Wenyu’s girl friend who was sitting on the half inch filthy looking mattress and asked, “lady, do you have anything private in here that you need to get out?” she responded, “yes I do”. I asked whether it was money or something else. The lady said she had some money in the room that she needed to get out. I instructed her to get the money out.
While she was making effort to make her way to where the money was hidden, I asked, “who owns the money and how much is it?” the lady said the money in question was USD$385.00. Of the total, suspect Wenyu owned $100.00. I took out my pen and began jotting down information from both suspect Wenyu and his partner in crime. When asked about the rest of the money, the lady claimed the $285.00 was given to her by her uncle. She lifted the taint and grubby looking mattress and took out the money. I ordered her to hand the money to officer Ballah. When she did, officer Ballah counted the money in the presence of everyone in the room. The amount was confirmed by officer Ballah. With my pen pointing to my note pad, I asked her “what’s your uncle’s name?, she responded, “he’s Nathaniel Dahn”. Asked where was Nathaniel Dahn at the moment? she said Mr. Dahn was at work around the red light market. I again ask, “what’s your uncle’s contact phone number?” the lady said she did not have contact number for her uncle. My suspicion began gaining ground at that moment. I folded my note pad and said to officer Ballah and officer McClain “I think we can go back to the police station now”. Before exiting the room, I informed the suspect’s girlfriend that we were taking the money ($385.00) with us to the police station and that she should tell her uncle to contact the police station.

While on our way out of the house, we met an elderly man sitting on the front porch of the house. I greeted the man and ask “sir, do you live here?, he answer “yes”. I took out my note pad and ask “what’s your name sir” he responded “my name is Nathaniel Dahn” I compared the name to the one given me earlier by suspect Wenyu’s girlfriend. The name given by the man matched the one given by Wenyu’s girlfriend. Suspect Wenyu’s girlfriend ran to mr. Dahn and began speaking Gio while pretending to be taking something from the man’s right ear. CID officer McClain ordered the lady to stop talking and back off from Mr. Dahn. When the lady did step away from Mr. Dahn, I asked Mr. Dahn, “sir, did you give money to this lady?” Mr. Dahn responded “no, I did not give her money”. My suspicion and doubt about the statement taken from the lady were finally confirmed. The lady stood few feet away from us and stared at everyone with huge disappointment and guilt expressed on her face. CID officer McClain ordered the lady cuff. The silver looking hand cuff was placed on the lady’s hands while suspect Wenyu look on. The two (Wenyu & his girlfriend) were ordered to pose for a photograph. Officer Ballah photographed the two partners in crime. I too pull out my camera and took few snap shot at them for my personal record.

After the photograph, the lady requested to talk to me and the two CID officers. When she was granted the time to talk, she asked not to be taken to the police station because of some health complications she was faced with. She explained the nature of the problem and was released to stay home. Investigation continued with her boyfriend Wenyu. We proceeded to and boarded the car along with suspect Wenyu & his motorbike driver and headed back to the police station with the evidence collected during the search.

While in route to the police station, I asked suspect Wenyu, “sir, now that you and your girlfriend has given us conflicting statements about the money, what’s next? Are you ready to tell us the true? I further informed suspect Wenyu that I was very determined to expose his activities and to break his criminal empire. I further informed him that I was going to the phone companies to get his phone logs which would include the transaction of all the sim cards collected during the search of his room. Suspect Wenyu took a deep breath and said “ok, let me say the true, the scratch card or transfer I get from impersonating is what I sell to get money. I asked specifically if the $385.00 that was in the possession of the CID officer was raised from scratch card sale, Wenyu answered “yes”.

Upon arrival at the police station, we decided to authenticate the three sim cards collected from suspect Wenyu’s room during the search. Officer Ballah placed two of the sim cards in his personal phone. I went through my phone book and located two of the numbers used to scam me. I dialed 0880978527 (Musu-Scott), Officer Ballah’s phone (hosting the confiscated sim card) rang, thus confirming that suspect Alfred Wenyu was the man behind the scam operation that has victimized many Liberians including top government officials. After confirming the numbers, I asked CID commander Steven McClain, “now that we have the evidence beyond reasonable doubt to prosecute suspect Wenyu, what’s next?”, McClain responded, “we have all the evidence we need to prosecute this man, we will keep the evidence, transfer him to south beach (pre-trial) until the court decide the hearing or court date. We or the court will notify you once the date is set”.

Evidence destroyed by Police

On Monday October 10, 2011 I returned to the police station to check on the status of the case, to my surprise, I was informed by CID officer Ballah that suspect Alfred Wenyu was released. When asked what happen to the evidence, officer Ballah said “we give the blind man his money because it was not part of the investigation”. officer Ballah further informed me that the case was sent to the Paynesville Town Hall and that I should go there to check on the status. I stood by the police station, facing the soccer field near the Somalia drive and began profusely sweating. After few minutes, I returned to the CID office and asked officer McClain “sir, what happen to the $40.00 suspect Wenyu overtly agreed to getting from me by impersonating as Musu-Scott, who’s going to pay me back?”. Officer McClain responded, “The court will decide that”. Frustrated over the handling of the evidence, I turned around to exit the CID office. One of the officers asked me “sir, so what you get for us na?” I responded “do I look like an investor to you?”, their smiling faces quickly change thus matching my frustrated face. So, we became paste like ugly baboon but deep down in the officers’ heart, they collected their share of the $385.00 confiscated and pretended as if they return the money to the suspect.

Note: part two will be published if the alleged police station or officers respond.

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