A Nigerian immigrant who reportedly won a lottery to apply for U.S. citizenship has been accused of breaking into various mailboxes at a massive Queens housing complex, stealing rent checks, and laundering the money by opening fraudulent credit card accounts in the tenants' names. Investigators say they caught Olawale Akinnawonu, 45, on camera using a key to open a mailbox for incoming mail and using a stick "which he slipped through the mail slot of the U.S. mail outbox to pull outgoing envelopes back up through the slot."
Akinnawonu stole over $100,000 over the course of two years, according to prosecutors. Victims of the alleged scam say they placed their rent checks in the US Mail outbox at the LeFrak City complex, but sometimes the checks would never make it to the leasing companies that manage the payments. Prosecutors say Akinnawonu, who also resided in LeFrak City, deposited the checks into different bank accounts, some of which were opened in the name of his LeFrak City neighbors without their permission.
Akinnawonu allegedly opened up credit card accounts in the tenants' names, then used account balance transfer checks to enrich himself. "For instance, it is alleged that some of the stolen checks were used as payments on the credit cards that he allegedly opened using the stolen identities of LeFrak City residents," Queens DA Richard Brown's press release explains. "Because these credit cards had a zero balance prior to the submission of the stolen checks, the balance would become a credit (or overpayment) in favor of the person whose name the card was in.
"Akinnawonu would then allegedly impersonate the person whose name the card was in and have the credit card company issue a check for the overpayment. The check would then be deposited into an account in the name of Samuel Mensah, which Akinnawonu controlled. Akinnawonu would then allegedly use the account’s debit card to withdraw money from ATMs or write out checks to himself which were placed directly into his own personal account."
It was a real Swiss watch, and Akinnawonu would have gotten away with it too, if... the tenants he allegedly robbed didn't report any of this to the police. He's charged with second-degree money laundering, 44 counts of first-degree identity theft, ten counts of third-degree grand larceny, 60 counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, six counts of second-degree identity theft, nine counts of fourth-degree grand larceny and four counts of petit larceny.
Akinnawanu's wife, who lived with him in LeFrak City, was also arrested. One neighbor, Nubia Moreno, tells the Daily News, "I’m shocked. They didn’t seem to go to work. When we talked, he always said he was a Christian."