Mr Olufolajimi Abegunde is a Nigerian with trails of brighter future. His insatiable appetite for quality education is apparent even if such could take him off the shores of his home country. Of utmost importance to him is how to weather the storm and compete favorably with his counterparts across the globe.
In 2014, his quest for knowledge and self actualization glaringly manifested, as he obtained a study visa to pursue a masters degree in Business Administration (MBA) in the United States, which he successfully completed in 2015 at the Mays Business School of Texas A&M in Texas. Mr Abegunde decided to remain in the US after the completion of his MBA programme, and in the long run, courted and married a US National, who also serves in the US Army till date with a stellar record of service to her country.
While his goals were being accomplished as planned, though not without challenges, the Nigerian was oblivious of the trouble lurking around for him.
Mr Abegunde floated a business (money remittances) and secured the requisite licenses both in the US (in the state of Georgia, Atlanta) and also in Nigeria with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to enable him practice with no let or hindrance internationally in line with the demands of the money remittances business.
However, when in August of 2016 Mr Abegunde’s friend, Ayomide Olumide Ojo, came visiting with his family to the US, Mr Abegunde never knew trouble was in the offing, which he may likely pay for dearly.
Mr Ojo had a cheque from the Bank of America with which he maintained an account, but same was closed arbitrarily (this is the fate of many Nigerians in the US) and he was handed a cheque with the value of the balance in the account on it. Mr Ojo’s several attempts to cash the cheque over the counter proved futile and on one of several attempts, he was advised by the cashier, to open another account in a different bank to lodge the cheque into the account, in order to clear it and then get the value of the cheque in cash.
However, since Mr Ojo wasn’t resident in the US and on account of his visitor’s status, Mr Ojo used Olufolajimi’s house address in Atlanta Georgia for the bank(Wells Fargo) requirement on the forms to be filled out by Mr Ojo.
Mr Ojo was notified by the bank (Wells Fargo) in October of 2016 when a person in California inadvertently made a transaction into his account, Mr Ojo immediately authorize the reversal of this transaction. It should be noted that this money was never withdrawn or spent by Mr Ojo, Wells Fargo reversed the transaction.
On March of 2017, two FBI Agents by names Kevin Hall and Tyson Fowler visited Mr Abegunde’s residence in search of Mr Ojo who by then had long left the US after his visit, Mr Abegunde gave these two agents full cooperation and ensured that Mr Ojo contacted the FBI within one hour after they departed.
However during their visit, it seemed as though these FBI Agents had already formed an opinion of guilt about Mr Abegunde. This was evident when they asked Mr Abegunde “why do you Nigerians like defrauding us Americans?” They also asked how he could afford his living expenses, to which he told them that he had founded a startup duly licensed by the Georgia State authorities and also the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Regardless of the character impugning questions posed to Mr Abegunde, he still made good on his word to assist in the FBI investigation by ensuring that Mr Ojo contacted the FBI Agents.
Available information showed that Mr Abegunde had since February 7, 2018 being held in custody on alleged charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft all of which there is no evidence to substantiate the charges especially the last one. Mr Abegunde has however continued to maintain his innocence all this while and has stated repeatedly that there must have been a mix up coupled with several inconsistencies in the investigation process.
His bail hearing was denied, and at the hearing for a review of same, his lawyer was able to establish that the government’s case on Mr Abegunde was very weak as the evidence presented in relation to the indictment charges were unfounded and can be said not to even exist as there was no link to the said charges.
It was thus clear to any objective observer at the hearing, that this is a pure case of stereotyping and racial profiling solely based on Mr. Abegunde’s Nationality. In the light of the FBI agents and AUSA Debra Ireland not being able to establish a link between Mr Abegunde and the alleged crimes other than his house address which was used by Mr Ojo in opening a new account, even after Discovery has been completed.
Mr Abegunde has been granted a Jury trial set for Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 at 9:30AM by the Judge, Sheryl Lipman of the Western Tennessee District Court, which is separate from the complex trail process already alleged against other Defendants in this matter.
The plight of the Defendant(who is this case is also a victim of fraud) is one out of many, and has typified the ugly scenario in the US where innocent people, who on their own volition, left their countries of birth in search of greener pastures, are being subjected to harassment, intimidation and unwarranted punishment.
It behooves on this competent court of law (Western Tennessee District Court) hearing his case and international community to ensure that justice is served and only guilty persons are punished for their crimes, not innocent persons, as this will ensure that this innocent man is not made a victim of racial stereotype and seen as a mere statistic in terms of conviction ratings by the FBI and Assistant United States Attorneys assigned to this case.