If someone’s holding a Stupidest Alleged Criminal competition, Gerald K. Acholonu should be in the running. Everyone knows that to protect against identity theft, you should shred sensitive financial documents before putting them out with the trash. Everyone, apparently, except alleged identity thief Acholonu.
Acholonu was recently charged by federal prosecutors with aggravated identity theft and other crimes stemming from his allegedly stealing credit cards from the mail and using them to obtain cash advances and make purchases. Investigators built their case in large part on material they obtained, ironically, by going through the trash outside his Braintree, Mass., apartment building.
Acholonu first came under scrutiny when he was working for a private company that did business with the U.S. Postal Service. According to an affidavit filed by a Postal Inspector in the case, a Post Office employee saw Acholonu leave a restroom carrying a tray of mail.
“Through his position, Acholonu had access to the U.S. Mail, including the credit cards that Discover had sent from Salt Lake City to the Northeast,” the inspector's affidavit states.
Within a couple days of being spotted, Acholonu quit his job at the company, Metro Air Services, but an investigation already was underway.
Investigators determined a Discover card addressed to Provincetown, Mass., had entered the mail stream in Salt Lake City, at one point should have been in the care of Metro Air Services, and never was scanned in Boston.
Further investigation showed the card was used at an ATM to obtain a cash withdrawal, the affidavit states. A An ATM security photo showed that the person making the withdrawal looked a lot like Achonolu, so investigators went through the trash at his two-story brick apartment building in Braintree.
The affidavit states:
“Among the residents’ trash were two white trash bags that contained opened mail addressed to Acholonu at his apartment. These bags also contained Discover credit cards and credit card statements, telephone statements and receipts, and cellular telephone SIM cards, collectively associated with 11 victims identified by Discover.”
What’s more, the affidavit states: “Handwirtten on the credit card statements were the account holders’ Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and PIN numbers — all corresponding accurately with the account-holders’ information.”
None of the mail had been received at the Postal Service’s Boston processing center, the affidavit states.
During the period in question, the affidavit states, Acholonu deposited $66,173 in cash in a Metro Credit Union account.
Federal investigators suggest Acholonu was involved in a much larger scheme, but he is not charged with further crimes.
The affidavit states that during the 11 months Acholonu worked for Metro Air Services, “over 400” Discover cards shipped to the Northeast were intercepted between their points of origin and the postal sorting centers where their envelopes should have been scanned but were not.
The government states that no thefts of Discover cards were reported after Acholonu quit his job.
Acholonu allegedly obtained almost $3,000 in cash, goods or services and gained access to more than $103,000 in card-holders’ credit.
Such crimes are a major problem and are hardly rare.