Local Suspect in $10M Fraud Ring Fled to Nigeria

Oladipo Sowunmi Coker reportedly left the United States in December and hasn't returned since; numerous search warrants have been filed within the past two weeks in connection with the charges that Coker faces.

A local suspect in a $10 million bank fraud ring appears to have successfully fled the country.

Oladipo Sowunmi Coker, 29, of Minneapolis, is alleged to have possessed, stored, and trafficked more than 7,000 identification documents, bank account numbers, and other information to further a fraud scheme that used stolen identities to illegally obtain cash and merchandise.

According to the Pioneer Press, a search warrant indicated that investigators confirmed with U.S. immigration authorities that Coker traveled to Nigeria in December and hasn't returned since. On Thursday morning, the search warrant was not available for public viewing through the federal court document filing system-but a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota confirmed that Coker is believed to be in Nigeria.

The federal filing system indicates that numerous search warrants have been filed within the past two weeks-for Coker's Minneapolis apartment, a 2005 Honda Civic, a cell phone, and a thumb drive.

Coker and 11 other defendants-including nine fellow Minnesotans-were charged in early March in connection with the bank fraud conspiracy, which allegedly involved a network of bank employees and was carried out in numerous states starting in 2006. Ten of them were arraigned and pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Coker and another out-of-state defendant-who is also believed to have fled to Nigeria-have not yet been arraigned or entered pleas, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

An indictment unsealed in St. Paul indicated that the defendants were part of a network that recruited people to use stolen identities to open bank accounts, acquire credit cards, obtain loans, tap equity credit lines, and distribute counterfeit business and personal checks. Through these means, the ring obtained cash and merchandise, according to the indictment.

Coker faces 16 counts of bank fraud, five counts of identity theft, 11 counts of mail fraud, and one count of money-laundering conspiracy.

According to the Pioneer Press, Coker first caught the attention of investigators in January 2010 when a surveillance camera at Southdale Mall caught fellow defendant Olugenya Adeniran allegedly using a stolen credit card to buy gifts. Adeniran got into a car with Coker, at which point Edina police intervened and found tools needed for identity theft-numerous people's Social Security numbers, addresses, dates of birth, and credit card information.

The Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force led the investigation in the case, which is being called “Operation Starburst.” The task force is comprised of local, state, and federal law enforcement investigators who work together to combat cross-jurisdictional crimes. The task force has previously said that the case is likely to be among the largest of its type in the country.

The financial institutions that fell victim to the scheme include Wayzata-based TCF Bank, Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank, and San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank, which has a substantial Minnesota presence-along with Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, American Express, Wachovia Bank, Washington Mutual, Associated Bank, Capital One, and Guaranty Bank.