Two area men have been sentenced for their of engaging in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft by using skimming devices on bank ATM machines in and around Houston, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Bernard Nwachan Akwar, 28, of Houston, and Tokunbo Patrick Aiyewa, 28, of Sugar Land, both had pleaded guilty, admitting to the placement of skimming devices on bank ATM machines in order to obtain information from customer cards.
Today, U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt handed Akwar a 24-month-term of imprisonment for his conviction for aggravated identity theft, while Aiyewa was ordered to serve a sentence of 15 months in federal prison for the conspiracy plus a consecutive sentence of 24 months for the aggravated identity theft conviction resulting in a total sentence of 39 months. They were each also ordered to pay $20,957.43 in restituition.
Aiyewa and Akwar were accused of installing skimming devices on bank ATM machines in the Houston area. Surveillance photos had captured images of both defendants at these machines, some of which revealed they attempted to disguise their identity by wearing a wig with dreadlocks. On two occasions in April and May 2014, the two men were observed placing a skimmer on ATM machines which resulted in their ability to obtain information from a total of 24 customer cards on those two days.
Once the skimming device was removed from the ATM, Aiyewa used a computer and encoding machine to download customer banking information and re-encoded used gift cards with the stolen information. Aiyewa and Akwar checked victims’ bank balances removed money from some of the accounts. In addition, the loaded gift cards and other debit cards were used to make purchases in the thousands of dollars.
Agents attempted to arrest Aiyewa and Akwar in the parking lot of the West Oaks Mall on May 21, 2014. Akwar was taken into custody, but Aiyewa attempted to flee. Aiyewa drove his car in the direction of an arresting agent who had to jump out of the way of the vehicle, leaving the parking lot at a high rate of speed. Later, he was found driving a different vehicle and agents followed him. He continued to drive erratically, running numerous stop signs. He was eventually stopped and agents found an unsecured five-year-old child in the back seat.
At the time of their arrests, Akwar was found in possession of numerous pre-paid debit cards that were acquired using the stolen customer information obtained through the skimming device, while agents discovered in Aiyewa’s possession several gift cards as well as a MasterCard debit card in the name of one of the victims. In addition, agents also found the same or a similar wig seen in the photos as they attempted to disguise themselves.
The investigation also revealed that a compromised card number had been used to purchase iPads which investigators observed being passed between Aiyewa and Akwar at the time of their arrest.
Akwar will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. Aiyewa was allowed to remain on bond until Dec. 11, 2015, when he is required to surrender to federal authorities.
This investigation was conducted by the U.S. Secret Service and its Houston Area Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Annis is prosecuting the case.