A 37-year-old Belgian man is in custody in the US awaiting sentencing for cheating a series of charities using a fake-cheque scheme. He faces up to seven years in prison.
Aref Zokita Said was part of a gang that ran a simple but effective cheque scam. The would send a cheque to the charity as a donation, and then claim there had been a mistake and the amount on the cheque was too high. They then asked for the charity to refund a portion of the money. By the time the charity went to pay the cheque into the bank, it was discovered to be fake, and the money was gone.
The gang worked mainly in the state of Massachusetts, and their targets also included non-profits and even law firms.
Prosecutors had initially warned that Said faced up to 20 years in prison, three years of electronic surveillance after coming out of prison, a fine of one million dollars and the repayment of the money he had stolen. Later they came back with a requirement for seven years in prison.
When the gang was rolled up, Said escaped to Morocco, but was arrested on an international arrest warrant in April 2018, arriving in Boston in December 2018. He has been in custody since then. In October he pleaded guilty to the charges of fraud and wire fraud – misuse of federal communications systems to commit fraud.
As well as the prison sentence demanded by prosecutors, he will also be required to repay his victims, with the sum of $125,000 being mentioned as his share of the organised fraud operation. Prosecutors have named him as one of the leading figures in the gang, which was run from Nigeria and operated in the US by Said – whose family is Moroccan but who has Belgian nationality – and a Spanish man.