Thrashing a document into a wastepaper basket ideally signifies the material has outlived its usefulness. And for officials and visitors to corporate organisations, the sight of such baskets is not unusual. Interestingly, the bins meant otherwise to Uche Ujokwu and members of his fraud syndicate – Ifeanyi Chukwu, Nnegbu Rowland and Lucky Paul. The waste baskets were the lifeblood of the gang’s criminal escapades.
The syndicate’s modus operandi was to pick thrashed documents from the bins at Federal ministries in Abuja and searched for contacts of companies and businessmen seeking contracts from the ministries.
They would then reach out to their unsuspecting victims and posed as intermediaries who could help them procure certain contracts from the ministries where the documents were found.
City Round learnt that the suspects had defrauded some contractors to millions of naira before luck ran out on them recently when they reportedly collected N14m from a contractor identified simply as Alhaji.
It was gathered that the syndicate contacted Alhaji on the phone after retrieving his proposal from a bin at the Ministry of Works.
The contractor had reportedly submitted the proposal for a road construction project and a member of the gang contacted him, claiming he was a personal assistant to a director in the ministry where Alhaji had submitted his proposal.
He was said to have told Alhaji that his proposal was being looked into and asked him to pay N14m to bribe top officials if he wanted the contract approved.
It dawned on Alhaji that he had been defrauded when he lost communication with the fraudsters after paying the sum.
He consequently petitioned the office of the Inspector-General of Police and the IGP Intelligence Response Team led by DCP Abba Kyari was detailed to go after the syndicate.
A police source told our correspondent that after weeks of tracking, the ringleader, Ujokwu, and three other members of the gang were arrested.
The source said, “The members usually ransacked through bins at the federal ministry secretariats at the Central Business Districts, Abuja, looking for documents or business proposals disposed of by businessmen and companies seeking contracts from the Federal Government.
“When they stumbled on any document, in some cases, they would write to the company or businessman with a letterhead from the federal ministry where the document was found and insert a phone number belonging to a member of the syndicate which the businessman or the company would contact.
“In other cases, they will call the company or businessman with the phone number found on the document. Several businessmen and companies across the country fell prey to members of this syndicate and lost millions of naira to their tricks, but they ran into trouble after they defrauded Alhaji of N14m.”
“They made Alhaji believe that if he must get the road contract approved, he would have to pay the money to ‘settle’ some top officials at the ministry who would award the contracts to him. The fraudsters were already on the run by the time he knew he had been defrauded.”
During interrogation, Ujokwu said he was a businessman turned fraudster because he was once a fraud victim.
The 48-year-old man explained that he lost his capital to some men involved in the production of fake naira notes in the Jabi area of Abuja.
He said he attempted to get back the money but the people who defrauded him asked him to join the gang, adding that he did so when the police could not help him to recover the money.
He recalled, “I reside in Suleja area of Niger State, but I am from Aboh Mbese, area of Imo State. I was a trader. I became a fraudster after I was defrauded. I was going to Wuse Market in Abuja, when some people approached me around Jabi and offered to help me produce some naira notes. That was in 2006.
“They collected N175,000 which was my capital. When I realised that I have been defrauded, I tried to get back my money and I got the police involved but they couldn’t help. I met with those fraudsters and they told me that the only way for me to get my money back was to join them. They taught me ‘the business’ and I started defrauding people.”
He said after some time, he travelled to Ghana and returned to Nigeria five years later to form a new gang.
Ujokwu added, “Our target became businessmen and companies looking for contracts. We sourced information about our victims through bins around federal ministry secretariats in Abuja. We caught a lot of victims and defrauded them.
“The N14m we collected from Alhaji was the job that led to my arrest. We found his proposal for road construction inside a bin and his phone number was on it. We called him and lied to him that we were working at the Federal Ministry of Works and that his proposal was being considered.
“We deceived him into paying us N14m to get the contract and he fell for it. We all absconded after the money was paid. I didn’t know how the police trailed us. They have closed down my office in Suleja.”
Another suspect, Paul, 33, who hails from Delta State, stated that he was trained in fraudulent acts by his late sister, adding that he was looking for money to open a salon.
He said, “I went into fraud because I was looking for money to start up my hair stylist business. My sister who is dead now was taught me the fraud job. My sister was a member of the syndicate.
“After her death, I took her place in the gang. Our method was to call people and tell them that we want to give them contracts. We got people looking for contracts from the bins around federal ministry secretariats.”