Nigerian check scam leads to S.P. woman receiving jail time

July 23, 2010
Santa Paula News

A Santa Paula woman arrested in March for taking part in a Nigerian check scam was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty at a recent hearing.

According to Santa Paula Police Detective Dan Kiernan, Cathy Pye, 43, was sentenced to two years and eight months in a state prison. It is estimated the scam cost its victims about $1.5-million.

Pye was arrested at her Fillmore Street home after a short investigation that began when Homeland Security and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) notified the SPPD that Pye was due to receive a package of checks postmarked Nigeria. Area police did a background check and found Pye had been arrested previously on similar charges and was on parole.

When officers searched Pye’s home they found the delivery contained over $845,000 in fraudulent checks from Nigeria, and additional packaging containing over $640,000 of the same fraudulent checks. Also found was similar packaging that police believed had contained additional fraudulent checks.

Pye admitted to police that she received and forwarded the checks to individuals across the United States. In her statement to detectives, Pye said she took $170,000 worth of the checks to a location in Los Angeles County. The checks were recovered as part of the investigation.

Pye was booked at Ventura County Jail for suspicion of possession and passing of fraudulent checks, and she was held on $750,000 bail. Kiernan said Pye “went from cashing checks for the Nigerian check scams to actually distributing them... and once arrested, she cooperated in the investigation.”

At the time of Pye’s arrest, Sergeant Ishmael Cordero noted that some people can unwittingly become involved in Nigerian scams, but would soon realize they were involved in something illegal. Such scams often start with a work from home offer and then, “Greed overcomes common sense” as people become more and more involved.

“All this is a scam, real looking money orders from legitimate banks” that are easy to pass. “I get the check, I make it out to you, the bank sees no problem - after all, it’s from a legitimate bank and looks authentic. They see no problem” and cash the check, and the fraud is not discovered until the check reaches the issuing bank.

Cordero said he believed “Others have to be involved in cashing these checks; Pye couldn’t do all this herself.” The cashier’s checks found ranged in amount from about $2,000 to $2,500.

And Cordero warned that such checks are often cashed at small Mom and Pop shops that charge a 3 percent commission for check cashing. Such shops, he added, “must make sure to get the proper identification and a thumbprint, because if they’re taken by a fraudulent check, by the time we get involved we can’t track it to Nigeria - or out of Santa Paula.”

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