FARGO, N.D. — Prosecutors described a Toronto man's massive credit card fraud scheme as high-tech bank robbery — stealing the identities of 38,000 people in order to bilk dozens of banks. So when he was convicted of mail fraud in February 2011, the federal government began the arduous task of figuring out just how much each victim was owed.
Years later, following the government's petition to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal judge ordered Adekunle Adetiloye to pay about $1.5 million in restitution and forfeiture. Adetiloye is appealing the Dec. 8 judgment.
"To be fair to everybody, the losses in this case are uncommon," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Chase said Thursday. "It's a hard case in many ways to prove up. There's just not a lot of law out there on any of this. It's a little uncharted."
What isn't clear, Chase said, is whether anyone will see the restitution payments. Adetiloye's lawyer wouldn't comment on his client's financial situation.
Adetiloye's 18-year prison sentence, issued in January 2012, capped a lengthy international investigation into fake debt-collection agencies. Bank officials, investigators and prosecutors called it one of the most complex schemes perpetrated in the financial industry. It took nearly eight years to investigate and litigate, including the restitution debate.
"There was really nothing about this case that was easy, in terms of understanding it," said Chase, who is based in North Dakota. The case wound up in the state because U.S. Bank, one of the victims, is based in Fargo.
Investigators said Adetiloye incorporated two different companies that claimed to be debt collection companies. He gained access to commercial data providers — including large-scale outfits LexisNexis and ChoicePoint that only allow access to law enforcement, financial services and debt collection companies.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson in March 2012 set both restitution and forfeiture at just $1,700, saying the government did not provide enough "specificity and reliability" to support a larger award.
Restitution is meant to compensate victims for actual losses directly caused by the criminal conduct and can't exceed the actual, provable loss realized by the victims. It is not meant to punish the defendant. Forfeiture covers proceeds of any kind obtained by the defendant from the scheme.
The circuit court, on appeal from the government, sent the case back to district court for review.
"We tried to fix every problem that the district court thought we had the first time around," Chase said.
Erickson eventually ordered Adetiloye to pay about $770,000 to 17 banks. The largest award, nearly $220,000, was for Citi Cards, followed by more than $150,000 to U.S. Bank. The individual awards total about $16,000, with the largest for $1,910.
The judge denied some requests, including nearly $665,000 by one man who said his damaged credit rating resulted in higher interest rates on loans and forced him to withdraw money from his retirement account. Erickson called that "complex, speculative and incapable of being calculated" based on the evidence.
"A lot of the people didn't have money directly stolen from them. It was all the banks that had lost money," Chase said. "People were out a lot emotionally, but you can't compensate for that."
Adetiloye argued he should only be held responsible for proceeds he personally obtained, which he said was $0.
"My job is to take a look once again at what the district court did and determine if there are any appealable issues," said Adetiloye's appeal lawyer, Steven Morrison.
Chase said it's hard to predict whether any victims will get paid.
"If we can locate any of this, we are going to try and get the money back," he said.