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Financial Crimes
07/16/2010

Washington state man charged in Nigerian inheritance scheme

SEATTLE - A Blaine, Wash., man who bilked dozens of investors out of more than $3.2 million dollars as part of an inheritance scheme was arrested Friday by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Scott Alan Stuart, 50, was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on five counts, following a yearlong investigation. The charges against him include wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, attempting to evade income and employment taxes, and making false income tax returns and failure to file a tax return.

ICE HSI's investigation showed that Stuart claimed he was the recipient of a $30 million inheritance that was being held in a Canadian bank. He allegedly inherited the large sum of money from his father who had worked in oil refineries and on pipelines in Nigeria.

Stuart reached out to potential investors across the country and requested they wire him money so he could pay the taxes on the inheritance. He promised those who agreed to send him money that they would receive a large return on their investment once all of the taxes were paid. The investigation showed, however, that Stuart had no inheritance or Canadian bank account. Over a six-year period, at least 64 individuals wired more than $3.6 million to an account belonging to Stuart at Whatcom Educational Credit Union.

"This case illustrates how members of the public can unwittingly be drawn into financial scams that do nothing more than rob them of their savings accounts and personal pride," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of ICE's HSI Office in Seattle. "All types of investors should remembers the old adage - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

A second man, Wayne Charles Sewell, 32, of Ferndale, Wash., has also been charged in the conspiracy. According to court documents, Sewell, along with some family members and friends, received more than $230,000 in wire transfers from the scammed investors.

Conspiracy is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Filing a false tax return is punishable by up to three years in prison, and willful failure to file a tax return is punishable by up to one year in prison.

ICE HSI was joined in the investigation by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorney Kathryn Warma.